Uganda’s Violation of Article 5 of the Mine Ban TreatyPosted: August 8, 2012
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.