Zimbabwe’s Third Request for an Extension of the Demining DeadlinePosted: May 8, 2012
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