The US at Treaty Negotiations: The Drunk Uncle Who Ruins the Party for Everyone ElsePosted: July 31, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Arms Trade Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions, landmines, Mine Ban Treaty, Multilateral Disarmament, United States Leave a comment
Many families have a “drunk uncle” who comes round at Thanksgiving or some other family function and proceeds to belligerently spoil the evening for everyone else. And since the uncle is “family,” no one wants to stage the intervention or disinvite him from the next gathering for fear of alienating him. Well, as far as the multilateral disarmament community is concerned, the United States is our drunk Uncle Sam and we need to have an urgent talk about him.
The Arms Trade Treaty, Latest in a Long Line of Failures
Last week, the United States just about single-handedly prevented the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a treaty that would have regulated the $60 billion a year arms export trade. To be clear, the United States was not the only country to object to the ATT text that was proposed for adoption, but the other objectors (Russia, China, India and Indonesia have all been mentioned) were only too happy to let the US be the country to halt the negotiations. The US’s objections are based upon domestic politics and fear of antagonizes the very powerful gun lobby in the United States in a presidential election year. But do not assume that had the Treaty negotiations taken place in a non-election year or if the president were a Republican in good standing with the National Rifle Association would the Treaty have been adopted by the United States. These were just the convenient excuses for the US’s non-acceptance.
The United States’s participation in multi-lateral disarmament treaties is framed within the very narrow constructs of “National Interest” which the Obama Administration further defines as national security. Historically the United States has demonstrated a willingness to support brutal dictatorships whose flagrant violations of fundamental human rights are legion (please see Zaire and Mobutu Sese Seko). Despite the total lack of democracy and a decades-long declaration of martial law, the United States supported the regime of Hosni Mubarak with billions in annual military aid until it became clear that Mubarak’s hold over the country was lost. Remember the tear gas canisters used against protesters in Tahrir Square that were proudly stamped, “Made in the USA”? The United States continues to provide significant military assistance to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain despite evidence that both countries used the arms provided by the US to crackdown against their own people during the Arab Spring. That is the standard which we should be measuring the Arms Trade Treaty against, not the question of adherence to the Second Amendment (which is a red herring). Would the Arms Trade Treaty’s language about human rights and the responsibility of the exporting arms to countries where there is a significant chance the arms will be used to violate human rights prevent the US from supplying weapons to allies like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia? Unfortunately, within the frame of National Interest, US foreign policy implementers can easily foresee potential circumstances where the US would ally with a known human rights abuser for the sake of national security.
However, more importantly than why the US refused to agree to the Treaty text is the question of why anyone thought they would in the first place? Activists believed that a draft of the Treaty circulated last week would appease the US delegation (New York Times) and certainly based upon the information published by the United States through the States Department (State Department), the draft Treaty appeared to be acceptable to the United States. But in the end, the United States was content to let the negotiations end, saying only that the text needed “further review and refinement” and that a vote on the current treaty by the United Nations General Assembly would not be supported (State Department).
Pattern of Behavior
The US has blocked or tried to block several multilateral treaties on conventional arms disarmament in recent years. The US’s actions during the Arms Trade Treaty are completely consistent with past behavior.
In the 1990s, the United States, under the leadership of President Bill Clinton and Senator Patrick Leahy, banned the export of anti-personnel landmines and called for the multilateral negotiation process to ban anti-personnel landmines. In fact, the US led the drafting of the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) which was intended to ban landmines but was generally seen as inadequate. In response, Canada led the Ottawa Process and called for states who were supportive of a total ban on landmines to sign a pledge to that effect. The US signed the pledge but refused to participate in any of the preparatory meetings to draft the Mine Ban Treaty. Only towards the end of the Ottawa Process, at the Olso Conference whose purpose was to negotiate a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel landmines, did the US engage in the drafting meetings. When it did engage, the US sought an exception for the Korean Peninsula and a provision allowing countries to withdraw from the proposed treaty when it was in the “supreme national interest.” When its demands were not met, the US took its ball and went home – I mean, withdrew from the negotiations – and the Mine Ban Treaty proceeded without the United States’s participation (Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights).
