28 November 2012

Junko Utsumi, our colleague from the Japanese Campaign to Ban Landmines, shares with us her most memorable moments with the campaign and hopes for the future role of Japan in mine action.

1. Why and how did you get involved with the ICBL?I was working at a rehabilitation center coordinated by a Japanese NGO in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1994. One day, I received information about a meeting of ICBL from my colleague. As I worked with people with disabilities I thought it would be good to go to the meeting. When I was ready to leave for the meeting, it was raining so heavily that I almost gave up going. But somehow I made it and was inspired by people there so much. I can’t remember who was there and what was discussed exactly, but I felt like I want to join them very much. Just after the meeting I sent a fax to our headquarters in Tokyo asking if our organization could join ICBL. Their answer was NO. The reason was that the landmine issue is domestic and regarding Cambodia’s security so that non-Cambodian NGO like us should not get involved in. They thought that our permission to work in Cambodia as an NGO would be threatened if we joined the campaign to ban landmines. I was shocked and disappointed and I still participated in some meetings of the campaign as an individual. In 1997, the Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines (JCBL) was established, and I became a supporting member in Tokyo. In 2006 JCBL hired me as a secretary general. At that time JCBL wanted to take up victim assistance program and thought my experience working with an organization of people with disabilities would work well. So since then I have become part of the ICBL through our national campaign. 2. Do you have a favourite or most memorable moment from your time working with the ICBL? It is very difficult to choose just one moment, but most recently we celebrated the 15th anniversary of JCBL, the 20th anniversary of ICBL at the Polish Embassy in Tokyo to focus on the upcoming ratification of the Ottawa Treaty by Poland, a country that the Japanese campaign has long worked on. Wee had a great evening with about 100 participants I truly felt that we are appreciated and supported by many people. and I was very proud of it. My first interaction with ICBL was the Landmine Monitor researchers meeting in 2006 in Phnom Penh. I was a bit nervous to be there as it was my first meeting with the ICBL family. I did not know what to expect but immediately I felt as part of the team, a big family. I came back even more inspired. I’ve always felt something special about the ICBL people. They’ve got great expertise, amazing passion and experience but at the same time remain simple and sincere. I like the words which Yeshua shared with us at the ICBL meeting in Cartagena as below; “When people asked us “Can you really ban landmines?” during the Ottawa Process, we answered “Yes, we can”. When people asked the same question at the signing conference of the MBT we answered “Yes, we will”. And now we say “Yes, we have!”” It is a real honor to be with ICBL, but I don’t brag it as I said it above! 3. What changes have you seen in your country? What impact has your campaign had? Our government has changed its position! I believe that survivor campaigners made it happen. For example, at the time of the Ottawa Process, Tun Channareth from Cambodia came to Japan a few times to raise awareness of the importance of the treaty – through meetings with government people, media, seminars or public events. At the time of the Oslo Process, Branislav Kaptanovic helped us in a similar way for 10 full days! In both instances the government’s position changed from anti- to pro-ban. 4. What would you like to see happening in your country in the next 5, 10 years? What do you want to call on your government to do? I really want our government to be a leading nation on mine action globally, especially for victim assistance. I am also thinking it would be great if Japan got involved in supporting mine action and victim assistance in Burma, since we are all Asian and are close culturally.