The Narrative from the 2012 Landmine Monitor; Improving or Not?

The 2012 Landmine Monitor reports:

“The 4,286 new casualties from mines and ERW [explosive remnants of war] identified in 2011 are about one-third of the recorded annual casualty rate one decade ago…

“The 2011 figure is similar to the number of casualties identified in 2009 and 2010, or approximately 11-12 casualties per day. The annual incidence rate is about a third of what it was one decade ago, when there were at least 32 casualties per day.  Given improvements in data collection over this period, the decrease in casualties is likely even more significant with a higher percentage of casualties now being recorded.”

The general narrative of the 2012 Landmine Monitor is one of positive improvement.  From a release, “Amid the odd relapse, progress towards a world free of antipersonnel mines is inching forward” and “Some long term hold-outs [to the Treaty] have joined, namely Finland, and hopefully Poland will, too, by the end of this year. It is clear that the stigma against the use [of mines] is as strong as ever,” and “The mine action budget in 2011 was about US$662 million, the largest annual total to date” (All Africa).

In contrast, the 2011 Landmine Monitor narrative’s was not uniformly positive, mixing the positive with the negative: “Record levels of funding and mine clearance, but also increased use of landmines.”

However, in 2o11, according to the Monitor, recorded landmine victims have actually increased for the second year in the row.  The Monitor explains this with the phrase “the 2011 figure is similar to… 2009 and 2010” but doens’t actually say that it is an increase.  Now, there are two possible explanations: either the number of casualties has become static and the progress of the past 15 years has stalled, or the recent documented use of landmine has led to a regression and the number of casualties is slowly increasing.

First, let’s look at the possibility that the number of casualties has stabilized and the documented increases represent deviations around a new norm.  The Mine Ban Treaty’s success over its first dozen years is nothing short of incredible.  The fact that an accepted weapon has been given by nearly every army in the world is astounding, but if progress has stalled, surely that is an important story.  The remaining holdouts to the Mine Ban Treaty, including the United States, Pakistan and China, and the countries who have not met their demining obligations within the original ten-year period are responsible for new landmine casualties.  As states continue to delay on their mine clearance responsibilities and States not Party remain outside of the Treaty regime, further positive progress for the Mine Ban Treaty is not possible and so the story needs to be that the incredible progress of the Mine Ban Treaty has stalled and action by states, like the United States, is required to restart the positive momentum.

Alternatively, the fact that the number of landmine victims has increased for two years running, along with documented new use by states like Israel, Libya and Syria (and suspected use by Sudan and Yemen), actually shows that the Mine Ban Treaty regime is weakening and we can continue to see the number of victims increase.  Let me offer the following in support of this: In 2009 there were 635 landmine casualties on the African continent and in 2010 there were 624, but in 2011, there were 1,009.  That’s a 60% increase and can’t be explained as in line with the previous years.  The new and renewed conflicts in Libya, Sudan and Somalia were responsible for most of that increase, but countries that have long been at peace like Angola, Senegal and Uganda also reported significant increases in the number of victims in 2011.  The new victims in these countries are the result of failures of those states to clear their mines (especially Uganda and Senegal).

Whichever is true, the number of landmine victims is increasing or the number of victims has been stable for the last three years, neither is particularly positive.  Either the great progress of the Mine Ban Treaty has stalled or worse, it has regressed.  I hope it is the former and fear it is the latter.

Michael P. Moore

December 8, 2012

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