The Convention on the Law of the Sea

It may not seem like it, but in the last couple of weeks, the United States Senate has debated the ratification of a treaty that would limit mines, albeit naval (or sea) mine and not landmines, but mines nonetheless.  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) is not intended to be a disarmament treaty by any stretch of the imagination, but it does contain terminology that would mimic some of the requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty (you can tell it’s not a disarmament treaty because the opposition to ratification is talking about issues of sovereignty and not national security).  I would not be confident about the possibility of ratification of UNCLOS, but I think it is important to highlight how the treaty might limit the use of mines.

First, a word about naval mines.  They have been around for at least as long as landmines, in the United States Civil War, Admiral David Farragut famously ordered his fleet to “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” as the ships steamed up the Mississippi River (naval mines were called torpedoes before modern day torpedoes were invented).  In more recent years, mines have been used in the Straits of Hormuz by Iran to blockade oil shipments as a means of sabre-rattling (Bloomberg).  Naval mines can be somewhat smart, some possess directional blasts and selective targeting, but mostly they are passive, victim-activated mines that don’t distiguish between military and commercial ships making them weapons of terror.  Really, they are just anti-tank mines that can withstand water.

So, how does the Convention on the Law of the Sea relate to mines?  There are two major provisions that address and restrict military actions at sea which apply to the use of mines (and I’m borrowing heavily from Jozef Goldblat’s Arms Control here).  First, UNCLOS would allow “innocent passage” for all ships, including warships, through the territorial waters of other states.  This means that a state cannot indiscriminately mine its territorial waters, although a state could create designated shipping lanes.  Second, “unimpeded transit” must be available through straits used for international navigation.  All ships have the right of passage through these waters, no matter what kind of ship they may be.  This means that the use of naval mines in a place like the Straits of Hormuz would be banned by international law and all territorial waters would have designate safe lanes for transit.  This is essentially the same as the requirement under the Mine Ban Treaty for states to identify and mark all mined areas to prevent the accidental entry by persons into such areas. 

Currently, the only treaty that regulates the use of naval mines is the 1907 Hague Convention which restricted contact mines.  Considering the fact that the Hague Convention also limited the use of poisonous gases and that ban was ignored less than a decade later in World War I, I would hazard a guess to say that the provisions of the Hague Convention in regards to naval mines are a bit out of date.  Thus, the limitations on use that emerge from UNCLOS are a great improvement.  Currently 162 countries are parties to UNCLOS (Wikipedia); that’s two more than the Mine Ban Treaty and I would think the US is more likely to accede to UNCLOS than the the Mine Ban Treaty.  So, if we won’t regulate landmines, let’s at least regulate the naval one.

Michael P. Moore, May 31, 2012

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Somalia signs on to the Mine Ban Treaty

At this past week’s intersessional meetings for the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva, Somalia announced its accession to the Treaty.  Despite the limited control exerted by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) over the physical dimensions of the country, the recent military gains by the TFG, with significant assistance from the Ethiopian and Kenyan military forces occupying large swathes of territory and the Burundian, Ugandan and Sierra Leonean forces that comprise the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has enabled the TFG to establish its presence sufficiently to foresee a future Somalia with the Al Shabab militia.  The anticipated defeat of Al Shabab (and various pirate factions still active in Somalia) will mean no further use of landmines and improved explosive devices (IEDs) in the country.  No further landmine use is the minimum requirement for complliance with the Treaty.  The TFG’s gains also suggest that the Somalian government will be able to make good on the promise of clearing all anti-personnel landmines from the country within ten years.

Somalia has already made significant progress towards landmine clearance thanks to the efforts underway in the semi-automous regions of Puntland and Somaliland where mine action operators have been active for many years.  A Landmine Impact Survey has been completed in Somaliland so the extent of contamination there is understood.  In the southern areas (those currently under the nominal control of the TFG), the extent of contamination is unknown but assumed to be composed more of unexploded ordnance than anti-personnel landmines.

The concern with the absence of an understanding of the extent of landmine contamination in Somalia will be what happens to the refugees and internally displaced persons who would likely return to their homes once the conflict in the country ends.  Returning refugees and displaced persons are at particular risk from landmines and unexploded ordnance because they are not aware of minefields or battle areas that formed while they were elsewhere.  If the battle areas and minefields are not cleared before the refugees return to their home lands, we can expect to see a significant number of new injuries among this population.

