Eritrea’s Article 5 Extension Request: The Responsibility of Approval

In Eritrea, there are an estimated 1.5 million landmines and more than 5,000 survivors of landmine injuries.  Nearly an eighth of the population (655,000 individuals out of 5.2 million in 2010) lives in a community affected by landmines.  For comparison purposes, one-in-eight Americans live in California so imagine if all of California was to be mine-affected.  Eritrea is, by any measure, one of the most mine-affected countries in the world and earlier this year, Eritrea submitted a request for an extension of its Article 5 mine clearance deadline under the Mine Ban Treaty.

Eritrea’s Article 5 Extension request, to be considered for approval by the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November of this year, is a bit unusual. Instead of asking for an extension of time to complete demining activities, Eritrea requests a three-year extension (until February 2015) to determine the full extent of landmine contamination in the country.  In 2004, the Survey Action Center completed a Landmine Impact Survey of Eritrea that provides the baseline for all mine action in Eritrea, but the authors of the extension request believe that the information from the LIS needs to be refined and improved.  Eritrea’s extension request is essentially a request for time to re-assess the LIS findings; eliminate suspected hazardous areas through non-technical survey and land release; and survey areas that had not been covered by the LIS due to dangerous conditions at the time of the LIS. If this extension request is approved, then Eritrea will submit a second extension request in 2014 with a detailed plan for demining all remaining mine-affected areas.

As Eritrea’s extension request is reviewed by the 11MSP, I think the reviewers must consider the following points.  First, an approval of this request implies a tacit approval of the second request that will be submitted in 2014.  Second, that other countries with pending mine clearance deadlines might mimic Eritrea’s request, submitting extension requests without detailed implementation plans.  Both of these are important issues, but not nearly as important as the third: Eritrea will need help from the international community to meet its mine clearance obligations and that assistance may be difficult to obtain.

Eritrea has come to be seen as a pariah state, a long cry from Bill Clinton’s laudatory claims of its place as part of the “new breed” of African states and leadership.  Recent stories have focused on Eritrea’s plans to bomb the African Union meetings in Addis Ababa in January 2011, its support for the Al Shabaab rebels in Somalia and its expulsion of non-governmental organizations (full disclosure: my former employer, Landmine Survivors Network, was also forced to terminate operations in Eritrea in the early 2000s).  In the last couple of weeks however, Eritrea has sought to mend fences and the president, Isaias Afewerki traveled to Kampala to meet with Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to build goodwill in advance of Eritrea’s efforts to re-join the East African political alliance, the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought (IGAD).  The thaw in Eritrea’s relations with its neighbors comes in the wake of new sanctions against Eritrea for use of child soldiers, in the face of East Africa’s crippling famine and just as Eritrea is seeking international support for mine action.  I think it is highly likely that Eritrea is starving and needs the assistance of the international community to survive. Eritrea will also need significant assistance to meet its mine clearance obligations and that need should be considered as Eritrea’s Article 5 extension request is reviewed.

Since the mid-2000s, when it expelled the last of the humanitarian and development NGOs working in the country, Eritrea has received less and less foreign aid.  According to the World Bank, aid to Eritrea has stagnated at around US $150 million per year since 2006, levels last seen during Eritrea’s 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia.

In addition to the decline in overall foreign aid to Eritrea, international assistance for mine action has collapsed almost entirely.  When Eritrea acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty in 2001, significant assistance was made available to Eritrea for mine action.  That assistance has declined dramatically as seen in the chart below from data provided by United Nations’ Financial Tracking Service.

Eritrea complains in its Article 5 extension request that the actions and funding provided to international mine action NGOs in the early 2000s were unknown and the inability of the Eritrean government to control those organizations – and perhaps more importantly, control their funding – led to their expulsion. 