In 2006, despite the widespread use by Israel of cluster munitions against populated areas in Lebanon, the parties to the CCW again failed to pass a protocol that was seen as strong enough to protect humanitarian interests. In response, Norway called for an Ottawa-type negotiation to ban all cluster munitions and invited interested countries to participate. Unlike the 1990s, the US made its opposition to the “Olso Process” clear and in response, Norway decided to not even invite the US to participate (Norwegian Mission to the United Nations). The US’s opposition was confirmed by “a telling vote in September 2006 on legislation that would have banned the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain voted against the ban which failed 70-30.” Despite the US opposition to what has become the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), the US wanted “to maintain the military option of using them as a defensive weapon,” more than 100 countries have agreed to the ban on cluster munitions (Swamp Politics blog) and 75 states have ratified the treaty (Convention on Cluster Munitions).
In a non-disarmament case, the United States undermined the International Criminal Court (and remember that the US signed the Rome Statute creating the Court, but has refused to ratify or even consider the treaty in the Senate) in 2003 by suspending military aid to 35 allies because they did not sign immunity deals promising not to refer American soldiers and their commanders to the Court. The timing of this is important because the immunity protections were sought just as the United States was about to invade Iraq and the US did not want to risk possible indictment by the ICC for what some countries viewed as an unlawful invasion (Taipei Times).
The most recent example of US meddling and opposition to multilateral disarmament negotiations (before the Arms Trade Treaty) was in 2011 at the Fourth Review Conference on the CCW. The Conference was considering an Amended Protocol that would have banned cluster munitions, similar to the CCM. The “United States actively pushed a draft CCW protocol that would have prohibited some cluster munitions but would have allowed the use of others” and despite last minute efforts by the United States to amend the protocol, more than 50 states – mostly signatories to the CCM – refused to sign the US-sponsored protocol because it “did not fully address their fundamental concerns, did not prohibit use of cluster munitions, and would not have provided sufficient humanitarian value, and does not command consensus” (Arms Control Now). In this negotiation, the United States tried to position itself as a leader on disarmament, but because it wanted to retain some usage rights, other states refused to agree with the US and the measure failed.
What Will Happen to the Arms Trade Treaty Now?
The United States has, in the process of ATT negotiations actually changed its position. In the run up to the negotiations, the US declared its support of the ATT because the Treaty “intended to establish common international standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms to help prevent the acquisition of arms by terrorists, criminals, and those who violate human rights or are subject to UN arms embargoes” (State Department, emphasis mine). After the collapse of the negotiations on Friday, July 27th, the State Department issued a statement saying the US still supported the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations because such a Treaty “will make a valuable contribution to global security by helping to stem illicit arms transfers, and we will continue to look for ways for the international community to work together to improve the international arms transfer regime so that weapons aren’t transferred to people who would abuse them (State Department, emphasis mine). Do you see the watering down of the language? The US still wants to prevent illicit arms transfers, but the second part is weaker. No more mention of human rights, just “people who would abuse” arms. States that use arms in their own national interests, whatever those interests may be, would be protected under the US formulation. The focus also shifts from states to people. States don’t abuse guns, people do; or, there are no bad states, just bad people.
One possible avenue that activists are exploring is to bring the Arms Trade Treaty to the General Assembly. The US has already stated that “a vote on the current treaty by the United Nations General Assembly would not be supported” (State Department). The United States does not want to see a General Assembly vote because in the General Assembly, the Treaty would only need a two-thirds majority to be accepted and not the consensus demanded by the United States during the negotiation. Under this less stringent requirement for passage, the possibility of a stronger treaty exists, with the recognition that the states that object to the current document would also object to a stronger one (GAPW Blog).
The US does a lot of good work on mine action through bilateral funding and training, but it’s terrible in the multilateral sphere. It’s time to stop inviting the US to the table. Norway refused to let the US participate in the negotiations that led to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and in doing so, prevented the US from forcing a weakened cluster munitions protocol on the parties to the CCW. Uncle Sam may be part of the global family, but until he sobers up, he’s not invited.
The Arms Trade Treaty and the US buys a few more toysPosted: July 25, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Arms Trade Treaty, landmines, Spider Mines, United States Leave a comment
The draft treaty text for the Arms Trade Treaty has been released (with only three days left to debate and approve or reject the text) and according to the reliable Political Minefields blog, it is unclear whether or not the draft Treaty would regulate the trade of landmines and in the absence of clarity I’m afraid we can assume the Treaty does not regulate such trade (Political Minefields http://politicalminefields.com/2012/07/25/a-drafty-treaty-the-holes-in-the-draft-arms-trade-treaty/).