A second concern would be the availability of vicitm assistance services in the country.  Somalia has recently experienced famine and the continuing food insecurity will mean that the donor community will focus on this immediate need.  Medical and rehabilitation services are almost non-existent in Somalia and as the health infrastructure is re-built in the country, the needs of landmine survivors should not be forgotten.

But, before I let too much cynicism out, let us applaud the fact that all of Sub-Saharan Africa is now under the Mine Ban Treaty regime.  On the continent, only Egypt (which will not join the treaty until Israel does and Germany and the United Kingdom offer assistance for clearing World War II minefields), Morocco (which will not join the treaty until the Western Sahara issue is resolved) and Libya (which may be a candidate for accession) remain outside the Treaty.  Somalia’s accession means that 160 Nations around the world have joined the Mine Ban Treaty. In the last year, the pace of accession has rapidly quickened and the efforts of the Treaty’s formal and informal ambassadors need to be thanked for their efforts.

Michael P. Moore, May 27, 2012

 

For More Information on Somalia’s accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and the landmine situation in the country, please see:

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf


Dangerous Enough: Deminers and Demining

Today there was the welcome news that the four deminers who had been seized by Sudan and held on the suspicion that they were “military advisors” to South Sudan were released after negotiations by former South African President Thabo Mbeki (AFP; Norwegian People’s Aid) .  Earlier this year, two mine risk educators from the Danish Demining Group were seized in Somalia and only released after a military operation by US special forces (The Guardian). These abductions and releases merely underscore the danger that mine action personnel subject themselves to already, without also being targets for kidnapping.

For many years, Andy Smith maintained his Database of Demining Accidents, a near-as-possible comprehensive database of all accidents involving deminers.  The Database compiled injury and casualty data and tried to document the causes (both in terms of the explosive device and the activities of the deminers at the time of the accident) in order to better develop protocols for avoiding future accidents (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 6.2).  Smith made recommendations based upon his database, including protective wear that matched the observed accident and injury profile (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 4.2).  Smith later provided additional findings which showed that many demining accidents were caused by deminers following improper procedures and that had International Mine Action Standards been adhered to, fewer accidents and injuries would have occurred.  However, whether or not proper procedures were followed, the mere fact that Smith has been able to document nearly 1,000 injuries or deaths among deminers since 1998 (an average of 75 per year or nearly 2% of the total landmine victims over the same period) demonstrates the dangerous nature of the job (Journal of Mine Action, Issue 15.2, pdf).

Chris Moon, a former deminer and recipient of the MBE award, had survived abduction by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but it was a landmine in Mozambique that took his arm and leg while he was working there (Chris Moon).

In Zimbabwe, five deminers from the Zimbabwe National Army demining team have suffered serious injuries (no count on the number who have suffered minor ones) since 2006 (All Africa).

The United States military maintains a memorial for the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians killed in the line of duty, 289 from 1942 through the start of May, 2012 (At War Blog).  The Oscar-winning movie, The Hurt Locker, demonstrated the danger of EOD work, despite the fact that the hero (or anti-hero) took reckless and unnecessary risks. 

So, welcome home to John Sörbö and his three colleagues and to the rest of the deminers working to clear landmines in their own countries and in others’ countries, “Stay safe out there.”

Michael P. Moore, May 20, 2012


Zimbabwe’s Third Request for an Extension of the Demining Deadline

Zimbabwe’s Third Request for an Extension of the Demining Deadline

I think Zimbabwe may be setting some unwelcome record: on March 31, 2012 Zimbabwe submitted its third request for an extension of its deadline to completed clearance of all anti-personnel landmines as required by the Mine Ban Treaty and acknowledges that a fourth will be forthcoming (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  Zimbabwe’s original deadline for mine clearance was March 1, 2009, reflecting the fact that Zimbabwe was one of the original States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  Zimbabwe submitted its first request in 2008, obtaining a 22-month extension until January 1, 2011.  The request submitted in 2008 was intended to allow Zimbabwe to complete survey work to determine the extent of landmine contamination in the country and develop a comprehensive work plan that would serve as the basis for a second extension request.  Due to a variety of factors but mostly because Zimbabwe became politically isolated in the wake of the 2008 presidential elections and the violence that followed (the third request uses the phrase “illegal sanctions” four times), Zimbabwe was unable to complete the survey work proposed in the first request and so submitted in 2010 a second request for an additional 24 months to complete the survey activities and workplan drafting proposed in the first request.  That extension, approved in 2010, will expire on January 1, 2013 (AP Mine Ban Convention).