Eritrea proposes to have all of the demining be done by its own mine action authority and pledges to contribute almost $5 million to cover the demining and mine-risk education between 2011 and 2015.  An additional $3.5 million is sought from other sources to fully fund the mine action plan.  With recent international support for mine action in Eritrea negligible, the 11MSP reviewers of Eritrea’s extension request will need to consider whether or not the $3.5 million is forthcoming.  More importantly, Eritrea will need tens of millions of dollars to conduct demining once the scope of contamination is known (with 1.5 million mines and a cost of $100 to clear each mine, Eritrea may need as much as $150 million to completely demine the country). 

The 11MSP reviewers cannot guarantee mine action funding for Eritrea, but the reviewers will need to provide more than just platitudes about the need for the international community to support Eritrea’s mine action efforts.  The reviewers should take the temperature of the donor countries to determine the donors’ ability and willingness to commit the long-term funding needed for demining in Eritrea.  In addition, the reviewers should question Eritrea’s ability to match international contributions.  According to the LC3 Dataset from the World Bank (when Iraq and Afghanistan are excluded), donor countries provide 60% of the funding for mine action and affected countries provide the remaining 40%.  Can Eritrea pledge to commit this level of funding in its second extension request?  If not, will donors be willing to make up the difference? 

One area that will help the reviewers in their decision-making will be to observe the current relations of Eritrea with its neighbors and monitor donor pledges to Eritrea.  If Eritrea re-joins IGAD, that would represent a significant thaw in its relations with other East African states; if UN sanctions against Eritrea are lifted (or lessened), that would suggest that international aid to the country may increase; if Eritrea accepts the assistance of international NGOs, that would increase the capacity of the country to engage in mine action.  Equally important to monitor would be the famine assistance Eritrea receives.  According to the World Food Programme, more than 35% of Eritrea’s population is undernourished, but WFP does not work in Eritrea and the full impact of the East African famine on Eritrea is unknown.  If Eritrea asks for and accepts WFP assistance, that might be the most telling indicator for the 11MSP reviewers; it might be the only good thing to come out of the famine in the Horn of Africa.

Michael P. Moore

August 29, 2011

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Uganda: Neither Mine-Free or Mine-Safe in 2012

According to statements by the Government of Uganda and by published reports, Uganda will complete the demining of all known minefields by August 2012.  Uganda is focusing its demining activities in the northern district of Kitgum, along the border with Sudan, in areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion.  Certainly the LRA rebellion contributed a significant amount of Uganda’s landmine contamination, but, as even Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni acknowledged during his recent re-election campaign, Uganda has been the subject of 26 rebellions in addition to the LRA rebellion since 1986 when Museveni came to power; after Museveni himself had led a five-year rebellion in the heart of the country. There is known landmine contamination in the west and northwest of the country that the government attributes to the Allied Democratic Force and the West Nile Bank Front rebellions, but demining will not take place in these areas because the contamination is labeled as “nuisance” mines rather than an organized deployment of mines in a minefield. 

The Government of Uganda and its mine action authority, the Uganda Mine Action Center, are to be commended for their work in support of the development of the Mine Ban Treaty and for their aggressive approach to the Agoro Hills and Ngomoromo minefields in Kitgum District.  Although the Government of Uganda was an early and ardent supporter of the Mine Ban Treaty, the country did not begin demining activities as required by Article 5 of the Treaty until 2006 when the LRA withdrew from Uganda and the violence abated.  Because of this late start to demining, Uganda was not able to meet the Treaty-mandated deadline for clearance and so requested and received an extension until August 1, 2012 to complete mine clearance.  With less than a year to go until that deadline, UMAC remains confident that the demining activities proposed and approved in the extension request will be completed.

