Obligations of the Newest State Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty

When the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) opens in less than two weeks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, one of the highlights will be the fact that two states – Tuvulu and South Sudan – have acceded to the treaty since the last meeting and two others – Finland and Tonga – are seriously considering accession.  Since the theme or motto for the 11MSP is “Push for Progress,” these new accessions and expressions of interest will be applauded and held up as examples for others especially since the last state to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty was Palau in November 2007.  Finland would be the last member of the European Union to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty; South Sudan’s accession means that only three of the 52 African Union states remain outside the Treaty; Tuvulu’s accession means that only three of the 16 Pacific Island states remain outside the Treaty, a figure that could be reduced to two if Tonga accedes. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Mine Ban Treaty’s Special Envoy on Universalization, Prince Mired of Jordan, should be congratulated for their efforts at universalization of the Treaty; but we should also contemplate the obligations these four states will face as parties to the Treaty.

There are many obligations States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty face, but I will focus on three: stockpile destruction (Article 4), demining all mined areas within the state’s territory (Article 5) and assistance for victims (Article 6.3). 

Stockpile Destruction

Within four years of entry into force (which occurs six months after accession), each state party must “destroy or ensure the destruction of all stockpiled anti-personnel mines it owns or possesses” (Mine Ban Treaty, Article 4). Tuvalu (The Monitor) and Tonga (The Monitor) have both stated that they have never stockpiled landmines, so the stockpile destruction obligation will not pose any complications for either country. 

Finland possesses more than a million anti-personnel landmines in its arsenal and, much like the United States, has sought to replace the current stockpile with newer systems at a cost of more than 200 million Euros.  Finland’s defense forces will begin the stockpile destruction in 2012 and expects to complete the process within the mandated four-year period (The Monitor).

South Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army may or may not have stockpiled anti-personnel landmines.  In 2008 Sudan completed its stockpile destruction, a process that should have included any landmines in what is now South Sudan.  Since then, Sudan has reported finding caches of landmines that had been in possession of rebel groups and more recent reports of new mine-laying along the Sudan – South Sudan border suggests that all stockpiles were not destroyed (The Monitor). With the emerging conflicts in Kordofan, Blue Nile and Unity states, South Sudan may be host to several rebel groups fighting against Sudan that possess landmines so stockpile destruction will require those rebel groups to turn over any such explosives to the South Sudanese government.  Basically, the extent of the landmine stockpiles in South Sudan is unknown and may be very difficult to find out.

Demining

Within ten years of entry into force, all States Parties must “destroy of ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control” (Mine Ban Treaty, Article 5.1).  Neither Tonga (The Monitor) nor Tuvalu (The Monitor) have reported the presence of any terrestrial mine fields but I would be curious about any underwater contamination from the Pacific campaigns of World War II.  Are states under any obligation to demine their territorial waters?  Has anyone ever issued a legal opinion on this?

Finland has some contamination from explosive remnants of war from World War II (and probably the preceding Winter War) that may include landmines (The Monitor). These areas are known and will need to be marked and surveyed to determine what, if any, landmine contamination exists.  Provided Finland begins the process in a timely manner, this should not present too great an obstacle; other EU countries have been able to meet their Article 5 obligations if they started the process far in advance of the deadline.  There would be no excuse for Finland to need an extension.

According to the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) in South Sudan, “each one of the country’s 10 states has recorded mine-related deaths and injuries, and at least 300 villages are known to be contaminated with mines” (All Africa).  More than 2 million pieces of explosive ordnance, including anti-personnel mines, have been destroyed in South Sudan since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed.  Prior to separation, Sudan completed a Landmine Impact Study that determined that three-quarters of all mine-contaminated areas were in what is now South Sudan and that demining would not be completed by the original treaty mandated deadline of 2014 (Sudan acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty in 2003).  By acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty as a separate state, South Sudan has essentially re-started the clock on its mine clearance obligations, buying itself another eight years to clear mined areas.  With the information from the Landmine Impact Survey, the scope of the problem is known, so long as new mines are not laid as has been happening along the Sudan-South Sudan border (The Monitor). New mines (and on-going conflict in newly-mined areas) will necessarily prolong the demining process.