The third extension builds on the second, but essentially admits that the objectives of the second extension will not be met by the deadline so additional time is needed.  All three extensions submitted to date have had the same objectives: complete an analysis of the extent of landmine contamination and develop a comprehensive work plan to address the contamination.  There has been some progress made in each of the extension periods, but Zimbabwe is asking the States Parties to approve another extension, the third, while knowing that at least one more will be coming soon after.  Is there any hope that the objectives of this third request will be met?  Yes, but let’s be careful out there.

 

Why the 3rd extension request should be approved

First, the political situation in Zimbabwe appears to be thawing.  Despite the continued threat of another term as president from Robert Mugabe, the European Union and several European governments have lifted most of their sanctions against all but the highest-ranking individuals in Zimbabwean regime (BBC News).  The thaw is not universal, nor is it apolitical.  A rival to Mugabe recently died under questionable circumstances and non-government organizations allied to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been banned in advance of expected elections (IRIN News).  However, the trend in general seems to be positive. Also, the Wikileaks reports that Mugabe is dying of prostate cancer seem to have spurred more discussions in Zimbabwe about succession than any election has done (BBC News).

Second, three international mine action operators have begun collaborating with the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC).  The HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will conduct demining activities along the country’s borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will provide training and new equipment to ZIMAC and the army’s demining teams to ensure that the national demining teams are fully capable of the tasks they will be asked to perform.  This is the first time in more than a decade that international mine action operators have been active in Zimbabwe; most left the country after the land seizures in 2000 by the “war veterans,” loyalists to Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF.  Because of the thaw and the lifting of sanctions, these operators can work and import equipment into Zimbabwe, so as long as no new sanctions are imposed on the country, the involvement of international operators can continue which should greatly increase the demining progress.

Third, the quality of information has improved.  I would be negligent and wrong to suggest that no survey has been conducted over the last several years, through the course of the first two extension periods.  In fact, ZIMAC and other domestic deminers have cleared much land and been able to survey some mine-affected areas.  This information, combined with information from the HALO Trust’s survey of the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border from the Mozambican side, has improved the knowledge of landmine contamination in the country.  With a further push and the final surveys proposed in the third request completed, ZIMAC will have the complete picture and be able to draft the work plan that is needed.

Fourth, the work needs to be done.  Zimbabwe’s economy has been absolutely ruined by the regime’s policies over the last decade and any opportunity for improvement would be welcome.  There have been over 1,500 reported landmine casualties to date in Zimbabwe (The Monitor) and those most affected by landmines are often the poorest in the country.  Landmines contaminate rural areas where subsistence farming is the norm and over 120,000 livestock animals are believed to have been lost due to landmines.  In addition, commercial farming and tourism opportunities (the area around Victoria Falls needed to be demined to open up that natural marvel to tourism) are hindered by landmines. 

 

Why the 3rd extension request should be rejected

First, we’ve been here before and there is no guarantee we won’t be here again.  This is the third proposal to complete the survey work needed to draft a comprehensive work plan that will be part of a subsequent request.  Yes, progress is being made, but if the anticipated elections in Zimbabwe lead to more violence (as they are expected to), then the international operators will withdraw from the country and all work will halt.  In addition, any delays in the survey work for whatever reason may necessitate another extension before the work plan can be developed.  Also, the activities of the international operators have not been confirmed (the memorandum of understanding with the HALO Trust was signed after the request was submitted and I have not yet seen confirmation of the agreement with the NPA).  Therefore, the ability of Zimbabwe to complete the activities described in the request is not certain.

Second, ZIMAC estimates that $100 million will be required to pay for the work plan once it has been developed and the Government of Zimbabwe has only been able to provide $5 million in funding over the course of the past decade.  Assuming Zimbabwe can continue its current funding level ($800,000 per year) for another decade, $92 million would be required from other sources, specifically international donors, to pay for the complete demining of the country.  We can assume that the work plan will include some plans for fund-raising, but considering the amount and the history of sanctions against Zimbabwe, the absence of any plan or evidence of current fund-raising is worrying.  ZIMAC should be securing these funds now in anticipation of the development of the work plan and be able to demonstrate that some consideration towards fund-raising activities has been made. 

Of course, the proceeds from the Marange diamond mines could be diverted from the ZANU-PF coffers (and presumably the Mugabe family accounts) and used to fund landmine clearance which would solve the money problem.  Just kidding, I know that won’t happen.