Landmine Use in Uganda

The first documented use of landmines in Uganda that I have been able to find dates to 1979 and has been acknowledged by the Government of Uganda.  In 1979, the Tanzanian Peoples Defence Force and the Ugandan rebel movement, the Peoples Resistance Army, under the command of Yoweri Museveni, attacked and defeated the forces loyal to then-President Idi Amin.  The TPDF and PRA drove Amin’s forces across the country into the far northwestern region of the country, the West Nile, where Amin was from and where he crew his strongest support.  As Amin’s forces withdrew across the Nile River, they laid landmines to protect their retreat and prevent any further advance of the TPDF and PRA.  For most of the next 15 years, the mines laid by Amin’s loyalists were the only landmines in northern Uganda.

Shortly after Amin’s defeat, new elections took place in Uganda in 1980, elections that were most likely rigged and returned former President Milton Obote to power.  In response, Museveni launched his “bush war” and began a five-year civil war against Obote’s regime.  Now, while Obote’s regime would not be the most unbiased observer, the accusations of Obote’s ministers that Museveni’s National Resistance Army was using landmines were supported by stories filed by Reuters and other news agencies documenting the mining of roads around Kampala by rebels destroying trucks, buses and ambulances traveling between Kampala and other towns in central Uganda.  In 1985, towards the end of the civil war, the National Resistance Army was reported to have used landmines to protect its bases in western and southwestern Uganda (Fort Portal and Mbarara, respectively) whilst continuing to harass Ugandan army forces by mining the roads around Kampala. The United States government was reported to have provided Obote’s government with helicopters so that the Ugandan army could travel safely through the country and avoid the dangerous roads. 

The use of mines by the National Resistance Army would have mimicked similar usage by rebels in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, rebel movements that Museveni had either trained with (Mozambique) and / or expressed admiration for (Zimbabwe, at the time at least). 

In 1994, after the breakdown of the Betty Bigombe-mediated talks between the Government of Uganda and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA received material, financial and technical support from the Government of Sudan.  Sudan’s support of the LRA is often seen as a direct response to Uganda’s support of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army led by John Garang, a friend and former classmate of Museveni’s.  The LRA received landmines from Sudan and began to use them widely,  to sow fear by placing them in and around homes and to protect their fighting forces from counter-attack or pursuit.  The LRA is associated with landmine contamination in the modern districts of Gulu, Amuru and Kitgum.

Two other rebel forces, the Allied Democratic Force and the West Nile Bank Front, also used landmines in the 1990s.  The ADF used mines in Kasese district and western Uganda – very near to where the NRA’s headquarters were located in the early 1980s – and the WNBF used mines in the West Nile region to the far northwest of the country – the same place where Amin’s forces used mines in 1979.  Therefore, landmine contamination in western Uganda and northwestern Uganda covers multiple periods and conflicts.

In the 1990s, the Ugandan army denied any usage of landmines even though the country possessed landmine manufacturing facilities.  In 2000, the Ugandan army was accused of using mines in the battle with Rwandan forces over the town of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but no credible reports of mine use by the Ugandan army can be found after Museveni and the NRA seized power in 1986.

Demining Activities Insufficient

The history of mine usage in Uganda shows that a much greater portion of the country is likely affected by landmines than just those districts affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion which were the focus of activities in Uganda’s approved Article 5 extension request.  In the extension request, the government of Uganda recognized the presence of “nuisance” mines in western Uganda, but the government attributes this contamination to the ADF rebels and makes no mention or acknowledgement of the accusations of mine use leveled against the NRA in the same region.  Uganda had been subject to a comprehensive mine survey, but the government rejected the findings of the survey, recognizing landmine contamination only in areas where the contamination could be directly tied to LRA activity.  Landmines continue to be found elsewhere in western and northwestern Uganda and Handicap International UK has recently launched a victim assistance and mine-risk education program in western Uganda to address this on-going threat.

