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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