Third, Zimbabwe has been a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty since March 1999.  After thirteen years, for the extent of landmine contamination to still remain unknown is simply negligent on the part of the government.  Despite the sanctions and the violence and the poverty and epidemics, the fact that the government did almost nothing in mine action for the decade between 2000 and 2009 does not lend an air of credible commitment to the government’s future efforts.  No State Party should be rewarded or excused for negligence in their Treaty obligations.

Fourth, by approving this extension request, the States Parties will be providing tacit approval of the pending request that includes the work plan.  ZIMAC could have submitted a better work plan for the period that will follow the immediate extension period (they included only the barest of outlines).  That work plan would be recognized as subject to change as facts on the ground became known, but for the areas where landmine contamination is known, a plan could have been presented along with a funding proposal.  Instead, by submitting another two-stage extension request, they have allowed themselves to kick the can down the road and not attempt to address the clearance issues.  A better developed work plan would have allowed the States Parties to make some initial assessments about feasibility and help to developing funding strategies.

 

What could improve the request in the very near future

First, ZIMAC should obtain letters of commitment from ICRC, the HALO Trust, NPA and any other international mine action partners detailing what those partners will provide to Zimbabwe during the extension period and beyond.  This will allow both ZIMAC and the States Parties to identify any gaps and address those gaps before approving the extension request. 

Second, ZIMAC should secure as much funding as possible for the period after the extension and provide those commitment letters to the States Parties.  Finding the $100 million needed to clear the mine-affected areas will be the toughest part of the work plan and the sooner this process begins, the better.  If the HALO Trust or NPA can secure funding for work in Zimbabwe, that would also count towards the $100 million budget.

Third, recognizing that this is a request for an extension to the demining deadline, more information about mine risk education and victim assistance planning would demonstrate the comprehensiveness of Zimbabwe’s mine action program.  Demining is only one pillar of mine action and the extension request recognizes the need for mine risk education and alludes to the need for victim assistance, especially socio-economic assistance.  Some evaluation of the scale of the problems would help the evaluators to appreciate and contextualize the mine clearance. 

Last, the States Parties need to work to find the necessary resources for Zimbabwe as well.  It’s not enough for the States Parties to just approve the extension request, but the Parties must help ensure that the funds, supplies and training needed by ZIMAC are available.

 

Michael P. Moore, May 8, 2012


The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa, April 2012

April 4th is the annual International Day for Mine Action and Awareness and as a result, we often a number of new programs and partnerships announced, as well as missives and statements from a variety of actors.  The only other time of year that generates as much activity is the annual meeting of States Parties and the coincident publication of the annual edition of the Landmine Monitor in late November / early December.  This April did not disappoint with announcements coming from Zimbabwe and the Vatican.  In addition, at the end of the month, the continuing danger to deminers in Africa was highlighted as four men working under contract to the United Nations were arrested by Sudan.

 

International Day of Mine Action and Awareness

Many organizations repeated their support for the Mine Ban Treaty or urged compliance and adoption of the Treaty by non-States Parties as part of celebrations for the International Day of Mine Action.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) launched the “Lend Your Leg” campaign to raise awareness about the suffering of landmine victims, gaining support and demonstrations from government officials and celebrities around the world (Voice of America).  The campaign was accompanied by a website (www.lendyourleg.org) where anyone could pledge their support for landmine survivors and a video (YouTube) with celebrity and official endorsements (and demonstrations).  At the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, an exhibition of photographs of landmine victims was opened and United Nations missions around the world participated in celebrations and awareness-raising events (Afrique Ligne).

In Liberia, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation declared that the suffering caused by landmines could be greatly reduced if all states would join and implement the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).

In Algeria, the mine clearance officials of the Algerian army gave an update on clearance work, pointing out that three million landmines remain in the ground, remnants from French responses to the Algerian war for independence in the 1950s and 1960s.  The Algerian official re-iterated the country’s intent to meet its revised 2017 deadline to complete all demining (Defence Web).

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI praised mine action actors during his address to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square (AKI).  Later in the month, Catholic Bishops in the United States revealed that they had signed a letter along with 75 other organizations urging President Obama to sign and submit the Mine Ban Treaty for ratification by the Senate (Catholic News Agency).

In Mozambique, the Deputy Foreign Minister called for continued vigilance on the part of his countrymen on landmines and encouraged persons who discover mines to report them to the appropriate authorities rather than tamper or touch the mines.  The number of mine victims in Mozambique has dropped dramatically to a low of only three people in 2011 (although that is still three too many) and Handicap International continues to clear minefields despite financial constraints (All Africa).

