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Good evening, and thank you for that kind introduction.  It is an honor to join you tonight to celebrate 26 years of the Marshall Legacy Institute’s lifesaving work.  I am also honored to join the many diplomatic colleagues, MLI board members, and MLI supporters tonight.  I am thrilled to be in the presence of the brave and committed honorees this year, and I commend their hard work and dedication.  I also want to recognize Elise Becker’s dedicated leadership of MLI and all the work she and her team have done to organize this wonderful event.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the situation in the Middle East. The United States unequivocally condemns the appalling attacks against Israel, including against civilians and civilian Communities.  We are doing all we can to stand with Israel against this threat, make sure this conflict does not spread, as well as to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  We know the humanitarian situation is urgent and we continue to focus on addressing the humanitarian needs of civilians.

Since June, when I started my tenure as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Department of State, I have been impressed by the deep commitment and drive of all involved in humanitarian demining operations.  Many of you in this room have dedicated your lives to clearing the path – the path for recovery, the path for reconciliation, the path for peace in countries around the world.  As the global leader in landmine clearance and conventional weapons destruction, the United States has invested more than $4.6 billion in over 120 countries since 1993 and we are proud to partner with you.

I would like to talk to you tonight about a few reasons why demining is such a powerful tool for change.  The U.S. government prioritizes investment in humanitarian demining and conventional weapons destruction not only because it helps create safe and secure environments for communities to live and work in, but because it:

  • serves as a tool for advancing America’s foreign policy priorities;
  • helps promote climate change resilience and food security; and
  • helps encourage the full inclusion of women in peace and security positions.

Humanitarian demining assistance is a critical tool for strengthening our bilateral relationships, and it serves as a clear, tangible, and unmistakable symbol of the United States’ commitment to building a more safe, secure, and prosperous world.  Our assistance reaches many of the world’s most vulnerable people, delivering immediate and tangible results.  Additionally, our work with organizations like MLI, which has been a State Department partner since 1998, is a critical part of post-conflict recovery, reconciliation, and lasting peace.

Last week I attended the International Donor Conference on Humanitarian Demining in Ukraine co-hosted by Croatia and Ukraine.  As you know, farms across Ukraine have been dormant due to the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance, harming farmers’ livelihoods, and exacerbating food security issues that Russia’s war has caused.  The Government of Ukraine estimates that 25,000 square kilometers of farmland may be contaminated by explosive hazards.  This land that contributes to the food security not only of Ukrainians, but of 81 million people around the world.  Clearing landmines from Ukraine’s agricultural land is directly linked to global food security and is a prerequisite for clearing the path for Ukraine’s recovery.

In addition to being a critical node for food security, humanitarian demining programs can help expand access to clean water in areas that are particularly susceptible to adverse effects of climate change.  In Iraq, landmines and other explosive remnants of war block development of infrastructure to deliver clean drinking water to cities and villages.  Developing clean water infrastructure is an urgent priority in many communities, and conventional weapons destruction efforts help clear the way for delivery of clean water to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens.

Demining can also help open new opportunities for women.  Around the world, our implementing partners are ensuring women are included in all aspects of demining, from initial survey and landmine removal, to helping communities put the land to productive use after clearance.  In Tajikistan, for example, female deminers are protecting their communities while performing difficult and dangerous work in a society where that’s outside of cultural norms.  We consistently encourage our partners to hire and provide advancement opportunities for women, and through the example these deminers offer, they’re impacting minds and attitudes for the better in their communities.

Long-term recovery from conflict begins when people can return to their homes and livelihoods safely, and demining is a critical first step in that process.  As we continue to face the challenge of improving economic and food security around the globe, we must all redouble our efforts to support removal of landmines and explosive remnants of war.

Our assistance – that of the United States government and its global partners – is crucial to building a more safe, secure, and prosperous world. Thanks to strong bipartisan support from Congress, the Department of State looks forward to continuing this important work with other donor countries, those impacted by conflict, and the brave women and men who work in the field to clear landmines and other explosive hazards.

This important work cannot be done without the hard work and steadfast dedication by many groups and individuals. I am proud to be part of this event that recognizes and honors some of those key individuals tonight, and I would like to congratulate all of the honorees.  In particular, I want to recognize General Gordon R. Sullivan, who is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.  MLI’s assistance to 18 countries has changed thousands of lives. This is a remarkable achievement that would not have been possible without the vision of General Sullivan when he founded MLI in 1997 to extend the legacy of Nobel Peace Laureate George C. Marshall.  Congratulations, and thank you for your visionary leadership.

I would also like to say a few words about each of the other impressive honorees.  The Explosive Detection Dog Team of the Year with K-9 Max-Marschall and his handler Sajid Majeed, from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq deserve our recognition.  Max-Marschall and Mr. Majeed are both responsible for saving many lives in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.  I want to commend their bravery and dedication.

Let us also celebrate this year’s Survivor of the Year, Goran Dizdarevic from Bosnia Herzegovina!  Mr. Dizdarevic is a prime example of the resiliency of the Bosnian people in facing explosive hazards, as he lost his leg at the age of 12 from a landmine explosion during the siege of Sarajevo.  Mr. Dizdarevic –  your experience is why we are all here today – to prevent further families from being affected by these remnants of war.  Your determination to enable others to go on and lead productive lives after suffering these injuries is truly remarkable.

I would also like to recognize Mr. John Gallina for receiving this year’s Survivors’ Assistance Award.  Mr. Gallina is a U.S. Army veteran who was injured by a landmine while serving in Iraq.  His perseverance and dedication to assist fellow veterans struggling with housing needs through his organization “Purple Heart Homes” is commendable.  Congratulations on recently reaching a major milestone, completing the 1,000th Purple Heart Home!

In conclusion, I want to say how proud I am to be part of the leadership team at the State Department that oversees this life-saving work.  This important work could not be accomplished without the collaboration of implementing partners like the Marshall Legacy Institute, and I am so proud of what we have accomplished together.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the evening!

U.S. Department of State

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