The United States has published its points of view and stances on the Arms Trade Treaty on the State Department’s website here: http://www.state.gov/t/isn/armstradetreaty/. One of the key points (redlines) for the United States is that “There will be no requirement for reporting on or marking and tracing of ammunition or explosives” in the Treaty. Such reporting and marking would regulate the trade of landmines, including the alternative systems under development by the United States to replace persistent, victim-activated landmines.
Speaking of those landmine alternatives, despite the pending sequestration (read: $1 trillion in reductions in US military spending) (The Economist http://www.economist.com/node/21558306), the Defense Department found enough spare change ($58 million) to buy additional XM-7 Spider landmines from Alliant Techsystems (Solicitation and Award from www.fbo.gov: More Spider Mines ordered 5-14-12). I know completely eliminating landmines from the Defense budget wouldn’t solve all of the United States’s budget woes, but it wouldn’t hurt.
Michael P. Moore, July 25, 2012
New Campaign for Amputees in the United StatesPosted: July 24, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association, PR campaigns, Prosthetics, United States, Victim Assistance 1 Comment
If you live in the Washington, DC area, you may have seen this poster: 2012_PR_Poster_Walk at local bus stops. At issue is the question of whether or not the US government (probably in the form of Medicaid, for low-income individuals, and Medicare, for the elderly) will cover the costs of “custom fabricated artificial limbs.” Now, all prosthetic devices are custom-made for the wearers; there is no standard size that would be comfortable, functional or wearable. Prosthetics aren’t like shoes that can be mass-produced in the same sizes and forms.
The tag line for this campaign is “Let’s help disabled people get the prosthetics they need to lead full productive lives” and the action item is for people to got to the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association’s website, www.AOPAnet.org for more information. The action item is fine for the US audience, but I think the tag line is applicable globally, especially in the context of landmine victim assistance.
I bring up this campaign to simply say, if amputees in the United States have difficulty getting the support they need, if they are “left confused and isolated;” imagine how amputees in post-conflict, landmine affected countries must feel.
Michael P. Moore, July 24, 2012
2012 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, Funding to DatePosted: July 17, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Africa, landmines, Portfolio of Mine Action Projects, UNMAS, Victim Assistance Leave a comment
Each year, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS www.mineaction.org) compiles a list of mine action projects that have been endorsed by the national mine action authorities on a country-by-country basis. The compilation of projects is then published as the annual “Portfolio of Mine Action Projects” and is widely disseminated in the hopes of securing donor funding for the projects. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, countries “in a position to do so” are asked to provide support to landmine-affected countries and the annual Portfolio is one means of communicating to potential donor states about the projects that require funding and support. The 2012 Portfolio includes projects from 20 countries totaling almost $343 million. 2012 is more than half complete and a $233 million shortfall in funding (68%) still exists with most projects receiving no funding; only projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are fully funded (UNMAS, accessed July 16, 2012). Projects that have not yet been funded are unlikely to begin before the end of the year and will either be cancelled outright or rolled over into the 2013 Portfolio.
African states make up half of the countries requesting assistance via the Portfolio and as of today, only 22% of the $121 million sought for 71 mine action projects in Africa has been committed. Only ten projects have received any funding and of those ten, only two, “Humanitarian Mine Action Coordination and Capacity Development throughout South Sudan” (UNMAS) and “Mine Risk Education [in Western Sahara]” (UNMAS) have been fully funded. Admittedly, the South Sudan coordination project received $8 million so it was both a substantial request and donation, but for there to be only two fully-funded projects calls into question the responsiveness of the donor community to the Portfolio of Mine Action Projects. The majority of mine-affected countries work directly with donor countries to describe their funding needs and secure the necessary support via bilateral assistance mechanisms. However, the Portfolio serves the very important function of highlighting areas of need and, unfortunately, the scale of unmet needs.
The 2012 Portfolio is the fifteenth annual edition of the document, but the drop-off in participation and commitments from 2011 to 2012 is stark. Twenty-nine countries submitted projects for funding in 2011 compared to twenty in 2012 and in 2011 those countries sought 50% more funding (almost half a billion dollars) than in 2011. In 2011, $131 million was raised by March 2011 (I do not know the final amount raised) and as of July 2012, only $121 million has been raised (United Nations News Service). In 2010, twenty-seven countries participated in the Portfolio with a combined request of $589 million suggesting that the overall trend is towards less participation. In response to concerns from donors about inefficiencies, the Portfolio team revised its process between the 2010 and 2011 editions and its usefulness as a resource suggests that it will be a “permanent fixture” within the mine action community (Journal of ERW and Mine Action).
