Saturday, 16 January 2021

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Ciné-ONU: The Deminer

On 2nd May 2018, Ciné-ONU screened ‘The Deminer’ in order to highlight International Mine Action Awareness Day. The film follows the life of Fakir, a father of eight, who has devoted his life to disarming the deadly mines that litter his country. Armed with just a simple knife and a pair of clippers he manages to disarm thousands of mines, a task that could cost him his life at any second. The film was screened in partnership with the One World Human Rights Film Festival, UNLOPS (United Nations Liaison Office for Peace and Security) and the Embassy of Sweden at Cinéma Galeries in Brussels.

Film Poster - 'The Deminer'

The screening was followed by a conversation on the issues highlighted in the film. The guest speakers include: Hogir Hirori (Director); Liesbet van Wijk (APOPO - NGO Training Rats to Save Lives), Annick Hiensch (UNLOPS - United Nations Liaison Office for Peace and Security); moderated by Deborah Seward (UNRIC).

Introduction to 'The Deminer' from the Swedish Ambassador and Deborah Seward

Hogir Hirori, director of ‘The Deminer’, begun the conversation by talking of the film’s protagonist Fakhir. He spoke of meeting Fakhir, recognising what a fantastic character he was and discussing the possibility of making a film about him, ‘I wanted to make a film which showed the faces of the victims but also the deminer himself’. However, initially, Fakhir had instituted it was too dangerous. Nevertheless, Hogir pushed for the project as he ‘wanted to spread awareness because nobody believes there have been this many mines in the country’. This was a key theme for both Mr Hirori and the film, the importance of spreading awareness of not just the problems and effects of mines, but also to tell the story of those who risk their lives to protect others.

Annick Hiensch continued the debate by explaining what efforts the UN, and more specifically UNMAS (United Nations Mine Action Service), utilise to tackle the problem of mines across the globe. She stated that UNMAS has, ‘5000 people working on various ways in which we can spread awareness of the prevalence of unexploded mines; support advocacy and aid those affected’. Ms. Hiensch was keen to highlight that mine action efforts are a huge priority as it reflects the three pillars of the UN; Humanitarian work, Peace and Security and Development. She went on to highlight that, ‘In 2017, 44,000 mines were deactivated directly through UNMAS’ but reiterated that ‘it’s hard to get a sense in the film of the smell and heat in Mosul; the working conditions are incredibly difficult, with around 24 casualties per day’. This is something Hogir confirmed but added that, ‘Fakhir taught us what the mines looked like, and how different weather affected them and what to be aware of, so we felt safer around him’.

Hogir Hirori, director of 'The Deminer', speaking during the Q&A

Our other speaker, Liesbet van Wijk from APOPO, shared what this NGO are achieving in different mine affected areas. Uniquely, APOPO make use of rats instead of human detectors. Liesbet explained that, ‘our rats are trained to smell TNT, because metal detectors are sometimes too sensitive because of too much litter and rubbish’. This in turn means that the rats can, ‘hugely speed up mine clearance. In a 200m2 area, rats would take 20 minutes whereas metal detectors take 4 days’.

Liesbet van Wijk from APOPO speaking during the Q&A

The documentary clearly highlights to its audience how much of an ongoing problem mines can be, how dangerous and indiscriminate they are with their victims and how much pain and suffering they cause. Despite the ongoing efforts of organisations such as UNMAS and APOPO, Annick noted that, ‘in 2016 we saw the highest casualties since 1999’, showing that there is still much to be done in tackling this problem and ridding the world of mine victims. The debate concluded when Hogir reflected upon one of the most poignant statements made by Fakhir in the film when he says, ‘If I fail, only I die, but if I succeed, I can save hundreds of people’. This, Hogir reminded the audience, was what made Fakhir such a special person, and someone who deserved to be remembered for his selfless efforts.

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