The Month in Mines, November 2012, by Landmines in Africa

Landmines were both a local story and a global story in November.  On the global level, the First Committee of the United Nations met to discuss disarmament issues and held its annual vote on universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty.  Also in the November, the Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed issues related to its Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) which includes landmines.  At the end of the month, in anticipation of the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) published the annual Landmine Monitor report, the de facto monitoring and verification mechanism for the Mine Ban Treaty.  These events provided an opportunity for states and non-governmental organizations to present information about landmine issues.  On a local level, landmine casualties continue to plague many nations including Somalia, Angola, Uganda and the Sudans.  Positive progress was seen in Libya, the Republic of Congo and in Egypt.

 

Somalia

In what just may be the first time since I started compiling these monthly summaries, there were no reports of landmine casualties in Somalia.  I did notice that Shabelle Media has started to use the term, “road-side bomb” more frequently in places where it used to say, “remote-controlled landmine,” but I think the change is also due to the change in the conflict in Somalia.  We are seeing more grenade attacks on soft targets and assassinations than landmine attacks.  This is due to the fact that Al Shabaab controls less and less territory and is not trying to defend territory; instead, Al Shabaab is trying to stoke fear through killings of journalists, leaders and random civilians.  Also, the AMISOM troops are sweeping former Al Shabaab controlled areas and clearing landmines.  Several have been found in the streets of Kismayo after the departure of Al Shabaab and these have been cleared, allowing for use of the roadways (All Africa).

 

Angola

The National Inter-sectorial De-mining and Humanitarian Assistance Commission (CNIDAH) launched a nationwide census of landmine victims as part of the strategy to create a comprehensive victim assistance plan.  Previous estimates of the number of Angolan landmine survivors has been as high as 80,000 and this census will provide the first accurate estimate of the number.  So far, 3,000 survivors have been identified in five provinces with another 14 to be surveyed (All Africa).

 

Libya

Handicap International (HI), operating in Libya since August 2011, conducted a public demolition of nine tons of ERW, representing 5,500 individual pieces of mortars, landmines, unexploded bombs and other expended and unexpended ammunition.  The demolition was the result of months of collecting materials and took three hours to complete.  HI has also been busy with mine risk education reaching tens of thousands of individuals with the message of the dangers of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  However, HI’s Chief of Operations in Libya, Paul McCullough, said “after eight months of EOD operations we’ve still not broken the back of the clearance” in Libya and committed to continue working until “a manageable residue is left for” Libya’s national mine action authority to complete (Libya Herald).

 

Mozambique and Zimbabwe

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Guy Willoughby, a co-founder of the HALO Trust remarked that while in most countries the number of landmines is in the tens of or hundreds of thousands, “There will be a million land mines to still clear on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.”  Both countries are working to survey the region, but the number staggers (Radio Free Europe).

Mozambique, once one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, is making remarkable progress towards becoming mine-free.  To date, 97 of Mozambique’s 128 districts have been cleared or confirmed as mine-free.  While the border with Zimbabwe remains to be cleared, there is hope that a project believed to require decades of work, just might be completed by March 2014 (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).

 

Congo (Brazzaville)

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) conducted a survey of the Republic of Congo and based upon that survey has declared Congo to be free of anti-personnel mines.  There had been suspected contamination around the Cabinda enclave (part of Angola that is wholly surrounded by the Congo and has been subject to a long-running rebellion).  Congo requested an extension to its Article 5 mine clearance obligations (the request was submitted after the initial deadline had passed) and the NPA survey was designed to fulfill the obligations of the extension request (Norwegian People’s Aid).

 

South Sudan

Three children were killed and a fourth gravely injured by a landmine that was found in a swampy area in Warrap State.  The incident has prompted authorities in the state to conduct more mine risk education activities to prevent future casualties (Oye! Times).

To help South Sudan build its capacity to manage the land mine threat, the Canadian Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force funded a team from South Sudan to visit the mine action authority in Afghanistan.  The South Sudanese team observed mine clearance activities and had the opportunity for peer to peer learning (Norwegian People’s Aid).

As the dispute between South Sudan and Sudan over the status of the Abyei region continues, the United Nations Security Council authorized a six-month extension of its peacekeeping force there.  As part of the re-authorization, the Security Council its concern about “the residual threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the Abyei Area, which hinders the safe return of displaced persons to their homes and safe migration” and demanded “that the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan facilitate the deployment of the United Nations Mine Action Service to ensure JBVMM [Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism] freedom of movement as well as the identification and clearance of mines in the Abyei Area and SDBZ [Safe Demilitarized Border Zone].” So that settles that.  It is unfortunate that demining has become politicized in the border disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, but by preventing demining in Abyei, Sudan can effectively prevent South Sudanese people from returning to the area for fear of landmines and establish new “facts on the ground” in Sudan’s favor (All Africa).

