Angola’s Request to Extend its deadline to meet Article 5 obligations of the Mine Ban Treaty

Angola became a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty on January 1, 2003, starting the ten-year clock on its demining obligations under Article 5 of the Treaty.  In interviews for the 2011 Landmine Monitor Report, Angolan officials indicated that they would not meet the original deadline of January 1, 2013 and would be submitting an extension request in 2012 (The Monitor). The National Inter-Sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH), the national mine action authority for Angola, confirmed the extension request in a recent press release which declared that the request would be submitted on March 31, 2012 for review by the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa). 

As one of the most mine-affected countries in the world (only Cambodia and Afghanistan rival Angola for landmine contamination) and also one of the least developed (ranked 148th out of 187 countries by the 2011 Human Development Report), Angola’s need for an extension is unsurprising, despite the significant investment in mine action by the state and the international community.  Unlike other countries that have requested extensions (e.g., Uganda), Angola cannot be accused of delaying in starting the process of survey and demining and the fact that Angola has been considering the extension request for the better part of a year means the reviewers of the request should be well aware of the contents.  Every province of the country has been contaminated with mines from the three-decade civil war and as refugees return to their former homes and new lands are claimed for agriculture, more minefields are discovered.  Simply put, the scale of the problem, the size of the country and the lack of development means that demining Angola will be a herculean task and to have completed that task within the initial ten-year period would have been astonishing.  However, the Meeting of States Parties should still be critical and careful in the review of the extension request. 

Why the extension request should be approved:

First, as I’ve documented in this space previously, Angola every month and every year makes progress towards the goal of being a mine-free country.  The largest demining operator in the country is the National Demining Institute (INAD) which prioritizes clearance activities based upon national development priorities.  There are a dozen other national and international demining operators in the country including Mines Advisory Group, the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid, all of which have been active for many years.  Angola’s need for an extension is not for lack of effort or initiative, it’s due to the scale of contamination. I’ve seen the phrase “more landmines than people” used to describe Angola which would put the total number of landmines well into the millions and one in seven Angolans lives in a community contaminated by landmines (The Monitor).   

Second, Angola and its international mine action partners have been operating under the assumption that an extension request will be submitted and approved.  This is a bit cart before the horse, but reflects a realization of the task at hand.  Rather than scramble to try and clear all of the minefields, Angola has launched a second survey of the country to develop a complete sense of the scope of contamination.  Survey Action Center had conducted a Landmine Impact Survey in 2007, but the data from that survey needs to be refined and many of the identified Suspected Hazardous Areas can be declared mine-free through technical survey.  The second survey, called LIS II, will be complete in 2013 and will likely serve as the basis for all future demining activities.  Again, Angola cannot be accused of a lack of effort since it went through the complete Landmine Impact Survey process, but with the development of new techniques, Angola is looking to improve its knowledge basis.  In fact it is a little unfortunate LIS II was launched as late as it was because the information compiled in LIS II would have been really good to include in the extension request.  Instead, the request will probably have a bit of uncertainty built into it to accommodate any findings made after submission.

Third, the scale of investment in the country for mine action has been incredible and represents long term commitments to the country.  The investment is not just international either, for every $3 spent by the international community on mine action in 2010, Angola spent $2 (The Monitor). With its oil wealth, Angola can afford such investments, but because much of the country is reliant on subsistence agriculture, demining is a priority for both food security and future development (I could say something here about how Angola is the 16th largest exporter oil in the world, trailing only Nigeria and Algeria among African states, and how that wealth could be better shared or that Angola could spend even more on mine action. I could also say something about how Eduardo dos Santos has been in power more than 30 years and is seeking re-election.  I’ll leave those for another time…).  A short-sighted rejection of a well-considered extension request would reject those earlier investments and leave Angola to continue the demining process on its own, a situation Angola could manage, but would likely lead to slower development and more casualties as demining would take many years more without continued international support.

