Demining Deadlines Extended for Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo

On December 2, the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (11MSP) approved the Article 5 extension requests submitted by Algeria, Chile, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea.  Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty is the article that mandates all states parties to clear all mined areas within the states’ areas of control within 10 years of the treaty entering into force.  In 2006, the Seventh Meeting of States Parties created a process for state parties to request additional time to complete demining activities, an option sought by 23 states to date (17 states have completed their demining obligations without needing extensions, ahem).  Here I would like to review the requests and approvals for the extension requests of Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); I’ll review the requests of Eritrea and the Republic of Congo is later posts.

Algeria

Algeria’s anti-personnel mine contamination stems mostly from the war of independence from France (1956-1962) and the recent civil war (1994-1995).  The landmines from the war of independence were laid by French forces in mine-belts totaling 2,500 kilometers in length. Demining in Algeria has taken place in two phases, the first from 1963 to 1988 which resulted in the clearance of nearly 8 million (!) landmines from a 500 square-kilometer belt; the second phase began in November 2004 and is on-going, clearing an estimated 7,150 mines per month (i.e., 600,000 mines in total).  The mines laid by the Algerian army in 1994 and 1995 have all been cleared and what remains to be cleared are two mine-belts – one in the east of 887 kilometers covering 31 municipalities across four provinces and the other in the west of 192 kilometers covering 12 municipalities in two provinces.

Algeria requested an extension of five years, until April 1, 2017, to complete the remaining demining tasks it had identified.  The extension request demonstrated Algeria’s confidence that the extent of landmine contamination was known and manageable; Algeria simply recognized that it had started the demining process too late to be able to complete the task in the original ten-year period.  Demining in Algeria is entirely conducted by the Algerian corps of Combat Engineers and is complete funded by the state; no external assistance or support was needed or sought.  Algerian engineers had determined that manual demining was most appropriate for the terrain and for reliability.  Since the start of the second phase of demining, landmine accidents have grown infrequent, from 126 casualties in 2005 to just one in 2010.  Algerian engineers have calculated that they will be able to clear 4.9 linear kilometers per team month and by deploying three teams in the east and two in the west, all of the extant minefields shall be cleared with two notable exceptions.

Two “historical sites” consisting of short segments of the Challe et Morice mine belt are to be preserved as open-air museums to commemorate landmine victims and martyrs from the war of independence (the Challe et Morice belt is the border established by the French to prevent Algerian independence fighters from receiving assistance from allies in Tunisia; my guess is the preserved section is to demonstrate the lengths the French government was willing to go to in order to preserve its dominion over Algeria) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

The request from Algeria was considered to be “workable, comprehensive and complete… demonstrating a high level of ownership over the challenge” and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) called the request “well-reasoned” but asked for some additional clarity about exactly which areas still required demining.  The fact that Algeria was fully covering the cost of compliance for demining was applauded by ICBL and by the 11MSP reviewers.  ICBL did note that the preservation of mined areas, the Challe et Morice museum, was not allowed under the Mine Ban Treaty and that these areas would need to be cleared in order for Algeria to fully meet its Article 5 obligations (ICBL).

The 11MSP granted Algeria’s request without hesitation and made only one qualifying remark, that Algeria should provide annual updates on the progress to date during the extension period to the Standing Committees on demining, future Meetings of the States Parties and the Third Review Conference (likely to be held in 2014) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).   

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo requested a 26 month extension to complete its demining obligations, giving a revised deadline on January 1, 2015.  At the time DRC ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 2002, the government believed that there were 182 suspected hazardous areas that would need to be surveyed and possibly cleared.  Since then, an additional 722 suspected mined areas have been identified, bringing the total number of sites to be surveyed to over 900 covering more than 800 square kilometers.  The majority of these suspected areas have been re-classified as part of a “database cleanup” as “battle areas” and are contaminated by other explosive remnants of war, not anti-personnel landmines.  The actual number of suspected or confirmed sites with anti-personnel landmine contamination is 82 (12 confirmed, 70 suspected).