In addition, because of the five-year civil war between the NRA and Obote’s regime in the early 1980s, I believe there is likely landmine contamination in the much more densely populated regions of central Uganda, around Kampala in the so-called Luwero Triangle.  The NRA was accused of mining roadways to distribute transit and harass Obote’s army and residual mines may remain from those activities, but Museveni’s government has not taken responsibility for, or even acknowledged the possibility of the NRA’s use of mines during their war.  The focus on the LRA’s landmine activities is part of a broader pattern of the Museveni regime to blame “bandits” and “hyenas” for problems in the country, without recognizing that his own past as a rebel leader might play some part.

Verdict: Landmine Contamination and Casualties will Continue in Uganda

In reviewing the progress of demining in Kitgum District’s Agoro and Ngomoromo hills, I believe the government will achieve the stated goal of clearing the minefields described in the Article 5 extension request.  The government has hired 39 of the 40 deminers that were planned for in the request and Norwegian People’s Aid was able to provide the “Mine Wolf” demining vehicle from Sudan to expedite clearance of large areas.  To date, no significant delays have been met although the government has continued to seek additional funding for the clearance activities. 

However, the presence of “nuisance” mines in western Uganda, the continued discovery of landmines in western, northwestern and northern districts, and the possible presence of mines in central Uganda mean that Uganda may achieve its stated goals of clearing specific minefields, but that won’t render the country mine-free or mine-safe by the August 1, 2012 deadline.  If suspected hazardous areas are not cleared through technical survey, Uganda will continue to experience casualties for many years to come.

Michael P. Moore, August 24, 2011


Getting the Mines out of the Ground: An update on progress towards compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty

One of the key provisions of the Mine Ban Treaty is the requirement of all state parties to destroy all of the anti-personnel mines within their territorial control.  Stockpiles of landmines are to be destroyed within four years of the Treaty’s entry into force for the country (per Article 4) and landmines in the ground are to be destroyed within ten years (per Article 5). The process of removing mines from the ground is slow and requires tremendous concentration and precision (who would want to walk across an improperly or hastily cleared minefield?).  It is also a costly process with the usual figure quoted being $100 per mine removed from the ground. 

In general African members of Mine Ban Treaty are not making as good progress on their demining as European or American member, but they are making better progress than Asian members.  More than a quarter of African states have completed their demining requirements, but almost half have been forced to request extensions as allowed under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.  To date, no Asian state has completed the demining of its territory and almost two-thirds of Asian states have requested extensions.  Also important to note, almost all African states are party to the Mine Ban Treaty whilst less than half of the states of Asia have signed the Treaty (and those that have represent only a small portion of the Asian continent since Russia, India and China – amongst many others – remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty framework).

So that’s good news, right?  Of course, but let’s take a closer look at those African states that still need to complete demining.  Two countries, Chad and Zimbabwe, have had to request second extensions after they were unable to complete demining within the period allowed under their original extension. Zimbabwe’s ability to meet its revised deadline is contingent on receiving foreign assistance (a difficult ask considering the sanctions on Mugabe’s regime); I am not sure about Chad’s particular situation, but the fact that the Darfur conflict continues along Chad’s eastern border suggests that landmine and UXO contamination might be continuing.

Three countries have looming demining deadlines: Republic of Congo (November 1, 2011), Guinea-Bissau (January 1, 2012) and Uganda (August 1, 2012).  Both Guinea-Bissau and Uganda have already requested and received extensions to complete demining activities so the pressure on them to complete demining by these deadlines will be significant.  The extent of landmine contamination, if any exists at all, in the Republic of Congo is unclear to me at the moment.  In the coming weeks, I will review all three countries’ demining progress and activities and try to forecast whether or not they will be successful in meeting their Article 5 obligations by the coming deadlines.

Also, three countries – Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea – have submitted extension requests for consideration at the next Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from November 28th to December 2nd, 2011.   I will try to review each of the extension requests and provide my commentary on their substance and merit.

Below is a little more background including the Article 5.1 from the Mine Ban Treaty and some basic data on Article 5 compliance for African states.

Michael P. Moore, August 19, 2011.

Article 5: Destruction of anti-personnel mines in mined areas

1.Each State Party undertakes to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than ten years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.