Victim Assistance Projects in Africa
Seven of the projects submitted for inclusion by African States in the 2012 Portfolio have significant Victim Assistance (VA) components. Five are entirely VA programs and the others fulfill multiple pillars of mine action including VA. These projects come from three countries, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one from South Sudan and the remaining four from Sudan. Of these projects, the South Sudan project has received almost three-quarters of the $600,000 requested and one of the DRC projects received a quarter of the $1.075 million requested; the other five have not received any funding. Interesting, both of the partially-funded projects are managed by a United Nations program (UNMAS for a VA-only project in DRC and the United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre [UNMACC] for a multiple pillar project in South Sudan); all of the un-funded projects are managed by non-governmental organizations.
The victim assistance activities proposed include all of the components of comprehensive Victim Assistance: medical care, physical rehabilitation, psycho-social counseling, socio-economic reintegration, data collection and advocacy for the rights of landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities. The problem is the number of direct beneficiaries of these programs; from a donor perspective, there is not much “bang for the buck.” Victim assistance is the most expensive pillar in mine action. One project in South Khordofan State in Sudan proposed to support 40 landmine survivors at a cost of $93,270 (UNMAS). This might very well be a realistic budget for the socio-economic reintegration of survivors (the project proposed to provide vocational training and business development grants to the survivors as well as offer psycho-social support and rights advocacy training), but because the beneficiary pool is limited the project is unfunded. In comparison, the South Sudan project that received almost $450,000 of the $600,000 requested claims to be providing benefits to 50,000 beneficiaries and includes mine risk education (MRE), a pillar with a fantastic cost to benefit ratio (UNMAS). Compare the two projects: the Khordofan VA project has a per beneficiary cost of more than $2,000 while the combined MRE / VA project in South Sudan has a per beneficiary cost of $12. A donor would look at the two (political considerations aside) and say that the return on investment in South Sudan is much better than that of Khordofan.
Keeping the Portfolio Relevant
Going forward, submitters to the Portfolio should recognize the value of the exercise in communicating to donors the objectives and planned activities agreed upon within landmine-affected countries. But those same submitters should also work directly with donors to ensure that priority projects are funded. Every year, projects in the Portfolio go un-funded or under-funded, but still the document is produced and is seen as adding value. The Portfolio, like the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (www.the-monitor.org), provides an annual snapshot and description of the mine action world and needs, but the Portfolio, like the Monitor, needs to be seen as one tool in the resource mobilization toolkit. For example, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) submitted 12 separate projects to the Portfolio totaling more than $10 million in DRC, Libya and Sudan. According to the Portfolio, none of those projects have been funding to date, but according to MAG’s website, they have ongoing projects in all three countries (Mines Advisory Group). MAG does not rely on the Portfolio to fund its operations, but contributes nonetheless, using the annual opportunity to report on identified needs and communicate to the mine action community about priorities and needs.
Also, because many donor countries require a long lead time to provide funding, by the time submissions are published in the Portfolio, donors have already committed their development and assistance funding for the year. By submitting projects to the Portfolio, mine action organizations and operators can describe current needs and begin the process of negotiating with donors to identify future year funding for the described projects.
Michael P. Moore, July 17, 2012
Keeps People Out, Keeps People In: Landmines in Mali and SyriaPosted: July 11, 2012 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: landmines, Mali, Syria Leave a comment
In most places landmines serve, in the particular military parlance, as area denial weapons: they are intended to prevent the entry or use of space by opponents. Landmines can be laid to establish defensive perimeters, reinforce borders or slow advances. In some instances, landmines have become weapons of terror; placed randomly they maim and kill passers-by who may have no military affiliations. There is, however, an even more insidious use for mines: to keep people in areas and prevent their fleeing.
Perhaps the most famous extant minefield is the one in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. South Korea and the United States may claim that the minefield in the DMZ (which has had the absurd consequence of becoming a pristine nature preserve) prevents the invasion of South Korea by the million-person strong army of North Korea. However, equally important is the fact that the minefield prevents North Koreans from defecting to South Korea. In this regard, the minefield serves North Korea in much the same way that the Berlin Wall served the former East Germany: it prevented dissidents from fleeing the oppressive regimes. Behind the DMZ minefield millions starve with little hope of escape. The Wall and the minefield may have started their existence as defensive structures but over time they became symbols of the regimes and demonstrated the control of the regimes over the lives of their people.