In Virginia, on the campus of James Madison University, the Marshall Legacy Institute and the Center for International Stability and Recovery (formerly the Mine Action Information Center) hosted a mine-detection dog demonstration (The Breeze).

In Moammar Gaddhafi’s hometown of Sirte, Libya, more than 700 perople came out to celebrate the day and receive mine risk education materials from the mine action organizations active in the country (JMACT Libya).

In Great Britain, the charity, Find a Better Way, founded by football legend (I’m believe that’s his official title) Sir Bobby Charlton launched its website, www.findabetterway.org.uk, to support fundraising and research into better means of detecting landmines (Knutsford Guardian).

And in South Sudan, a mine-detection dog training facility was opened in Juba by the Mine Actions Coordination Center and the South African demining company, MECHEM.  To date, MECHEM has used dogs to clear over 400 kilometers of roads in Unity State, along the border with Sudan, and the facility will enable more dogs to be deployed in the country (UNMISS).

That was the good news…

 

Zimbabwe

At the end of March, Zimbabwe submitted a third request for an extension of its Article 5 demining obligations (AP Mine Ban Convention), and that request seems to have sparked some renewed interest in the landmine situation in Zimbabwe.  On the positive side, the HALO Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Zimbabwe to assist in the clearance of landmines along the borders of the country, mines that were placed by the government of Rhodesia in the 1970s and earlier.  The partnership with HALO Trust, announced on the International Day of Mine Action and building on an already announced partnership with the ICRC, will update and augment the antiquated equipment currently being used by the Zimbabwe Army’s Corp of Engineers (All Africa).  In addition to assisting the Army, the HALO Trust will hire local Zimbabweans from mine-affected areas and train them to be deminers.  Many of the locals have engaged in “community demining,” the dangerous practice of mine clearance without proper training or equipment, so the willingness is there to conduct demining and now the skills and techniques will be available to ensure safety and comprehensiveness (All Africa).

To reinforce the need for improved equipment and techniques for demining in Zimbabwe, the Corp of Engineers announced that five deminers had been seriously injured in the course of their work over the last six years.  Despite the fact that the mines were laid in a regular pattern by the Rhodesian army in the 1970s, three decades of erosion, vegetation, weather and animal activities have contrived to disrupt the pattern and render the landmine placement unpredictable.  That unpredictability has contributed to the high number of injuries along with the poor quality of equipment and remoteness of the minefields (All Africa).

The continuing threat of landmines along the border areas of Zimbabwe have left those regions economically depressed and isolated.  Teachers are unwilling to move to the region and couriers and transport companies refuse to travel through the space out of fear of landmines.  For the people living in the area, the threat of injury or death from mines is very real, but flooding means that an area free of landmines one year may not be the next.  Once the region is demined, the local residents feel that economic opportunities will come to the border areas, but until then, poverty will be rife (All Africa).

 

Angola

Government  and non-government organizations working in mine action reported on clearance activities.  In Bié province, as many as 20 unexploded anti-personnel mines were destroyed by the HALO Trust (All Africa) and in Lunda Sul province, four landmines along with other pieces of unexploded ordnance were destroyed by the National Demining Institute (INAD).  Unlike the HALO Trust which sets its own demining priorities, INAD’s program of work is determined by the government’s developmental needs (All Africa).  Also in Bié, police seized illegal firearms from apparent moonshiners, one of whom possessed an anti-tank landmine (All Africa).

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the demining in Angola has lead to successes.  More than 1,000 deminers have been trained in recent years and several infrastructure projects, including an airport, a rail-line and fibre optic cables, have been completed.  There is still much to be done, especially for the 80,000 landmine victims living in the country (Defence Web).

 

Ethiopia

The German government donated 405 protective aprons for use by Ethiopian deminers from the Ethiopia Mine Action Office (EMAO).  This grant of equipment is part of the larger commitment of the Germans to demining and mine action in Ethiopia, a commitment worth 2.2 million euros to date (All Africa).

 

Somalia

While events in Mali, Guinea-Bissau and the Sudans (more on this in a moment) have grabbed the headlines on conflict in Africa, the war in Somalia continues on.  Al Shabaab relies on insurgency tactics, especially improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines for ambushes, as it harasses the armies of Kenya and Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al Shabaab killed three Ethiopians in a landmine attack on a convoy passing through central Somalia (All Africa).  In the market in Al Shabaab’s former stronghold of Baidoa, twelve people, civilians and government soldiers, were killed and seven others wounded by a landmine targeting the nearby police station (RBC Radio).

