Cambodia: Song Kosal, landmine advocate and survivor sits down for a Q and A

05 October 2011

Song Kosal meets with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.

Song Kosal is the youth ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She was the first person to sign the People’s Treaty in Ottawa, Canada, and was present in Oslo, Norway, when the ICBL and Jody Williams were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As ICBL Youth Ambassador, Kosal, now aged 24, represents youth campaigners and survivors at events worldwide. Kosal has succeeded in putting a face to the many lesser-known young landmine survivors around the world.

Can you tell me a bit about that day you encountered the land mine?

I lost my leg in a landmine accident when I was 5 years old. I went to the rice field with my mom to collect firewood, when I stepped on a landmine. After that my mom took me to the hospital in the village. A landmine also killed my oldest brother. He was a soldier.

How did you get involved with JRS, and the ICBL?

In 1995 the organisation International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to my village to provide disabled people with prosthetic legs. I decided to go with them because I wanted to have two legs to run and play like the other children. At the centre I met Father Kike from Spain. He took my picture and later on he sent two staff members to find me in my village, to see if I wanted to help with the campaign. I decided to come and join the campaign because I didn’t want to see any other children or people get injured or killed by landmines. I want to make sure other children can run and play with two legs, even if I can’t. First we did the campaign in Cambodia but in 1995 I travelled to Vienna to speak at the United Nation and ask them to ban landmines and give support to victims. I have been campaigning ever since.

You, as an individual have done so much to raise awareness about landmines in the world. What can other individuals do to further this cause?

In 1998 I started a new campaign called Youth Against War and the campaign says, “No more, No more war, No more landmine victims.” I have five promises for young people to make: I will help those hurt by landmines and war. I will care for the environment. I will solve arguments without violence. Everyday I will spend five minutes reflecting peacefully. Everyday I will do one thing to make peace grow like flower. Within these five points young people can chose one point to fulfil.

Now you can choose one to promise with me with the campaign to make the world better. You as individuals can write a letter to the countries that have not signed the treaty and ask them to do so ( Let them know that you support banning landmines and want the world free from mines. We need you, your family, your friends, your colleagues to work together for a better place for our brothers and sisters and give more support to victims. They really need your help, even though many things have been done, it is not enough. So we still need you.

When landmines affect so many people, what made you decide to devote yourself to banning landmines worldwide?

As you know, there was war in Cambodia for a long time and people tried to protect their territory. After the war, everyone had to go back to their lives, trying to earn money and living in poor conditions. These villagers never knew where the landmines were and they killed innocent people.

As I mentioned above, in 1995 I went to Vienna, I was so small and when I got up to the stage I forgot what I wanted to say, and the campaign was unsuccessful in 1995 and 1996. But I wanted to try again when I saw my friends Tun Channareth, Chreuk, Hem Phong who lost their both legs to landmines. So in 1997 we established the People’s Treaty in Ottawa, Canada. At the beginning, it was only Jody Williams, Lindsay (a girl my age in Canada) and I who signed this treaty. We had 122 countries decide to ban landmines at that time and it was a magic year for us to keep us moving and working hard with the campaign.

But it’s lucky for me that I have the chance to get involved so I keep moving because I want to see the world free of mines. I want to see people live with peace; I want to see survivors gain equal rights, I want to see survivors have a better life, I wanted to see children who can run, play and do anything with their two legs, arms, eyes without any fear. This makes me strong and keeps me moving.

How did you begin the long, hard work of advocating to countries?

In 1995 we held a big meeting in Phnom Penh with people who had been affected by landmines and wanted their fields and country cleared of them to keep their families safe. So we heard from lawyers, human rights experts, clearers and survivors. We talked about the ethics of using these weapons, their social impact and what we could do to stop them. Members of different faiths — Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism — spoke and prayed together and resolved to work to ban landmines.
One of the leading Buddhist monks told us to ban the landmines of the heart, as well as those in the ground. The king of Cambodia — Norodom Kihanouk received us at the Palace and signed the call for a mine ban from the survivors. So it’s was wonderful time together, and out of grew our campaign in Kenya, South Africa, Nepal, Norway, India, Thailand, Mozambique, Afghanistan, Philippines, Canada and other places.

When advocating to countries to sign the mine ban treaty, what exactly are you asking for?

Land are cleared, mines have been destroy, survivors have more accessible to work on their land, Survivors life has been improve, get more attention on this issue, and the world condemn strongly any new use of mines.

Nigeria is the most recent country to ban landmines. After so many years as an advocate, how does it make you feel when a new country signs the treaty?

I am so proud of Nigeria and we are so happy to have them and they did great job. Moreover, a big thanks to the campaigners in Nigeria for their great effort and congratulations to all of us for this work.

What are some major countries that have not signed the treaty? Why is important they sign?

Well I can say major in the region are Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, and Tuvalu. Worldwide the US, China and Russia all need to sign it. Well as we know that when they sign they fulfil their obligation to destroy their stockpiles, Clear mines, give support to victim.

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