Landmines in Zambia in 2012?

In 2009, Zambia announced that it had cleared all of its territory of anti-personnel landmines in accordance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty, two years ahead of its Treaty-mandated deadline.  In 2008 and 2009, Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) surveyed the country and certified that the country was free of anti-personnel landmines.  The Zambia Mine Action Centre (ZMAC), the national mine action authority, used NPA’s report as the basis for Zambia’s declaration to the Cartegena Summit for a Mine-Free World, the second review conference for the Mine Ban Treaty.  Zambia’s declaration was qualified, saying that Zambia still faces “the challenge of clearing explosive remnants of war which have been the major cause of accidents in the country in the last 5 years.”  In addition to recognizing the continued presence of explosive remnants of war (other than anti-personnel landmines), Zambia stated that if “previously unknown mined areas are discovered after this declaration, Zambia undertakes, firstly; to report such mined areas in accordance with its obligation under Article 7; second, to ensure the effective exclusion of civilians in accordance with Article 5 and thirdly, to destroy or ensure destruction of all such mines” (Cartegena Summit, pdf).

Based upon recent news reports, it is possible that the landmine threat lingers in Zambia despite the announcement of the country being mine-free in 2009.  However, Zambia appears to be acknowledging the issue and trying to address it.

Earlier this year, a Zambian Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Defence, Mwenye Musenge, traveled to the northwestern regions of the country as part of a tour with the ZMAC.  One of the main messages from Musenge’s tour was a call for additional support for landmine survivors, many of whom live in the northwest of Zambia and lack access to victim assistance.  The northwest region borders Angola and Zimbabwe and liberation movements in those countries used Zambia as a base for activity and movement of people and materiel to rebel groups.  According to ZMAC, a large proportion of landmine survivors living in Zambia are Congolese and Angolan in origin and fled their countries during the conflicts there and re-settled in Zambia.  In addition to calling for assistance for landmine survivors, Musenge stated that “as of two years ago, 98 per cent of such gadgets [grenades and landmines] had been diffused or detonated.”  Musenge said Zambia’s “Western, Eastern and Southern provinces have been cleared of the landmines” and that ZMAC “has done almost 100 percent of its work of removing landmines and other military gadgets in affected provinces of the country” (Daily Mail; Zambia Post). 

In August, Community Development, Mother and Child Health Deputy Minister, Jean Kapata “implored people living in once landmine-infested areas to be cautious even if Zambia had been declared a landmine-free country.”  Kapata made this statement as she supervised the transport of five landmine survivors who had been identified during Musenge’s visit to the northwest to Lusaka for comprehensive medical treatment.  The survivors were also to be fitted with new prosthetic devices at the Italian Orthopaedic Hospital, which would be a significant improvement over the locally produced items being used (All Africa).

Also in August, Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Given Lubinda met Russia’s Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister, Mikhail Bogdanon.  During this meeting Lubinda asked “Russia to help through its expertise in sweeping landmines on the borders with countries such as Angola.”  Lubinda said “the Zambia-Angola border remained unsafe despite demining that had been carried out” (All Africa).

I think it will be very interesting to hear Zambia’s presentations at the upcoming Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in November.  Zambia needs to publicly declare whether or not it is still a mine-affected country and if it is, how it proposes to resolve the issue.  Unfortunately for Zambia, most of the minefields are along its borders with Angola and Zimbabwe, two countries that have not prioritized clearing the border areas of landmines up until now.  Zimbabwe has only this year started the clearance process along its borders (All Africa) and despite the tourism potential for Angola, demining on the Angolan side is still delayed (Angola Press).  There is also the strong possibility that the “landmines” referred to in these reports are other explosive remnants of war and not anti-personnel landmines.  If that is the case, then ZMAC should reach out to the Members of Parliament and educate them about the difference between landmines and other explosive remnants of war.   

Michael P. Moore

August 28, 2012

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Uganda’s Violation of Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty

At the most recent intersessional meetings of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) highlighted “serious concerns that states are not living up to their obligations under the Treaty.”  Specifically, the ICBL mentioned recent accusations of use of anti-personnel landmines by Sudan, Turkey and Yemen, all Parties to the Treaty, as well as use by the non-State Parties, Israel, Libya, Myanmar and Syria.  If the accusations against Sudan, Turkey and Yemen prove true, they would constitute major violations of the Treaty.  Other documented violations of the Treaty include the failure of Belarus, Greece and Ukraine to destroy their stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines within four years of the Treaty’s entry into force for each country, as required by Article 4 of the Treaty.  Lastly, the ICBL expressed its concern about delays in landmine clearance in States Parties; to date 27 countries had requested and extension to the Treaty-mandated ten-year period and more countries were expected to request extensions to their Article 5 obligation to clear all known landmines (ICBL). 

