Ladies and Gentlemen.
First of all, I would like to thank Sir Peter and Lady Westmacott for their great generosity in hosting us this evening at this wonderful Lutyens Residence. It is a great privilege for me to address you tonight.
The HALO Trust - 25 years old this year - and other humanitarian mine action organisations make an exceptional contribution to the stabilization of post-conflict regions. For people who live in countries blighted by land mines and the other residue of war, there can be no return to normality.
When the daily walk to the water point, the tilling of fields, the herding of livestock, or the playing of children can result - at any moment - in death or life-changing injury, how can life ever be normal? Refugees, who have sought shelter from war, cannot return home. Long after the guns have fallen silent, this menace remains, unseen, undetected. The chance for a life of peace – surely the natural and rightful expectation of every human being – is no more than a dream so long as these dreadful weapons remain where they were laid or discarded.
At any one time, HALO has seven thousand de-miners in the field, striving to protect people, and banish the fear that pervades the lives of millions around the world. In Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Kosovo, in Somalia, Georgia and Armenia, the threat of landmines could be eradicated in the next five years, if funding can be sustained. If it were stepped up, in the next ten years, countries like Cambodia, Angola, Colombia, Afghanistan, Burma and even Zimbabwe might have their landmine crises eliminated for good.
So, this is not all a tale of woe. Great strides are being made by HALO and others. It comes at a price though - and not just for the poor, benighted people who have to live in mined areas. Over the past 25 years, 23 members of HALO have given their lives in the service of others. Almost one for every year of the charity’s existence. I am sure that you will agree their sacrifice ranks alongside the very highest callings of selfless duty.
Tonight I would also like to pay tribute to the United States of America. The US Government is by far the largest donor to humanitarian mine action worldwide. This started in earnest in the 1990’s and was reinforced by President Clinton’s ten year initiative. American governmental support has been enormously generous and very well sustained.
The charitable instinct of the people of this great country also ensures that HALO and others are supported by private donation on a grand scale. Some of HALO’s most significant private donors are here tonight. On behalf of the HALO Trust, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do for this extraordinary charity, and this vital cause. I have seen first hand what a difference your generosity has on the lives of so many. I cannot let this moment pass without mentioning Guy Willoughby, HALO’s inspirational leader. Colin Mitchell founded the charity a quarter of a century ago with Guy. In the early days, it was Guy and a couple of others on their hands and knees doing the clearing, with his amazing wife, Fiona, clutching the medical pack in the Land Rover.
Guy has brought HALO from being this small but effective operation, which changed hundreds of lives for the better, to where it is now: one of Britain’s largest overseas charities, in terms of the number of its operators. Mitchell and Willoughby are Britons of that fabled cast: the adventurer driven to help others. Guy, tonight, we salute you and Colin on HALO’s 25th Anniversary. Let's not have a 50th, though!
This evening gives me great personal pleasure too. My mother, who believed passionately in this cause, would be proud of my association with HALO. In her special way, she adopted it as her own. She would join me – along with all of you, I’m sure – in praising HALO for the amazing work that it has done over the past quarter century, and in hoping that one day soon its humanitarian work will be done. You can't say that about many charities, so what a privilege it is for all of us to be a part of this.