Victim Assistance

“Each State Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration of mine victims” (Mine Ban Treaty, Article 6.3, emphasis added). In my opinion, the qualifier “in a position to do so” is a moral dodge; all States are in the position to provide assistance and have the obligation to do so, but the quality of that assistance may vary.  Tonga (The Monitor) and Tuvalu (The Monitor) have no reported landmine victims among their populations. 

Finland has not reported any landmine victims from domestic accidents, but may have landmine victims from service in other countries, e.g. Afghanistan (Wikipedia), and some elderly victims from World War II.  Finland is a donor state for victim assistance programs, providing financial aid to Cambodia, Chad and Iraq specifically for victim assistance needs, so we can assume Finland has the capacity to provide any necessary rehabilitation and reintegration services to its citizens. The story in South Sudan is a little different…

The estimated number of landmine victims in South Sudan has increased dramatically.  In 2010, The Monitor reported nearly 1,200 landmine survivors for all of Sudan (including what is now South Sudan), but UNMACC staff in South Sudan have provided assistance to 2,700 landmine survivors through November 2011 (All Africa), suggesting that the victim assistance needs for South Sudan are greater than previously thought.  If we assume that infant mortality is a rough estimate of the quality of health care in a country (I tried looking at the numbers of physicians and hospital beds, but the data is lacking), South Sudan has an infant mortality rate of 105 deaths per 1,000 live births (Sudan Tribune)(compare to Finland with 2, Tonga with 13 or even Sudan with 66 [World Bank]), giving it the fifth-worst health-care system in the world, better than Somalia’s but not as good as Afghanistan’s (World Bank).  The South Sudanese government reports little or no health care infrastructure in the country (Sudan Tribune) and therefore the specialized services needed by landmine survivors, e.g. rehabilitation services, prosthetic and orthotic services, are also absent.

Also consider that economic reintegration is part of the victim assistance package and, except for its oil reserves, South Sudan is a desperately poor state and will be wholly dependent upon foreign aid to meet this part of its victim assistance obligations.  Or perhaps put another way, there is no economy in South Sudan to reintegrate survivors into.

Conclusions

Tonga and Tuvalu shall have no problem fulfilling their obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty.  With no extant minefields, no landmine stockpiles and no reported mine victims, both countries will be able to report full compliance with the Treaty once it comes into force.  The question for Tonga and Tuvalu really should be: what took you so long? 

Finland’s major obstacle to meeting its Treaty obligations will be the destruction of the million anti-personnel mines in its stockpile.  History has shown that delays in starting the destruction process have contributed to a failure by states to meet their obligations; states that begin the process as soon as the Treaty enters into force have been able to complete the process well in advance of the four-year deadline (The Monitor).  A survey of possible mine-affected areas from the first half of the 20th Century will determine what, if any demining Finland needs to do, but this should not pose a problem.  As a global supporter of landmine victim assistance programming, we can assume that any mine victims living in Finland are able to access the necessary services for their rehabilitation and reintegration.

South Sudan will face innumerable challenges as it tries to meet its Treaty-mandated obligations.  First and foremost, this young state must come to grips with the scale of its problem.  The Sudan Landmine Impact Survey (Survey Action Center) provides a good baseline, but many potential minefields need to be confirmed or dismissed as such.  Demining operators are active in the country and will be kept busy over the next decade.  The number of victims needs to be determined and a system for identifying new victims established.  Once this is known, the victims can be given access to what passes for South Sudan’s health care system; the specialized services required for rehabilitation and reintegration of landmine survivors may need to be provided by international organizations for many years to come. 

Also, if the Sudan People’s Liberation Army holds any landmine stockpiles, they need to be declared and destroyed as soon as possible.  This is especially urgent considering the potential war looming along the Sudan-South Sudan border.  New usage of mines has been reported in the area and each new mine makes meeting South Sudan’s Treaty obligations that much harder.  Any mines currently held in stockpiles can find their way into the ground where they pose the greatest danger.  The only way to eliminate that danger is to destroy every mine.

Michael P. Moore, November 18, 2011

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