The Korean minefield was not intended to keep North Koreans from defecting; that has merely become one of its many benefits to the North Korean regime. However, in two on-going conflicts, landmines have been used to deliberately prevent people from leaving areas.
In Syria, Bashar Al Assad’s regime has been fighting against a persistent armed opposition in the country for well over a year. Launched in conjunction with the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian governments, the Syrian uprising has been subject to a brutal crackdown with thousands of people killed. In March of this year, the Assad regime began to lay landmines along the borders with Lebanon and Turkey to prevent opposition actors from traveling to the refugee camps established in those countries. The Assad regime fears that the refugee camps could become bases for armed opposition activity. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the Assad regime wants to control any news emerging from the country. The Syrian government has presented the crackdown as a response to terrorism and labeled the opposition as “terrorists.” By placing landmines along its borders, Syria prevents the release of any footage of protests or documentation of violence committed by the regime against the opposition. According to reports, 100 to 200 people fled Syria every day this spring and a total of 30,000 Syrians were living in Turkish and Lebanese refugee camps, but the “numbers of refugees would probably be higher if it wasn’t so difficult to get across the border, because of the minefields and numbers of Syrian soldiers in the area” (Reuters; BBC News).
In Mali, the recent uprisings in the north of the country by Tuareg rebels and by Islamists have upset the fragile democracy that existed in this Sahelian country. Mali had long been an advocate for landmine control, calling for their ban in 1995 and putting in place national legislation criminalizing the possession, sale or use of anti-personnel mines in accordance with the Mine Ban Treaty (International Committee of the Red Cross). Despite these efforts, the frequent uprisings by Tuareg rebels led to the continued presence and threat from landmines in the country with casualties from landmines reported in recent years (Mail and Guardian).
The Tuareg people formed a substantial portion of Gaddhafi’s mercenary army in Libya and with the fall of the Gaddhafi regime, the Libyan trained and armed Tuaregs launched their latest uprising in northern Mali. This uprising coincided with continued efforts by Al Qaeda-linked Islamists to gain and secure a foothold in the Sahel region. In a February 2012 post I had explored the question of why landmines had not yet been used in northern Mali despite the likelihood of the Tuaregs and the Islamists possessing mines looted from Gaddhafi’s stockpiles. In the post I suggested that as long as the rebels were mobile, landmines would not be tactically useful, but if the conflict ever got bogged down or if the rebels sought to establish a particular stronghold, then we would see landmines being used (Landmines in Africa). This past week, those predictions came true.
First, it is important to note that the Tuaregs, organized under the National Movement for the Liberation of Anzawad (MNLA), and the Islamists, affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and organized as the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), are not allied with each other. They have been linked in various press reports and have both been fighting against the Malian government, but they are independent and unaffiliated. MUJAO are the ones accused – by the Tuaregs – of using landmines in northern Mali.
MUJAO have seized and occupy the historic city of Timbuktu, an Islamic center of learning and the heartland of the Tuareg people. This occupation puts the Islamists and Tuaregs in direct opposition and the Islamists are trying to consolidate their hold over Timbuktu and surrounding villages in anticipation of an attack by Malian forces, Tuaregs or a ECOWAS-organized peace-making force. The Islamists have started to destroy Islamic shrines and historic mosques in Timbuktu as they are seen as idolatrous under the harsh interpretation of Sharia law used by the Islamists. The destruction of the mosques constitutes a war crime under the International Criminal Court.
In addition to the destruction of the mosques (reminiscent of the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist temples in Afghanistan), the Islamists have surrounded the city of Gao with landmines. Gao lies on the banks of the Niger River and with 90,000 residents is one of the largest cities in northern Mali. The MNLA accuses the Islamists of planting the landmines to prevent the people of Gao. The Islamists are accused of “using the population [of Gao] as hostages, as a human shield to protect itself from an MNLA counter-attack” (Al Arabiya; International Business Times). If true, this would be another war crime perpetrated by the Islamists and an insidious and deliberate use of landmines against civilians.