One of the countries that had requested and received an extension to its Article 5 deadline is Uganda.  The majority of landmines in Uganda were laid in the northern districts affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) rebellion.  Landmines were first used in this area in 1994 (supplied to the LRA by Sudan) and continued to be used until the LRA left Uganda in 2006.  Therefore, even though Uganda was one of the first signatories and ratifiers of the Mine Ban Treaty, due to the continuing violence in Northern Uganda, mine clearance could not begin until 2006.  However, once the LRA had left Northern Uganda, demining began in earnest with several survey operations and a gradual build-up of technical capacity with the intent of meeting the original Article 5 deadline of August 1, 2009 (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). In their 2009 review of Uganda’s request, the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty expressed several concerns about the work plan, but perhaps most significantly, the States Parties said “Uganda found itself in a situation wherein less than two months before its deadline it was still unclear whether it would be able to complete implementation of Article 5, paragraph 1 of the Convention by its deadline.”  This suggests that Uganda’s mine action authority had no idea about the extent of contamination in the country nor of the demining progress some three years after demining had supposedly begun (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  Despite this concern, the States Parties granted the extension request of three years to August 1, 2012.

At the May 2012 intersessional meetings, Uganda reiterates its commitment to meeting to meeting the revised deadline.  Uganda also recognized that they would need to increase the speed at which they were clearing landmines and even with the assistance of MineWolf machines provided by Norwegian Peoples Aid (reducing the clearance capacity of South Sudan where the machines had been intended for use), many explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tasks were put on hold to focus on landmines.  Uganda envisioned requiring three more years of work to complete those EOD tasks after the completion of the landmine clearance.  However, in the update, Uganda admitted that “we predict completion of not less than 80% of the remaining clearance work on schedule.”  In other words, in May Uganda knew it would not meet the August 1, 2012 deadline, despite its “commitment” (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).

Just this week, as the deadline passed, Uganda tried to spin the story as one of success.  Declaring the conclusion of “first phase of demining and disarmament in northern Uganda” the Uganda Peoples Defence Force declared that the army “shall continue to demine and ensure that all guns that are in illegal hands are collected and destroyed to enable peace return to the region.”  The army had intended to complete the demining in December 2011, but, in a wonderfully absurd manner, “officials said the exercise was still on course” despite failing to meet the Mine Ban Treaty’s deadline and its own self-imposed deadline.  A senior army official said “de-mining in the region achieved its intended purpose, but added more still needs to be done” (The Daily Monitor).  A revised deadline for mine clearance has been set for “later this year” (Al Jazeera). 

Uganda has categorically failed to meets its Article 5 demining deadline as required by the Mine Ban Treaty.  There is no mechanism in the Treaty to punish such a violation other than “naming and shaming” which I hope will be something of a spectator sport at the next Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in December.  Even if Uganda has completed all demining by the start of that Meeting, the States Parties need to take Uganda to task, if only to serve as a warning to other states who are falling behind schedule for mine clearance.  All injuries due to anti-personnel landmines are tragedies; because of its failure to clear those mines in a timely manner, any such injury in Uganda should be a crime. 

Michael P. Moore, August 8, 2012.