Issues for consideration during the review of the extension request:

At some point a Meeting of States Parties will need to reject an extension request.  I fear that the opportunity for States Parties to request and receive extensions of their demining obligations will eventually lead to abuses of the system.  Many countries, e.g., Uganda and the Republic of Congo, have requested and received extensions despite years of inactivity and negligence.  I believe that the Meeting should take one of these countries to task and deny their request, placing the country in non-compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty.  Stigmatization is the strongest tool at the disposal of the mine action community and non-compliance with the Treaty would serve as a strong rebuke and stigma for the countries that have failed to comply with their obligations.  No more free passes.  Angola should not be the country that an example is made of, but sometime soon the Meeting will need to act in a decisive manner.  At the same time, Angola has been thinking about this request for some time and setting up the international community for its submission, so the Meeting can expect a fairly high quality presentation and plan of action.  If the request is not of exceptional quality, the Meeting should demand edits and clarifications. 

Angola’s mine action authority has an abysmal history of data collection and analysis despite multiple efforts to build capacity and the necessary infrastructure.  The Meeting should be critical of the data presented in the request and seek confirmation from some of the international operators who have been active in the country.  Angola should also include some strategy to address this gap in order to ensure that data problems don’t continue to place the mine action sector.

The estimate of the total number of landmine victims in Angola is between 23,000 and 80,000 according to the Landmine Monitor (The Monitor). That figure needs to be refined.  As one of the 25 most victim-affected countries, Angola was required to develop an action plan to meet its victim assistance needs and the simple fact that the number of victims is completely unknown shows how little priority has been given to victim assistance.  International support for victim assistance is minimal (e.g., less than 2% of all international mine action support went to victim assistance; the domestic contribution is unclear, but the nation prioritizes demining over other mine action pillars) (The Monitor). In 2012, 2,000 mine victims in Bié Province will receive support from CNIDAH (All Africa), but data for other provinces was readily available.  In addition, domestic funding mine risk education was completely cut in 2011 and UNICEF stopped supporting MRE in Angola in 2008.  The funding cut was an “oversight,” but the results could be fatal, especially for returning refugees.  The extension request is an opportunity for the Meeting of States Parties to review Angola’s entire mine action program, not just the demining pillar.  To date, Angola’s mine action program has never been evaluated (The Monitor) so the extension request offers a chance to engage with CNIDAH on a comprehensive and holistic review.

The extension activities will come with a pretty hefty price tag.  Mine action in Angola cost roughly a quarter-billion dollars between 2006 and 2010 (The Monitor) and the extension request will cover another five years, 2013-2017 and can be expected to cost as much if not more.  When the Meeting approved Zimbabwe’s request a couple of years ago, it did so even though the Zimbabwe had not received any international assistance for its mine action program in almost a decade and believed that $100 million was needed to cover the proposed activities (Landmines in Africa, 23-Feb-2012 post).  When the Meeting reviews Angola’s request, it must review the financing available and if there are financing gaps then it is incumbent upon the reviewers to help secure the additional financing.  Otherwise, the Meeting is approving an action plan that may never be completed.

Last, to date, 27 States Parties have sought extensions of their Article 5 demining obligations.  Of those, almost half, twelve, have been African countries, whereas African countries make up less than one-third of the total number of States Parties.  Therefore, African states are requesting extensions more frequently than would be expected just on a statistical basis.  Africa, as a continent, has near complete accession to the Mine Ban Treaty (only Somalia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco remain outside of the Treaty); only South America has a better record as a continent (ICBL). The Meeting of States Parties should take pro-active steps to review and address potential delays in Article 5 obligations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America since the possibility of these regions to become completely mine-free is very real.  The Meeting should look into why African states are over-represented in the pool of countries requesting Article 5 extensions and should also work to discourage all states from submitting multiple extension requests, which African states have done.

Conclusion

Angola’s extension request for its Article 5 demining obligations will almost certainly be approved by the next Meeting of States Parties.  The Meeting of States Parties should hold Angola to the highest standard when considering the extension request, if only because the scale of the problem in the country requires the greatest response possible.  Over the last decade, Angola has demonstrated a strong commitment to mine clearance but there a significant weaknesses in its mine action program, specifically data integrity, mine risk education and victim assistance.  In addition to reviewing the plan for demining, the Meeting should take the opportunity to review and comment on these other pillars of mine action.

Angola’s role in the mine ban movement is legendary; Princess Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield in early 1997 brought worldwide attention to the issue at a time when the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and allied governments were working furiously on a final treaty text. Alongside Afghanistan and Cambodia, Angola is synonymous with landmines, but if continued efforts are made, that link can be broken. 

Michael P. Moore, March 29, 2012

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