Unmet Obligation: Delays in Demining in the Republic of CongoPosted: September 13, 2011
The Republic of Congo (ROC, sometimes referred to as Congo-Brazzaville) is facing a November 1, 2011 deadline for meeting its Article 5 mine clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. For many years, ROC asserted that it was either not mine-affected or any mine-contamination was limited to the area along the border of Angola’s Cabinda enclave. This, despite many years of civil war and the presence of other unexploded ordnance including cluster munitions. Now, with the Article 5 deadline looming, the Republic of Congo is finally acknowledging landmine contamination and the need for demining.
At the 2009 treaty review conference in Cartegena, ROC claimed that it would be able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but worrying signs were there. Mines Advisory Group, the only international mine action operator active in ROC had conducted some inconclusive surveys but instead of being able to conduct further surveys, ROC officials declared suspected areas of mine contamination to be mine-free. The Republic of Congo has no mine action authority and the only trained Congolese deminers are a dozen or so soldiers trained by MAG (The Monitor). This low capacity belies the extent of UXO contamination, with MAG able to report almost a million pieces of UXO destroyed between 2007 and 2009, including almost 5,000 anti-personnel mines. In November 2010, demining just began at the main airport outside Brazzaville, described as “a powder keg” and posing “a great threat to the surrounding population” (IRIN News).
In June 2011, at the intersessional meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, the Republic of Congo offered a brief update (AP Mine Ban Convention, PDF). In that update, ROC revealed that it would not meet the November 1, 2011 deadline for completing demining and, in fact, said that the state did not know the extent of landmine contamination in the country and still needed to develop the capacity to survey suspected hazardous areas.
The Republic of Congo repeatedly mentioned the need for international support, either from GICHD or from international donors in order to be able to meet its obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. In the intersessional update ROC offered vague plans for drafting maps and conducting a survey of suspected hazardous areas with the assistance of the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). Such a survey would allow ROC to eliminate suspected hazardous areas through land release or identify areas for mine clearance activities. ROC’s representative then declared that February 28, 2012 should be considered the true deadline for meeting the Article 5 demining obligations and that ROC would submit a formal extension request at the next Meeting of States Parties, a meeting that won’t begin until November 28, 2011; four full weeks after the expiration of ROC’s treaty-mandated deadline.
I believe the Republic of Congo simply waited too long before it began to address the landmine contamination within its borders. The work of Mines Advisory Group in ROC demonstrated that landmine contamination existed, but when MAG wanted to survey suspected hazardous areas, government officials declared those areas mine-free; possibly to avoid having to demine such areas. Any possible landmine contamination was blamed on the civil conflicts in Angola and dismissed as spillover from the Cabinda enclave (200 or miles from the capitol, Brazzaville), but the presence of landmines at the Maya Maya airport within Brazzaville’s limits belie such claims.
Landmine contamination had long been suspected in and around Brazzaville as a result of the conflicts in the city during the civil wars in the 1990s, but never investigated (or admitted to in the possible case of government use). Had the Republic of Congo confronted this possibility earlier, it may have been able to meet its Article 5 demining obligations, but until technical and non-technical surveys are completed – and whether or not the surveys can be completed by the proposed new deadline of February 28, 2012 should be questioned – the actual scope of contamination won’t be known and a comprehensive plan, as required for any Article 5 Extension Request, cannot be completed.
Similarly to Eritrea’s Article 5 Extension Request, the Republic of Congo is asking for more time to determine the extent of the landmine problem. Unlike Eritrea, ROC has not recognized that the proposed surveys may mean extensive demining will be required and ROC does not seem to be positioned to develop a plan of action. I believe the reviewers of the Republic of Congo’s Article 5 Extension Request, if and when one is actually submitted, should press the Congolese government very strongly to recognize what its treaty obligations mean and call attention to the fact that ROC waited until less than 6 months remained of the ten-year demining period to begin a formal survey process. How many deaths or injuries due to landmines occurred because the Republic of Congo delayed in trying to meet its Article 5 obligations? Even one is inexcusable.
Michael P. Moore, September 13, 2011