U.N. ambassadors expose law students to intersection of land mines and food production

United Nation building, Geneva, Switzerland

BY Tim O’Neil

UNIVERSITY CITY — An unusual gathering Tuesday at Washington University allowed students to hear eight United Nations ambassadors from far-flung countries discuss land mines, trade and the challenge of raising food for the world’s growing population.

A humanitarian organization in New York that works to clear mine fields brought the ambassadors here to meet with executives of the Monsanto Co. and Novus International Inc., two major food-research companies. The seminar at the university’s School of Law was arranged by the U.S. government and the private sponsor, known as the Humpty Dumpty Institute because its aim is “putting the pieces back together.”

Thomas A. Schweich, a visiting law professor and former U.S. counternarcotics official in Afghanistan, told the audience of 100 that it was an “unbelievable treat to have this many U.N. ambassadors in one place outside of New York.”

James F. Lawrence, acting director of U.S. weapons-removal programs, said this country spends $130 million annually to remove mines. Lawrence said many mine fields were in good farmland near towns. “We cannot afford to have that arable land out of use,” he said, citing estimates of a world population of 9 billion by 2050.

“Cambodia has the most mines in the world and the highest number of amputees. Mines are planted where people live.”

Zachary D. Muburi-Muita, U.N. ambassador from Kenya, said instability in food supplies “poses a threat to international peace.” Muburi-Muita called for eliminating national farm subsidies.

“I know this is a sensitive issue,” he said, “but that would allow the people who make food the cheapest to sell it to those who do things like make airplanes for Boeing.”

Le Luong Minh, Vietnam’s ambassador to the U.N., said mine-clearing efforts had reduced the number of civilian casualties that once were common in his country. He said Vietnam was working to expand exports of its harvests, especially rice.

“Once you are able to feed your people, you can think about political stability and development,” said Minh.

Filipe Chidumo, ambassador from Mozambique, said continuing investment and humanitarian assistance were vital to developing countries. Turning to the issue of land mines, Chidumo said, “They are serious impediments, not just to food supplies but to letting people live normal lives.”

Also present were U.N. ambassadors from Bulgaria, Georgia, the Philippines and Romania, and the representative in New York of Taiwan, which no longer belongs to the United Nations.