Month in Mines, July 2012 by Landmines in Africa

The big disarmament news in July was United Nations negotiations on an Arms Trade Treaty, negotiations which broke down when the United States declared (on the last day of course) that more time was needed for consideration of the terms of the Treaty.  The small disarmament news was the accusation of new use of landmines in Mali by Islamist forces and more casualties across the continent.  Unfortunately, whatever happened at the United Nations was not going to stop landmine and small arms casualties, even if all nations had been able to agree to the Treaty.  However, positive signs were to be found in Angola and Zimbabwe as clearance efforts there continue.  One day, the good news will far outweigh the bad.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s mine action community is heroically trying to catch up after more than a decade of isolation.  Because of sanctions against the country – related to farm seizures by “war veterans” in 2000 and widespread violence against political opposition after the 2008 elections – military equipment and training has not been available to Zimbabwean engineering units, forcing a delay in the country’s mine clearance activities.  With the sanctions lifted and an Article 5 mine clearance extension in place, Zimbabwe appears to be re-doubling its efforts to clear landmines in the country left over from the 1970s liberation war against the Rhodesian government.  In July a partnership agreement was Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to survey and demine the country’s border with Mozambique, a region that is under-developed due to the threat of landmines (All Africa).  The agreement with NPA is in addition to the existing agreement between Zimbabwe and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) under which the ICRC has already trained dozens of Zimbabwean soldiers in mine clearance techniques.  ICRC will also provide metal detectors, and trauma kits and other safety equipment to better protect and equip the Zimbabwean demining teams (ICRC).

Democratic Republic of Congo

After receiving an Article 5 extension to its deadline for clearing landmines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is looking to other countries for assistance in meeting the revised deadline of January 1, 2015.  To that end, a delegation of “senior staff” from the DRC’s national mine action authority traveled to neighboring Angola this month to exchange experiences and observe how Angola’s National Inter-Sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Aid (CNIDAH) coordinates mine action.  The teams traveled to several field sites to learn about “the activities of the State on the ground, the activities of national and international organizations working in the field of demining, as well as how it decentralizes the coordination at the provincial level” (All Africa).

Angola

Angola’s mine clearance continues at the slow and steady pace established by the country.  In July, a government official announced that over 13 million square meters of roads (the article says kilometers, but I think it’s a type from translation), including secondary and tertiary roads in Cabinda province have been cleared of mines.  The clearance will provide immediate economic benefits as goods and people will now move more freely through the province (All Africa).  Also announced in July was the renewal of cooperation between the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS) and National Demining Institute of Angola (INAD).  Through JMAS, the Japanese government is providing US $1 million in bilateral assistance to Angola to support mine clearance while JMAS provides technical assistance through its network of former Japanese military experts (All Africa).

To date, all mine clearance in Angola has been performed by manual or mechanical means.  In July, the mine action authorities in Angola confirmed partnerships to add animal detection to the toolkit used by Angolan deminers.  Through the Marshall Legacy Institute, trained demining dog handlers from Bosnia will train INAD staff on how to use dogs to detect landmines (no mention of where or how the dogs themselves will be trained, but I would assume that Angola will develop a local training and breeding facility)  The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) has brought several trained mine detection dogs from the Mine Detection Dog Center in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Angola.  One in Angola, the dogs continued their training and bonding with their handlers to from a qualified mine detection team.  The teams have already begun their work and cleared several thousand square meters to allow access to fresh water for a local community (Angola Press Agency; Marshall Legacy Institute, personal communication).  Through Norwegian People’s Aid, APOPO will provide 40 mine detection rats.  Mine detection rats have been used successfully for many years in neighboring (and also Lusophone) Mozambique.  The Belgian government will provide the funding for the project which will hire 10 female handlers for the rats adding an additional gender component to the assistance (Norwegian People’s Aid).  Both dogs and rats are used to survey minefields, which can then been cleared manually or mechanically, and also to verify that clearance has been completed by re-surveying cleared fields before they are released for use.

Senegal

The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, caused by extensive drought along the edge of the Sahara desert in western Africa, brought attention to the continuing threat of landmines in Senegal through an article in the Huffington Post.  Handicap International has been active for more than a decade there clearing landmines, providing mine risk education, and facilitating the re-integration of survivors.  The context of the article discussed the fragility of life in the Sahel which is only compounded by the presence of landmines that prevent people from using the limited arable land and traveling along the roads.  Senegal is a relatively well-developed country in the Sahelian region and the implication was that in other countries, e.g. Niger, Mauritania and Mali, the mixture of drought and landmine contamination will prove fatal (much as it has in Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea).

Unfortunately, the Huffington Post article was followed by a report that demining in the landmine-affected Casamance region is slowing down due to a transition in the responsibility for demining from Handicap International to a South African firm (HI will continue to conduct mine risk education and victim assistance in Senegal).  To date, HI estimates that only 10% of mine-affected areas have been cleared while at the same time, Casamance rebels continue to plant new landmines.  Anne-Sophie Trujillo, HI’s director in Senegal expressed concern about Senegal’s ability to meet its 2016 deadline for mine clearance, saying emphatically, “demining will not finish by 2016” (All Africa).

