Demining Extensions Granted to Eritrea and the Republic of CongoPosted: December 8, 2011
On December 2, the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty approved Article 5 extension requests to Eritrea and the Republic of Congo, giving both countries additional time to complete their Treaty-mandated demining obligations. Eritrea’s request was an interim one, seeking additional time (until February 1, 2015) to fully assess the extent of anti-personnel landmine contamination in the country and develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate that contamination through demining. The Republic of Congo’s request was for two years and would cover demining of suspected areas; however, Congo’s original Article 5 deadline was November 1, 2011 and the extension was not approved until December 2. Therefore Congo was in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty for the entire month of November 2011, the first violation of the Treaty’s Article 5 obligations by any state.
I discussed Eritrea’s extension request in an earlier post (Landmines in Africa), but it’s worth describing in full again. Eritrea’s anti-personnel landmine contamination was first documented in a 2002-2004 Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) conducted by UNDP with the support of the Survey Action Center. More than 900 suspected hazardous areas were identified by the LIS, areas which need to be re-surveyed by technical and non-technical means to confirm the presence or absence of anti-personnel mines. Eritrea’s extension request assumed that a great many of the suspected hazardous areas identified by the LIS are in fact contaminated by other explosive remnants of war (not anti-personnel mines) or not contaminated at all. The extension request therefore sought the time needed to obtain a precise picture of the anti-personnel landmine contamination, and then before the end of the extension period, Eritrea would submit a comprehensive plan for demining all mined areas. Thus, the approved extension request represents an interim request.
During the initial extension period, Eritrea will engage in manual demining activities of already identified minefields and some of the minefields that are confirmed during the survey process. The cost of survey and demining in the extension period is $8.5 million for all activities throughout the period, of which Eritrea will provide $4.8 million and the international community has been asked to provide the balance. This leads to the main concern about Eritrea’s extension request: the fact that international operators have been absent from Eritrea since 2005 (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in their commentary on the extension request refers to the expulsion of mine action operators from Eritrea after 2005 (the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit [ISU] was more politic and merely referred to the “absence” of international mine action operators). ICBL considers the expulsion of international mine action operators – granted, many of whom are members of the ICBL – as an area of concern for Eritrea in its ability to obtain the needed funds from the international community to complete the interim extension period, as well as the fact that mine action standards and best practices have changed since 2005 when Eritrea last had the opportunity to learn from external actors. Specifically, ICBL questions Eritrea’s land release methodology since land release is a relatively new technique, not one that Eritrea has ever demonstrated facility with (ICBL).
In approving the extension request, the Meeting of States Parties encouraged Eritrea to seek out the assistance of international mine action operators to build the technical capacity of the Eritrean Demining Authority. The States Parties also encourage Eritrea to develop its fundraising plan as soon as possible to secure the needed funds from the international community to cover the extension period and to set up the funding for the next extension period (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).
Republic of Congo
I had also discussed Republic of Congo’s extension request in a previous post (Landmines in Africa), and won’t go into the details of the request here, if only because Republic of Congo (Congo) didn’t bother to go into much detail themselves. The 11MSP approved a 14 month extension, until January 1, 2013, but that just papers over the following facts:
- Congo’s request failed to adhere to the standards or format for Article 5 extension requests as established at the Seventh Meeting of States Parties.
- Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 demining obligations mandated by the Mine Ban Treaty.
- The previous fact is worth re-iterating: Congo is the first state to violate the Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty.
By approving the extension request, the States Parties have created a dangerous precedent and recognized it. In their approval the States Parties declared, “In the context of the seriousness regarding non-compliance by the Republic of Congo with respect to its obligations…, the States Parties agreed to work collectively in a spirit of cooperation to correct this situation and prevent it from occurring again” (emphasis added) (AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf).
The ICBL noted the violation, calling it “deeply regrettable” noting that Congo “failed to confirm the nature and extent of antipersonnel mine contamination let along to start clearance” (ICBL). However, unlike the response to the Treaty violations of Belarus, Greece, Turkey and the Ukraine when those states failed to destroy their stockpiles of mines as mandated by Article 4 (ICBL 2009; ICBL 2010; IRIN News; The Monitor), the response to Congo’s violation was muted. My question to the States Parties is this: why not let Congo be in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty? Why not hold Congo up as an example to other states as Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine were? In the most recent Landmine Monitor report, the continued noncompliance of these states was repeated and highlighted (The Monitor, pdf); then, Turkey’s announcement at the 11MSP that it had completed its stockpile destruction and was now in compliance with the Treaty was “welcomed” (ICBL).
It seems to me that Turkey positively responded to the criticism it faced from being in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and sought to avoid further stigma by destroying its stockpiles. Why not do the same with Congo? Reject the half-hearted attempt at an extension request and declare Congo in violation of the Mine Treaty. The States Parties could then offer the financial and technical assistance Congo needed to get back in compliance with the Treaty, rather than approving a flawed extension request, opening the door for more such violations and requests.
In general, I am opposed to any extension of the demining deadline. The ten year limit was agreed upon as being long enough to address the most contaminated states (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia), while also short enough to force countries to act in an expeditious manner. As ICBL has noted, “only those States Parties facing exceptional circumstances should be seeking an extension” (ICBL), but most of the extension requests I have seen have been requested because the requesting states have delayed the start of survey and demining activities (this is the case for Algeria, Eritrea and the Republic of Congo). Except when ongoing security concerns prevent demining (as has been the case in the eastern districts of the Democratic Republic of Congo or throughout Afghanistan), any delays in demining will lead to preventable, foreseeable and unconscionable injuries and deaths. All landmine casualties that occur after the expiration of the initial ten-year mine clearance period are avoidable tragedies. Granted, a state like Angola has such a degree of anti-personnel mine contamination that the process of demining could take longer than ten years (hence the extension process), but the act of marking and defining the contaminated areas should be possible in much less than ten years, preventing any new casualties after the deadline. I would have let the Republic of Congo languish in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and use them as an example to others: do not delay or every new casualty will be on your hands and conscience.
Michael P. Moore, December 8, 2011