Al Shabaab’s landmines and IEDs are in addition to the thousands of landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered throughout the country as a result of the twenty-year civil war in the country.  Continuing displacement of Somalis puts people at risk as they travel through unfamiliar, mine-affected regions in search of food and security.  Somalia’s security forces have asked the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Danish Demining Group (DDG) to focus on mine risk education for civilians in an attempt to minimize casualties (Press TV).

 

Libya

In Libya the cleanup continues with the Joint Mine Action Coordinating Team (JMACT) Libya managing the demining and risk education processes.  The main focus in Libya seems to be on small arms and unexploded ordnance, but the discovery of anti-tank mines by the Mines Advisory Group points to the continuing hazard of landmines in the country.  Interestingly, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) has had to close down several of its projects in Libya (a grant from the Canadian government is enabling FSD to remain operational and active in Sirte) due to the fact that FSD’s grants came to an end in March of this year.  It is important that as the headlines move to other countries that funding for mine action continues in Libya because the problem is so large and will require vast resources to make the nation safe for the nascent regime (JMACT Libya).

 

The Sudans

Sudan and South Sudan are at the precipice of war.  Sudanese air forces have been bombing sites in South Sudan while South Sudan has mobilized to seize the contested town of Heglig, near the also-contested region of Abyei.  South Sudan has existed for less than a year as a nation, but already appears to be willing to go to war against Sudan over the oil that lies underneath South Sudan but must pass through Sudan for refining.  Negotiators are frantically trying to avoid outright hostilities, but the first shots were fired long ago with both sides supporting proxy armies operating in the other country (BBC News).  Those proxy armies have been responsible for extensive mine-laying in South Sudan and fighting in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

There are no innocent parties in this conflict, but the international community needs to be careful of a repeat of what happened in the former Yugoslavia.  In Bosnia, sanctions and arms embargoes were levied against all parties and the conflict was often referred to as a “civil war” with centuries of ethnic tension fueling it.  That was wrong.  Serbians in Bosnia were the aggressors in a war of invasion and killed and raped thousands while receiving assistance and cover from Belgrade.  Bosnian Muslims and Sarajevans were isolated by the sanctions and embargoes and lacked an international partner to protect them.  By calling the conflict a civil war, the international community was able to absolve itself of responsibility and the guilt over that inaction is what led to NATO’s eagerness to protect Kosovo some years later.

In the Sudans, the international community has condemned all parties, but Sudan has been the greater aggressor: interfering with the referendum on Abyei’s status (BBC News), bombing civilians and refugee camps, and appointing a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur as governor of South Khordofan (BBC News).  The United Nations and the United States have threatened both sides with sanctions in a mis-guided attempt to be fair, but the simple fact is that Sudan does not deserve to be treated equally to South Sudan.  So far, Sudan and the Khartoum regime have attempted to undermine and thwart South Sudan at every opportunity and it was only when South Sudan mobilized and seized Heglig that the international community responded.  The new nation deserved better treatment and protection from the international community.  Instead, the international community is repeating the mistakes of Bosnia, calling this an equal fight; it’s not.  Sudan has a history of war crimes but also a history of impunity; no one has been brought to justice for Darfur and no one will be brought to justice over South Khordofan, Nuba or Abyei as long as the international community is so weak and timid as to abdicate its role to protect South Sudan against Sudan.

At the end of April, four deminers working for the United Nations in South Sudan were arrested by Sudanese forces.  Sudan claims that the deminers, a Briton, Norwegian, South African and South Sudanese, were captured in Heglig shortly after the Sudanese army had retaken the town from South Sudan.  Sudan claims that because the men have some military training (many deminers do), they were foreign military advisors supporting South Sudan.  The United Nations said the deminers were in South Sudan at the time of their arrest traveling between two United Nations bases and working strictly on humanitarian programs (All Africa).  In the aftermath of the seizure of Danish Demining Group employees in Somalia, the arrest of the four deminers in South Sudan shows the danger that deminers put themselves in to conduct mine action work in ongoing conflict zones.  It also demonstrates that Sudan is unafraid of provoking the United Nations or European nations and creating a diplomatic furor.

Michael P. Moore, May 3, 2012