Michael P. Moore, July 11, 2012
Month in Mines, June 2012 by Landmines in AfricaPosted: July 6, 2012 Filed under: Month in Mines | Tags: Africa, Angola, landmines, Mine Ban Treaty, Mozambique, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, United States, Zambia Leave a comment
If the sheer volume of stories is any indication, June 2012 was a very quiet month for landmines in Africa. That’s both good news and bad news; good news in that there were fewer landmine accidents reported, bad news in that less progress towards mine clearance and victims assistance were reported. The positives from the month include additional support from Japan for mine clearance in Angola and Mozambique, but these are matched with negatives in the form of new injuries in Somalia and Kenya.
The death of a four-year old child and injury of another from a landmine blast serves as a reminder of the danger of these weapons. The mine was part of a pile of garbage that was set on fire and when the flames reached the mine, it detonated. A demining team was dispatched to the area to determine if additional mines are present (All Africal).
The Japanese government released an additional $1 million to support landmine clearance in Angola by the Angolan National Institute of Demining (INAD) and the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS). These funds are part of a fifth phase of cooperation between Japan and Angola and will benefit almost a quarter million people in Bengo Province which surrounds the country’s capitol of Luanda (All Africa).
Later this summer, Angola will host presidential elections and President Eduardo Dos Santos will be seeking to extend his tenure as president to more than 35 years with a victory in the elections. Yes, 35 years; longer than Robert Mugabe and with Muammar Gaddhafi’s downfall, Dos Santos is the second-longest tenured African leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang who took power one month before Dos Santos (Jambo News). However, support for Dos Santos and his ruling MPLA party is being challenged by demobilized soldiers who fought for the MPLA during the long civil war. Many of the demobilized soldiers are victims of landmines and are demanding pensions and social security and in June, several hundred demobilized soldiers protested outside the Angolan Ministry of Defence. After pushing through the anti-riot police, the demobilized soldiers forced the Angolan army’s Chief of Staff to meet with a delegation of protesters and acknowledge their demands. After the meeting, the soldiers tried to withdraw in an orderly manner when they were attacked and chased by the riot police. Several demobilized soldiers were injured in the melee (All Africa).
The protests in Angola bear a remarkable similarity to similar protests in Uganda under the Walk to Work campaign. In Angola, the protests are preceding the elections (the Walk to Work campaign was led by the defeated challenger to President Yoweri Museveni) and may serve as a harbinger for the type and methods of protests should the upcoming elections not be seen as free and fair (which they won’t be). Maybe an African Spring is coming.
Four Gambians were killed and many others injured when the tractor they were riding on struck an anti-vehicle mine along the Senegal – Gambian border. The tractor was returning to Gambia with a load of timber that had been purchased from Casamance rebels operating in Senegal. According to the report, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh owned the tractor and was planning to mill the timber in a factory he owns. Jammeh trades arms for timber with the Casamance rebels, fueling that conflict whilst personally enriching himself. Jammeh blames the Senegalese army for planting the landmine as part of Senegal’s attempt to prevent military aid from reaching the rebels (Freedom Newspaper).
In addition to its support for demining in Angola, Japan also provided $4.5 million to Mozambique to speed up demining there. The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, Jennifer Topping, warns that Mozambique is in danger of missing its 2014 deadline to meet the demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty so the Japanese assistance is welcome and well-timed. The Japanese support will strengthen the capacity of the National Demining Institute (IND) and pay for mine risk education programs. More than half of Japan’s commitment is in the form of purchasing a mechanical demining machine that will be delivered in December. This will be the second such machine in Mozambique; the first arrived in May 2011 (All Africa).
Somalia and Kenya
In Beledweyne in central Somalia, Ethiopian troops were targeted by a remote-controlled landmine. Ethiopian convoys have been the subject of many such attacks since Ethiopian troops entered Somalia in support of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG). As has been the case in recent attacks, the soldiers respond to the blast with “heavy search operations” leaving “locals gripped in fear.” The result is that Somalis will not trust the Ethiopians and the Ethiopians will not trust Somalis; both fearing the other. No casualty figures were released (All Africa).
Earlier in the month, a similar attack had targeted Puntland soldiers in the town of Galka’yo, killing six people. Puntland forces responded with arrests of suspected bombers (All Africa).
In Kenya, in and around the massive Dadaab refugee camp, two separate attacks against Kenyan security forces were conducted by suspected Al Shabab members. The first attack used a remote-controlled landmine placed under a tree popular with Kenyan police for resting after patrols in the Mandera region along the border with Somalia. The bomb was detonated while the Kenyans were some distance away reducing the effectiveness of the blast but still causing injury to the hands and legs. A suspect was arrested shortly after the blast (All Africa).