Country

Original Deadline for Article 5 Compliance

First Extension

Second Extension

Extension Pending for Consideration at 11MSP?

Demining Completed?

Algeria

1 APR 2012

 

 

YES

 

Angola

1 JAN 2013

 

 

 

 

Burundi

1 APR 2014

 

 

 

 

Chad

1 NOV 2009

1 JAN 2011

1 JAN 2014

 

 

Congo, Republic of

1 NOV 2011

 

 

 

 

Congo, Democratic Republic of

1 NOV 2012

 

 

YES

 

Djibouti

1 MAR 2009

 

 

 

YES

Eritrea

1 FEB 2012

 

 

YES

 

Ethiopia

1 JUNE 2015

 

 

 

 

Gambia

1 MAR 2013

 

 

 

 

Guinea-Bissau

1 JAN 2011

1 JAN 2012

 

 

 

Malawi

1 MAR 2009

 

 

 

YES

Mauritania

1 JAN 2011

1 JAN 2016

 

 

 

Nigeria

1 MAR 2012

 

 

 

YES*

Rwanda

1 DEC 2010

 

 

 

YES

Senegal

1 MAR 2009

1 MAR 2016

 

 

 

Sudan

1 APR 2014

 

 

 

 

Swaziland

1 JUN 2009

 

 

 

YES

Tunisia

1 JAN 2010

 

 

 

YES

Uganda

1 AUG 2009

1 AUG 2012

 

 

 

Zambia

1 AUG 2011

 

 

 

YES

Zimbabwe

1 MAR 2009

1 JAN 2011

1 JAN 2013

 

 

* Nigeria has declared that it has completed its demining requirements, but significant UXO contamination remains from several conflicts.

Total Mine-Affected State Parties in Africa: 22

Number of African State Parties to complete demining as required under Article 5: 7

Number of African State Parties Requesting an Extension: 9


Why new use of landmines in Sudan is a greater tragedy than new use in Libya

In early 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Government of Sudan in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement / Army brought an end to a 20-year civil war that had killed millions of Sudanese.  Against the backdrop of worsening conditions in Darfur, the CPA was a moment of hope for Sudan and represented the culmination of years of external mediation, led by the United States among others.  Shortly after the CPA was signed, John Garang, the leader of the SPLM/A and President of South Sudan was killed in a helicopter crash, but the commitment to the CPA by both parties was strong enough to overcome this test. 

One of the provisions of the CPA was a referendum on independence for South Sudan, a referendum that passed with near universal support in January 2011; the referendum’s outcome ensured the South Sudan would become an independent nation in July 2011.  Between the referendum and the independence date, violence flared in a number of locations in Sudan and South Sudan, including Abyei, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions.  Abyei is a region whose status (whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan) was supposed to be settled by a referendum which was never held and so sovereignty over Abyei is contested, mostly because of the potential oil revenues available from Abyei.  South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions were allied with the SPLM/A at times during the civil war but are part of Sudan under the CPA so the former rebels in those regions are threatening to resume war and have been subject to reprisals from Khartoum.

Prior to the outbreaks of violence, hopes were high for a long-lasting peace in Sudan and South Sudan.  Investment in development activities, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid was very high with aid amounts increasing twelve-fold from 2000 to 2008, from $130 million to $1.75 billion.  Funding for mine action experienced similar increases, from a low of $140,607 in 2000 to almost $100 million in 2007 according to UNOCHA.  All the attention and funding for Sudan allowed the United Nations Mine Action Office in Sudan to declare in 2010 that they expected to clear all landmines and unexploded ordnance from the country by June 2011.