The request from DRC is actually two-fold: the additional 26 months are needed to complete ongoing assessments, the General Mine Action Assessment (GMAA) and the General Mine Action Survey (GMAS), to determine the “new baseline of contamination.”  National standards for clearance with quality controls and accreditation processes for mine action operators have been developed and are in the process of formal adoption and these new standards will inform the development of the baseline.  Once the baseline is established, a second extension request will be submitted to provide the necessary details on how the Article 5 obligations shall be fully met.  At this time DRC is unable to provide a comprehensive plan for meeting its Article 5 obligations because the GMAA and GMAS have yet to survey the 70 suspected areas, surveys which will be performed between January 2013 and November 2014.

A key issue mentioned in the extension request is cost.  Unlike Algeria, DRC is highly dependent upon outside assistance to complete its demining activities.  Two international operators, Mines Advisory Group and Handicap International, will be relied upon to provide the technical training and capacity to the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) to conduct survey and demining.  In addition, whilst DRC will contribute some $1.5 million annually to all aspects of mine action, the actual budget is more than $30 million per year, meaning that DRC will almost $90 million in external assistance to fund its mine action programs (and, I suppose it goes without saying, that only $600,000 per year will be spent on victim assistance compared to $5 million for “coordination”) through the end of the initial extension period (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

In its commentary on DRC’s extension request, ICBL expressed a lot of concern about DRC’s ability to pay for the proposed mine action program. At the moment, DRC receives about $15 million annually in international contributions for mine action, half of what is needed according to the extension request, but there was no plan for how DRC would make up that shortfall, or what the consequences would be if it could not.  The ICBL also noted the slow pace of landmine clearance in DRC, only 1.28 square kilometers since 2001 (remember that one Algerian team of combat engineers goes through three times that in a month), and seemed to express reservations about the ability of DRC to ramp up its demining to meet the expected demand.  However, the ICBL did appreciate that DRC wanted to get a complete picture of its contamination and prepare a comprehensive solution that continues to build national ownership of the landmine problem as United Nations peacekeeping and mine action teams wind down (ICBL).

In its approval of DRC’s extension request, the 11MSP applauded DRC’s efforts to “garner an understanding of the true remaining extent of the challenge and develop plans accordingly.”  The 11MSP then recognized the fact that DRC would “produce a detailed plan and submit a second extension request” (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).

My thoughts:

The Algerian request and entire demining infrastructure should be held up as examples to other states parties.  Okay, Algeria started late, but once it started demining, it provided the technical, financial and human resources to the task needed and when Algeria realized that it would need additional time, a thoughtful and complete request was submitted for comments and review.   

My concern about approving an interim extension request, such as DRC’s, is the fact that such an approval could be construed as tacit approval for the final extension request, whenever that is submitted.  And in the case of a request like DRC’s that is completely dependent upon external assistance to even get to the point of submitting a final request, can the Meeting in good faith approve the request without the necessary funding being secured.  Approving Algeria’s request for an extension was easy: Algeria has everything it needs to meet its Article 5 obligations except time, thus the extension request and ready approval.  DRC needs more than just time and so the standard for approving the extension must be much higher, or the commitment from the Meeting that much greater.  Neither was in evidence in the terse decision to approve DRC’s request.  Should DRC fail to complete the survey work and fully determine the extent of the landmine contamination by the time the next extension request is due, what recourse will the Meeting of States Parties have?  No sanction mechanism is available under the Mine Ban Treaty so what other option exists?  Shame is a powerful weapon and certainly states would seem to want to avoid being called out for failure to meet their Treaty obligations, but it’s not enough.  Will a future Meeting of States Parties have to commit to fund whatever portion of DRC’s mine action plan that remains unfunded?  ICBL and the 11MSP allude to these issues, but do not grapple them head on.  More on this when I discuss Eritrea’s and the Republic of Congo’s extension requests.

Michael P. Moore, December 6, 2011

December 7, 2011: This post has been edited to correctly attribute the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit (ISU) as the source of documents related to extension requests and decisions.

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4 Comments on “Demining Deadlines Extended for Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo”

  1. p williams says:

    A good well thought out response. I would imagine that the DRC will miss their new deadline and part of this will probably be because of corruption.

  2. I like this post, enjoyed this one thankyou for putting up.

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