The second attack featured a landmine buried in the road within Dadaab camp. The mine detonated just before a Kenyan police vehicle drove over it. The police were uninjured, but the report of the incident suggested that refugees near to the blast may have been wounded and buildings damaged (Kenya News Agency).
Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Mwenye Musenge, called for additional support from the Zambian government to the Zambian Anti-Personnel Mine Action Centre (ZMAC). This support would come in the form of assistance to landmine survivors, many of whom have been afraid to seek assistance to date, as well as complete landmine clearance in the northern areas of the country. Zambia had previously declared itself to be free of anti-personnel landmines, but Mr. Musenge’s statements challenge that claim, suggesting that some landmines still remain to be cleared in the north of the country, along the borders with Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (The Daily Mail). If Zambia has not yet cleared all of its mines, then the declaration of mine-free status would represent a likely violation of the Mine Ban Treaty and needs to be investigated and confirmed to ensure that no one is injured or killed by a forgotten landmine.
Two reports published in June detailed the presence and impact of newly laid landmines along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The first report, issued by Mukesh Kapila in his role as an anti-genocide campaigner (All Africa) describes the conflict currently taking place in Sudan’s Nuba mountain region. The peoples of the Nuba mountains had been allied with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army which became the government of South Sudan upon South Sudan’s independence, but the Nuba mountain region remained within Sudan’s territory as the South Khordofan state. Recently, rebels in South Khordofan have been resisting the Khartoum government and in response the Sudanese Army has bombed villages and displacement camps and used “anti-personnel landmines in the Nuba to kill and maim unarmed civilians.” As Kapila points out, “This is a breach of Sudan’s obligations under the Ottawa Treaty” and would represent one of the most grievous violations of the Treaty to date. Kapila accuses Khartoum of crimes against humanity, genocide against the Nuba people and calls on the United Nations Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. Kapila also accuses the United Nations and the international community of failing to uphold the “responsibility to protect” doctrine.
The second report, issued by Amnesty International in anticipation of July’s negotiations at the United Nations for an Arms Trade Treaty, highlights the usage of anti-vehicle mines by Khartoum and its ally, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) as well as other serious human rights violations. Khartoum has provided the SSLA with Chinese-manufactures anti-vehicle landmines which have been used to disrupt traffic on the main roads in Unity State killing and injuring dozens of civilians and increasing the cost of food and fuel as transport companies become hesitant to travel through the region. Amnesty International advocates for an Arms Trade Treaty that “would require all governments to stop the international transfer of arms where there is a substantial risk those arms are likely to be used to commit serious human rights violations” (All Africa).
The United States
Separated by almost 800 miles, Peoria, Illinois and the Fort Meade Army Base near Columbia, Maryland now have something in common: both had World War II era landmines found in the trash. In Peoria, a Japanese-made mine was discovered at the local recycling center. Because the recycling center sometimes receives propane tanks and other flammable or explosive items, the crews there sift through the metal items before processing; during that sifting process the landmine was discovered and turned over to an explosive ordnance team for disposal (Journal Star). At Fort Meade, a landmine of similar time period but unknown provenance was discovered in the Manor View dump site. Again, an explosive ordnance team responded to the call and removed the item (ABC Channel 2 News). Because Fort Meade is the home of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade has its own EOD team while the Peoria landmine – a model 3 “Flower Pot Mine” – had to be removed by the police and then turned over to a military team.
To avoid such incidents in the future, perhaps the good citizens of Peoria and Fort Meade can look to a couple of Bucknell University professors who are working to train rats to find and mark landmines as part of a Defense Department contract. APOPO pioneered the use of rats for landmine detection (TED Talks), but APOPO’s methodology is decidedly low-tech. The Bucknell University (home of the Bison) scientists will train the rats to turn in a circle when they smell explosive materials and that turning will (and to quote Dave Barry: “I am not making this up”) activate the motion sensors in the miniature backpacks worn by the rats to mark the spot the explosives were detected via GPS transmitters. The goal of the scientists is to create a system “rugged so you can drop it out of a plane.” No word on whether the rats will also be issued miniature parachutes for when they are dropped out of said planes (PRWEB).
Michael P. Moore, July 6, 2012