According to United Nations Mine Action Team data compiled in the World Bank’s Landmine Contamination, Casualty and Clearance Dataset (LC3 Dataset), the majority of mine action funding for 2005 to 2009 in Africa went to Sudan (see the below chart). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

This high-level of funding led to the clearance of thousands of kilometers of roads and the destruction of tens of thousands of explosive remnants of war.  However, in the same time period, Sudan did not have the majority of reported landmine and UXO casualties (451 out of 2,328 reported casualties).  The high level of investment did lead to a marked decline in the number of casualties in Sudan (from 140 in 2006 to 43 in 2009), but a similar decline was seen throughout Africa (from 752 in 2006 to 141 in 2009, see chart below). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

I would argue that the mine action investment in Sudan was reflective not of the need (as evidenced by the number of casualties), but of the hope that a permanent peace had been achieved in Sudan.  The violence in Unity State alone crushes some of those hopes. 

In April, a militia commanded by a former SPLA commander, Peter Gadet (also written as “Gatdet” in some articles), launched a rebellion against the South Sudan government in Unity State.  Gadet’s forces used landmines to close roads within Unity; at least six separate landmine incidents were reported in the first half of May and I could identify at least 11 casualties (five killed and six injured) from newspaper articles (found by searching for “landmine” and “Sudan” on http://allafrica.com/) about one of the incidents in early May and three others from April, late May and June.  This is in contrast to UNMAS’s reported figure of 14 landmine and UXO casualties in Unity State for the period 2005-2009.  The UN Mine Action Office in Sudan believed that these incidents were due to new laying of landmines based upon anecdotal evidence and the fact that no minefields had been identified in Unity State as of 2009.  In other words, 11 casualties is the absolute minimum for landmine casualties in Unity State as a result of the new landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels; the real figure is probably much higher and represents a significant increase in the number of landmine casualties and a reversal of the historical trend. 

The developing civil war in Libya, pitting ragtag rebels against Moammar Ghaddafi’s regime, also saw significant new use of landmines by the regime.  The rebels in Libya pledged not to use landmines and many stories, like this one, circulated about the volunteer deminers among the rebels. But Libya never signed the Mine Ban Treaty, maintaining a stockpile of an unknown number landmines, and has supported terrorist organizations in the past as evidenced by the Lockerbie bombing.  In recent years, Ghaddafi sought a thaw in relations with the West and dismantled his weapons of mass destruction programs (providing information about Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan in the process), but I don’t think anyone really thought he was a good guy or that his regime would morph into a democracy.  NATO’s willingness to act under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in Libya was definitely conditioned by the fact that Ghaddafi is an unrelenting tyrant who just happens to be sitting on massive petroleum wealth which would be made available to Europe should the rebels succeed.  The fact that Ghaddafi’s forces used landmines should not be a surprise; had he not given up his WMD I’m sure he would have contemplated their use as well. 

Sudan, on the other hand, is a party to Mine Ban Treaty and destroyed its stockpile of landmines in 2008, as well as destroying found stockpiles that had previously been in rebel hands.  In 2009, the Government of Sudan declared that less than 2,000 landmines had been retained for training purposes (an allowable action under the Mine Ban Treaty).  South Sudan did not retain any mines separately from those controlled by the officials in Khartoum.  So, the Sudanese people, in Unity State and elsewhere, had a reasonable expectation that no new landmines would be laid, an expectation the rebels in Libya could not have.  This is the real tragedy: Sudan was approaching a mine-free (or at least mine-safe) status that has been undermined by the new usage of landmine.  A further question that needs to be resolved is the provenance of the landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels.  Human Rights Watch has used the fact that Libya’s mines were manufactured by Brazil and Belgium, signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty, to shame the producers and leading Brazil to launch an investigation into how its mines came to be in Libyan stockpiles.  To the best of my knowledge, similar inquiries have not been made into the origin of Gadet’s landmines. Either they came from the stocks retained for training or they came from undeclared stockpiles or they were obtained from a third party, all of which are illegal under the Mine Ban Treaty and if such behavior goes unpunished, other nations and rebels could follow suit, deepening the tragedy.

