Amputee Ambassador Tun Channareth
The Nobel Peace Prize Days 1997
Some people call me a 'landmine victim'. So I am. So are you in a different way. You can see I carry in my body the injury caused by landmines. Forty thousand people look like me. Many, many more have lost arms or eyes or one leg. Many too still carry pieces of shrapnel in their bodies causing them suffering and new medical expenses for years. Others carry the ejmotional scars, the memory of loved ones killed, the sense of being useless, no good, maimed.
I speak for them all when, once again, I recall the words written in 1994 by four of us, all handicapped by landmines:
"Before we were soldiers of four rival armies that laid mines that blew the legs and arms off one another. Nowe we live and work in the Centre of the Dove.
- We beg the world to stop making mines
- We beg the world to stop laying mines
- We beg the world to give money for demining and development so that we can rebuild our lives, our communities, our villages and our countries again! "
Village communities and countries are victims of landmines too. I often say my country is a handicapped country, a country where good land is planted with mines instead of rice, where women collect wood in fear, where children are afreaid to run and play freely in the fields, where families are displaced from their homes. The lands of Angola, Sudan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Afghanistan are victims of mines. They are weeping for peace, wanting the deadly weapon to be lifted from their earth. Our countries remain in terrible poverty, while greedy producers grow rich on our misery.
The "metnal landmines" of these producers and exporters and fearful governments make them architects of death and destruction. They use their skill and energy to find new ways of blowing one another apart and killing peace.
Remember this: we are all landmine victims when we allow this system to continue, when we refuse to ban, to demine, to assist communities and people suffering.
Some people worry that I am receiving the Nobel Peace Prize along with my co-campaigner, friend and our international coordinator Jody WIlliams. They are afraid that the world will onlyl see the picture of a 'worthy helper' from the north with a 'useless, handicapped victim' from the east. No, we are both campaigners with different gifts and ....many faults too.
My handicaps are quite visible to you. They can remind us of the invisible handicaps we all have. People from the east and west, north and south all have 'landmines of the heart'. These landmines inside can lead us to war, to jealousy, to cruel power over others.
If we ban the landmines of the heart along with the landmines in the earth, the needs of the poor will take prioirty over the wants of the rich, the freedom of the dominated over the liberty of the powerful, and marginalized groups will be included. Together we can stop a coward's war that makes victims of us all.
Some call me a landmine survivor. That is true too. But so are you. When I first woke up to find both legs gone, I wanted to die. I tried to find ways to kill myself. Now my six beautiful children make me want to survive to build a better world for all the children of the world.
Each day I go with a friend, Hul Bros, to visit others injured by mines or polio in Siem Reap. We travel up to 40 km. a day on a motorbike - one leg between two of us! When I met these villagers without rice, without limbs, some without hope my heart is touched. Children injured by landmines bring tears to my eyes. These new friends are precious gifts, sacraments. They draw out mercy and compassion from me. Without them this metta-karuna (loving kindness) might be still locked inside and I would not know the power it has to urge me to change evil into good.
Around the world there are thousands and thousands of people injured by mines who are trying to build their lives again. Sadly some are confirmed to beds or mats, unable to move; sadly again some are begging at market places all around the world, feeling cheated and hopeless. However the courage and resilience of so many other landmine survivors give me energy and strength. When landmine survivors from Thailand, Angolan, Bosnia and Cambodia rode our cyclos from Paris to Brussels in June, we shared stories. Many of us were helping other handicapped in prosthetic workshops, in wheelchair making, others were carpenters and electricians. In our worldwide networks we have sculptors, weavers, mechanics, doctors, university graduates, farmers, mothers and fathers, students and children - all wanting peace and a better future for the next generation. To survive into the future, root causes of war and displacement have to be stopped. The international treaty to ban landmines, when it is signed and implemented by all removes one major root. The tree of peace can blossom in its place! In that way we all become landmine survivors with peace and compassion as our banner!
Some people call me a campaign ambassador. Yes I am an amputee ambassador. You too are all campaign ambassadors when you support the ICBL in its goals:
My trips have led me to meet people in villages and towns in Cambodia, Mozambique, Thailand, Austria, France, Spain, UK, Ireland, USA, Switzerland, Canada, Malaysia, Japan and Belgium. Royalty in Spain, Cambodia and Belgium, the Pope, the President of Ireland, the Prime Minister of Japan, ambassadors and foreign ministers have all listened to our message. Mr. Molander, charirman of the UN CCW meetings knelt to receive our millions of signatures in Vienna and Geneva - a moment I will always remember and treasure.
- a ban on landmines;
- lands demined;
- the development of people and communities victimized by mines.
What I have learnt is that ordinary people everywhere want peace. I have spoken to people of many faiths. Throughout our campaign we have called on religious leaders for support and words of challenge. All the great religions of the world see Peace as a gift with justice and mercy as the road. For instance Judaism through Micah calls us 'to act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God'. Islam bids us not to act aggressively to cause damage to the world and that even to remove a piece of stone from the road of the other is a good action.
Christianity speaks of the Compassion of God made flesh and asks us to carry it in our own hearts and bodies. Maha Ghosananda, a Buddhist monk tells us:
"Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is healed. When we begin to make peace we begin with silence and prayer. Peace making requires wisdom. Peace is a path that is chosen consciously. It is not an aimless wandering, but a step by step journey. It means compassion without concession and peace without bowing to injustice loving kindness is the only way of peace."
In traditional religious places in my country we have a beautiful symbol: the Bayon. Four faces look to the east, south, north and west. One face represents Metta (Mercy), one face Mutita (rejoicing in the good of the other), Upekha (Universality, Impartiality) and one Karuna (loving kindness). The most famous Bayon in the country in Ankor Thom, Siem Reap, gazes out to the distant mine fields begging for peace.
Another Bayon was built at the Centre of the Dove, where our signature campaign began. Sculptors, handicapped by mines, built it there to honour the memory of a young Filipino campaigner who died there. His blood lies under "Karuna" which faces the east where the sun rises. May tomorrow be a new dawn of Peace and Loving Kindness for us all.
Reflections from Tun Channareth, Amputee Ambassador,
in dialogue with Ms. Sok Eng and Denise Coghlan rsm.