SINGAPORE – It was a wedding to remember for Sister Denise Coghlan, RSM. Amid the “very glamorous” female guests was her friend, “the father of the bride”, “with both legs missing”, she said in a phone interview.
Tun Channareth – whose eldest of six children got married this month – became a double amputee after he stepped on a landmine buried near the heavily-mined Thai-Cambodian border in 1982. Like Sister Denise, the director of Jesuit Service Cambodia and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Cambodia, he now works with victims of these weapons of war.
Sister Denise, who says she keeps the Nobel “medal” she received in her bedroom, will be attending a special Mass at Church of St. Ignatius on Friday Jun 12. The Mass is organised annually by JRS Singapore to commemorate World Refugee Day.
While JRS Singapore continues to pray for the millions of refugees worldwide, this year’s World Refugee Day Mass will focus on the plight of the victims of landmines, as well as those maimed by cluster bombs. Sister Denise will be speaking at the Mass, whose theme is “The Problem is Mine”. She will also be speaking about her experiences at a talk on Saturday Jun 13.
Civilians, rather than combatants, are often the victims of landmines and cluster bombs. “A cluster bomb is a bomb about a metre across, and inside are a thousand small little bombs,” Sister Denise described. These bomblets are ejected over a wide area. They look like a child’s “ball or top”, and “maybe about 50, 60 percent of these go off”, said the Australian nun. The rest lie where they fall, detonating when disturbed, like landmines.
Like mines, therefore, cluster bombs can kill or maim decades after the end of a conflict. In the 1960s and 1970s, during the Vietnam War, American forces used cluster bombs extensively in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The Cluster Munition Coalition estimates 87,000 air-dropped cluster munitions were delivered on Cambodia. A friend of Sister Denise’s touched a bomb remnant “in 2004; it blew out both his eyes and both his arms”.
Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have been killed or injured by landmines and cluster bombs. Tun Channareth, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICBL in December 1997, is one of Cambodia’s 65,000 landmine survivors, said Sister Denise. Jesuit Service/JRS Cambodia helps “at least 5,000 families” of landmine victims and other disabled persons, in addition to its other programmes, she said. JRS Singapore, which recently visited Cambodia, is supporting Banteay Prieb, a school for the handicapped near Phnom Penh.
After his accident, Tun Channareth lived in a Thai refugee camp for 13 years before returning to Cambodia. The anti-mine activist now makes wheelchairs for mine victims. He regularly works with another mine survivor; these “two men with one leg between them” travel on a motorbike to help mine victims in villages, said Sister Denise.
She described her friend and colleague as having “two things in his heart”. Tun Channareth “sometimes gets so angry when he looks down and sees his legs missing”, but he also has “metta karuna”, a Pali word meaning “mercy and loving kindness”, said Sister Denise, a longtime advocate against landmines and cluster bombs.
The Mine Ban Treaty, or Ottawa Treaty, of December 1997 bans all anti-personnel landmines. In similar vein, the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) of December 2008 prohibits the use of cluster bombs.
So far, 156 countries have ratified or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, and 96 countries have signed the CCM. Countries such as the United States, China and India are not party to either convention. Singapore has not signed either treaty but has ceased exporting cluster bombs and landmines.
- By Venessa Lee
This year’s World Refugee Day Mass at Church of St. Ignatius will focus on the plight of the victims of landmines, as well as those maimed by cluster bombs.
Events highlighting the plight of victims of landmines and cluster bombs. All are invited to attend. Come pray for the victims
Theme: “The Problem is MINE”
Date: Friday Jun 12
Venue: Church of St. Ignatius
120, King’s Road,
Main Celebrant: Archbishop Nicholas Chia
At the Mass, Sister Denise Coghlan, RSM (Director, JRS Cambodia and Jesuit Service Cambodia) will be speaking about her work with landmine and cluster bomb victims, and her efforts in encouraging more countries to sign the international treaties banning these weapons.
Refreshments will be provided after the Mass.
Talk by Sister Denise
Sister Denise will be giving a talk on the issue of landmines and cluster munitions.
Date: Saturday Jun 13, 2009
Venue: The Centre for Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling
Kingsmead Hall (behind
Church of St. Ignatius),
8 Victoria Park Road,