Michael P. Moore, August 12, 2011


Landmines and the Famine in East Africa

Much of the Horn of Africa is polluted by landmines and explosive remants of war.  Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland all have extensive minefields and ERW contamination from wars dating back to the Italian invasion in the 1930s.  The recent war (1998) between Eritrea and Ethiopia placed more mines and ordnance along the countries’ borders and the near-permanent state of civil war in Somalia has meant that two decades’ worth of explosive material litters the areas around Mogadishu and 10% of the communities in Bakol (or Bakool) have landmines and ERW.  Surveys in Somalia have been limited, but according to the Landmine Monitor, in 2009 Somalia had 126 landmine and ERW casualties on top of the 116 in 2008.  Ethiopia saw 21 casualties over the same years, Eritrea 102, Somaliland 81 and zero for Djibouti.  The Horn of Africa represented 40% of all landmine casualties in Africa in 2009 and the Monitor believes the numbers are under-reported, suggesting many more incidents went undocumented.

As a result, I expected to find significant reporting on the plight of landmine victims as a vulnerable population within the famine-affected region.  Instead, I’ve seen no mention of landmine accidents or reports from mine action organizations (specifically the HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group and Handicap International) about how their work has been constrained by the famine.  The civil war in Libya has dominated headlines about landmines in Africa along with the deaths of four United Nations peacekeepers in Abyei in Sudan.  The one report I could find described how landmines had closed a road to Dolo, one of the towns in Somalia’s declared famine zone. 

The below graphic, compiled by the BBC from information from UNOCHA, UNHCR, USAID and the Famine Early Warning System Network, shows the famine-affected areas including the mine-affected regions of Bakool and Mogadishu:

 

The Guardian and the Christian Science Monitor both wrote about the difficulties in providing famine relief to Somalia.  Both papers blamed Al-Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel movement, and the lack of funding for the World Food Programme in general and for famine relief in Somalia in particular.  The Christian Science Monitor also points out that violence is on-going in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia and that the country as a whole lacks a government; the Transitional Federal Government, the UN-recognized authority in Somalia, only controls the small amount of land protected by Ugandan and Burundian peace-keeping forces.  The Guardian lays some of the blame on the United States’s anti-terrorism laws which are designed to prevent assistance from reaching groups like Al-Shabaab.  These laws create a reporting and due diligence burden that aid agencies and organizations have difficulty understanding.

I could take this lack of information as a positive sign: no news is good news; if there are no reports of injuries from landmines amongst the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the famine, then maybe there aren’t any such injuries or only just a few.  Alternatively, as the Landmine Monitor has suggested, reports of landmine casualties may be under-reported and simply lost in the thousands of refugees and displaced persons arriving in camps every day.  According to Handicap International, of the 400,000 refugees in Dabaab camp just across the Somali border in Kenya, at least 20,000 have some form of disability, but the registration and identification of services needed for those persons is woefully inadequate.  Of the estimated 8,000 refugees with disabilities who arrived in the camp in July 2011, only 500 have been registered and only two (2!?) wheelchairs were issued.  Therefore I think it is likely that a great many landmine victims may be living in Dabaab and other camps without their situation being known and without access to rehabilitation services.  In an area where access to the necessities of life – water, food, vaccines – is limited, access to rehabilitation services may be impossible, compounding the vulnerability of landmine victims.

In addition to the landmine victims in the camps, many landmine victims may not have been able to make the trip or suffered from injuries along the way.  From a study in Uganda, 61% of deaths due to landmine injury were immediate and the majority of the other deaths occurred during transit to the hospital.   Refugees arriving at Dabaab camp traveled as far as 249 miles across landmine and ERW-affected regions; if someone stepped on a landmine, it is unlikely that they would have been able to finish the trip and their death would be unrecorded. 

