18 November 2008

The Ban Bus in Poland, 12-15 November 2008

The Ban Bus came to Poland on 12-15 November 2008 to urge Poland to give up antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions. The team was accompanied by powerful advocates: Branislav Kapetanovic from the CMC and Firoz Ali Alizada the ICBL. Their hosts were: the Polish Red Cross (PCK), Amnesty International (AI), the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HF) and the Polish Forum for Persons with Disabilities (PFON). Poland is a producer and stockpiler of cluster munitions and does not intend to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo. It has also failed to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty which it had signed in 1997. Therefore the Polish campaign focused also on landmines.The first stop for the Ban Bus was the town of Katowice on November 12, for the opening of the Miss Landmine Exhibition at the University of Silesia. The ceremony, with an opening speech by the President of Katowice, was followed by a seminar on landmines and cluster munitions. The whole event drew impressive media attention, with Poland's main 24h news channels covering it live. The call on Poland's decision makers to ban cluster bombs and mines was loud and clear.Next the Ban Bus headed for the capital - Warsaw. A large press conference was held on November 13 at one of the city's most prestigious locations - the Polish Press Agency (PAP). The opening speech was made by the Director General of the Polish Red Cross Ms Elzbieta Smietanka. Great, moving speeches by John Rodsted, Branislav, and Firoz sent the journalists looking for fresh pencils. An unwise comment by Poland's Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Radoslaw Sikorski, that he had survived a cluster bomb attack and it wasn't that bad, made it easy to get media attention. Stories about the campaign and the ban were run on TV and radio and in the press.The Irish Embassy in Poland hosted an evening welcome reception for the Ban Bus crew and special guests. Rodsted once again mesmerized the audience with a brilliant presentation and photo slideshow. The crowd of diplomats, ministry people, MPs, NGOs and journalists stood amazed and terrified at the same time, listening to him speak about the impact of landmines and cluster munitions.The next day the Ban Bus, CMC and ICBL team met with Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Przemyslaw Grudzinski. They reiterated their call on Poland to sign the CCM in Oslo and to ratify the Mine Ban Convention without further delay. The officials stated that Poland needs to keep landmines and cluster munitions just in case and that it would use them only in self-defense, on its own territory. Which was commented on by Branislav as "pure MADNESS" As if they did not learn the lesson from Georgia...The advocates also met with the Secretary General of the Conference of Bishops and asked for supporting our cause. A few days later the Conference of Bishops officially called on the Polish government to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty and sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo. To have the Church on your side in Poland is priceless!At the end we took a good-bye photo at the impressive monument to deminers, which may be the only such monument in the world...Lidia Szafaryn, lidia.szafaryn@pck.org.pl