Kenya

At the end of July, a police vehicle traveling in a convoy with a Care International vehicle providing humanitarian assistance was targeted with a remote controlled landmine near the Dadaab refugee camp.  Dadaab is home to tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia and Kenyan police and politicians have accused Al Shabaab of recruiting from within the camp.  The police vehicle in the attack was following a Care van and deliberately targeted.  After stabilization, the injured policemen were to be airlifted to Nairobi for treatment.  The attack is part of a campaign of violence against Kenyan police and security who work in and around the camp (All Africa).

Somalia

The Al Shabaab insurgency remains very active in Somalia attacking a number of targets through the use of landmines.  In July, a meeting of the National Constituent Assembly was halted when a landmine detonated within the compound where the meeting was held (RBC Radio) and a former minister for humanitarian affairs was assassinated when a landmine destroyed the car he was riding in (All Africa).  Not content with attacking only soft targets, Al Shabaab is accused of targeting Somali government soldiers in Mogadishu in the middle of the month (All Africa) and at the end of the month (All Africa).  Ethiopian soldiers were targeted in Beledweyne town in central Somalia (All Africa) and Kenyan forces were attacked in southern Somalia (All Africa).

In response to the attack in Beledweyne, Ethiopian soldiers were accused of firing indiscriminately at civilians, killing at least 10 people, and arresting 200.  According to Somali officials, “we don’t know where these people [the 200 arrested] were taken and held by the troops.  We [are] shocked and terrified about the [Ethiopian] army’s behavior and actions” (All Africa).  The Ethiopian soldiers in Somalia are operating completely independently of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) backed AMISOM force.  Kenya’s soldiers have been integrated into AMISOM, but not Ethiopia’s (Wikipedia).  This is a problem because there is no oversight or control over the Ethiopian troops in Somalia and if the reports above are correct, the Ethiopians are engaging in human rights violations that need to be stopped.  The UN and AU should act immediately to either bring the Ethiopian troops into the AMISOM force and therefore under the command and control of the AMISOM commanders or have Ethiopian withdraw its forces from Somali.

Mali

According to the Tuareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its ally the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) are using landmines for the first time in Mali.  The mines are being placed around the northern town of Gao, near Timbuktu where MUJAO has been accused of destroying centuries-old shrines and centers of worship, to prevent the resident of Gao from fleeing.  According to the MNLA, the Islamists want to use the population of Gao as human shields against a possible attack by a united West African force or the Malian army and to do so, they have used landmines to block any means of escape from Gao.  How the Islamists obtained the landmines is not clear, but they could have been in the possession of the Tuaregs (the MNLA and the MUJAO were allied until recently against the Malian government) who looted them from Libya’s stockpiles during the fall of Gaddhafi’s regime there since the Tuaregs formed a large portion of the mercenaries in the Gaddhafi’s employ (Al Arabiya). 

The Gambia

The government of the Gambia recognized the Day of the African Child on July 14th with the theme of the rights of children with disabilities (The Gambia has not ratified or acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in case you were curious [UN Enable]).  The organizers of the commemoration noted that landmines are a major cause of disability in post-conflict countries and with the close proximity of the Gambia to the Casamance region of Senegal, the impact of landmines is well known to Gambians (All Africa).

Western Sahara

Two young men were riding in a Land Rover when they ran over a landmine near the city of Smara.  The driver died after two days in the hospital while the passenger remained in critical condition (Sahara Press Service).

 United States

Not to be outdone by a Belgian not-for-profit, the US Army has gotten into the business of training rats to detect landmines.  Of course, they gave their project the nifty title, Rugged Automated Training System (R.A.T.S.) to make it sound more macho that it is.  The “automated” in the title refers to the fact that unlike APOPO or even dog training programs, the Army’s system will be automated (not handler or trainer based) and “is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal.”  The article goes on to say, “If we can demonstrate that rats can be trained inexpensively to be reliable detectors, then this method would not only lower costs for the Army but would also create new opportunities for using animals to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble” (Phys.Org).   I believe APOPO has already proven this and perhaps the US Army should save a little time and hire a few of APOPO’s HeroRATS.  Either that or brace itself for the patent lawsuit that APOPO has every right to file.

Michael P. Moore, August 6, 2012