There is another side to the impact of landmines in the East African famine: what happens when refugees and displaced persons return home?  In Angola after the civil wars there, returnee families would settle on land that was heavily mined, sometimes with the knowledge of the presence of mines, sometimes not.  In Bosnia, I was told that the months with the highest numbers of landmine victims were not during the war years, but afterwards when people returned to their homes, not knowing that their land had been mined.   These injuries took place before mine-risk education programs could be implemented and before any minefield surveys were conducted.  Thus, the risk from landmine contamination for people affected by the famine in East Africa could last long after the famine concludes.  When refugees and displaced persons leave the camps and return to their homes, they will have to pass once more through mine-affected areas and may find their homes are now mine-affected when before they were not. 

So, the silence about landmines in the midst of the East African famine is probably just that, silence.  With the possibility of thousands if not millions of deaths due to starvation, landmines and landmine injuries are a small concern, but not one that should be forgotten.

Michael P. Moore. August 5, 2011


Until Every Step Is Safe.

Welcome to the Landmines in Africa Blog! Okay, so that exclamation point is probably as cheery as we’re going to get about the subject, the continuing use and danger of landmines on the African continent.  According to Project Ploughshares there were, as of May 20, 2011, nine active conflicts in eight nations in Africa.  A tenth can be added with the eruption of civil war in Libya.  Therefore nearly 20% of all African states have experienced conflict in this year alone and in at least five of those conflicts, landmines have been used causing indiscriminate harm.

Let’s start with a few definitions.  It’s always good to know what one is saying whilst he is saying it. When I talk about landmines I am using the definition of an anti-personnel mine from the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning the use, production and transfer of landmines which is “a [munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle] designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.” See also ICBL’s discussion here.

When I talk about Africa I mean the entire continent and the nations that are members of the African Union and are eligible to participate in the Confédération Africaine du Football’s Cup of Nations tournament.  Some commentators may say “Africa” when they really mean “Sub-Saharan Africa” and are excluding the North African states from Morocco to Egypt.  If I mean to say “Sub-Saharan Africa,” I will try to do so. 

When I talk about landmine victims, I am referring to all persons injured or killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance, their families and communities.  More broadly, I am also referring to those persons whose lives are constrained by landmines, “those who, either individually or collectively, have suffered physical, emotional and psychological injury, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights through acts or omissions related to mine utilization.” I include victims of unexploded ordnance (sometimes referred to as “explosive remnants of war”) because the injuries sustained from many kinds of explosive material are similar and by the time the injuries occur, the exact weapon is immaterial.  Again, please see the ICBL’s discussion here.

I am not yet sure how this blog will play out.  I have several things I want to accomplish and I will try to touch on all of these but how I shall do so is still to be determined.  Of interest are:

Updates on mine action: For example reporting about victims, notable achievements and government actions (positive and negative).

In-depth discussions of the landmine situation in particular countries: While the annual Landmine Monitor is (and should be for everyone) the primary source of information about mine action in individual countries, I see a need for slightly more work, especially challenging claims made by governments and providing commentary rather than strict reporting. 

Descriptions of organizations doing mine action in Africa: In particular my interest is in the national and local organizations rather than the international organizations (which are able to produce their own publicity).  If you know of any organization that deserves a shout-out, please let me know and I will try to write about them here.

Lastly, who am I?  I am an organization development professional with more than a dozen years of experience working with not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations around the world.  Five of those years were spent working for Landmine Survivors Network (LSN, later Survivor Corps).  My time with LSN was the most personally rewarding period of my worklife, but also the most heart-wrenching.  Every day I would hear stories about persons affected by landmines, some inspiring but all too many tragic.  This blog is my meager way of keeping focus on the issue of landmines, particularly as they affect Africa.  Nearly every state in Africa has banned landmines but still people are being killed or injured by these weapons.  Until every step is safe, we must keep up the work.

Feel free to contact me via Twitter (@minesinafrica) or by commenting on any of my posts. 

Michael P. Moore, August 1, 2011