Mine risk education continues throughout South Sudan in sometimes constrained circumstances.  A local NGO, the Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS), uses red painted stones to mark minefields instead of the formal warning signs found elsewhere.  SIMAS conducts outreach to pastoral groups to inform them of the significance of the painted stones and the potential risks of entering a minefield, which all too many South Sudanese are familiar with.  To date some 1.8 million people, over 20% of the country’s entire population, have received mine risk education information in South Sudan, but pastoral and traditional societies have been more difficult to reach due to their mobility and suspicions of outsiders.  SIMAS has been able to earn their trust and is actively educating “children and adults in cattle camps, returnees at way stations coming back from Sudan, and other displaced persons” (UN Mission in South Sudan).

 

Sudan

Two boys, one 12-years old and the other 7, were injured when the landmine they had been playing with in South Kordofan State exploded.  They were taken to a local hospital for treatment (Nuba Reports).

 

Uganda

Corruption in Uganda has become so rampant that the United Kingdom has suspended foreign aid payments amid accusations that “funds from several European countries had been funnelled into the private bank accounts of officials in prime minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s office” (The Guardian).  Unfortunately, corruption has also affected landmine survivors in Uganda.  According to the State Minister for the Elderly and Disabled, Mr Sulaiman Madada, Uganda is committed to supporting landmine victims but the funds allocated for that support were “misappropriated.”  Because of corruption, survivors are unable to get prosthetic limbs or participate in economic re-integration programs.  Mr. Madaba says, “We need to work together and ensure all money is used for its intended purpose.”  No, Mr. Madaba.  The government needs to stop stealing from its most impoverished citizens.  There’s no “we” in this problem (The Daily Monitor).

 

Western Sahara

Two Saharawis were injured by a landmine in Smara.  The landmine was likely placed by Moroccan forces who use landmines to prevent movement of the Polisario Front, the main political entity of the Saharawi people (All Africa).  In London, the NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which has been working in Western Sahara for many years to provide services to landmine victims and provide mine risk education, made a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on landmines.  During the presentation, AOAV director, Steven Smith said “The Western Sahara is one the most heavily mined territories in the world with over 2,500 people killed in antipersonnel mine blasts” and noted the importance of providing services to landmine survivors (All Africa).

 

Egypt

The German, Italian and British governments have combined to provide $25 million to clear 190,000 feddans (roughly 80,000 hectares) of landmines by 2016.  The area to be cleared consists of portions of the El Alamein battlefield from World War II.  There are an estimated 17.2 million mines in the Western Desert where El Alamein lies, some 15% of the total number of landmines globally (All Africa).

 

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s presidential election provided an opportunity to interview members of the Sierra Leone Flying Stars Amputee Football Club.  The link between the footballers and the election was tenuous, but the resilience of these young men and their efforts to overcome injury should always be celebrated (Al Jazeera).

 

International

In November the First Committee of the United Nations, the group of the whole which is responsible for considering disarmament issues, voted on a resolution entitled, “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction.”  The resolution, or one very similar, is voted on each year and is seen as a bellwether of non-states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  This year’s resolution was approved with a vote of 152 in favor and none opposed, but 19 states abstained (no word on which states were simply out of the room at the time of the vote).  Three states which abstained from the vote, Egypt, Libya and Morocco, took the opportunity to explain why they had abstained and why they also remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty regime. These explanations can be used by the Mine Ban Treaty’s universalization advocates to address those concerns and try to get the states to accede to the Treaty.  Tanzania also took advantage of the vote to promote its work and support for APOPO’s use of rats for mine clearance activities (United Nations).

 

The High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met in Geneva for 6th Conference on Protocol V on ERWs, the 14th Conference on Amended Protocol II (which covers landmines and was a fore-runner to the Mine Ban Treaty), and a two-day Meeting of States Parties to the Convention.  Since many countries who are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are parties to the CCW, like Pakistan and the United States, meetings of the CCW are important opportunities for landmine advocates in NGOs and states to address issues already raised in Mine Ban Treaty meetings, like victim assistance.  Rather than paraphrasing, let me quote the report on the meeting written by Katherine Prizeman of Disarmament Dialogues:

Although no “new,” groundbreaking issues related to Protocol V were highlighted or resolved this session, the continued interest and enthusiasm around its universalization and robust implementation are important for both the disarmament and human rights communities as advocates and diplomats alike work to prevent gross human suffering during acts of warfare. It is essential that HCPs, in the context of Protocol V as well as the broader CCW framework, address not only the devastating humanitarian effects of such weapons during conflict, but also post-conflict and even during times of peace. As was noted by UNMAS and other delegations, unplanned explosions of munitions and ammunition sites are increasing risks and deserve attention at all times. Damage from unplanned explosions at munitions sites is far more costly than implementation of generic preventative measures that seek to curb this threat.

Many lessons can be drawn from the work on Protocol V of the CCW, namely the central role of victim assistance, the strong emphasis placed on national reporting and corresponding national templates, and the robust and regular exchange of information and best practices in an issue-specific format. With many other related processes underway in the disarmament and human rights fields, including the ongoing arms trade treaty (ATT) process and the Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs), the hope is that CCW practices based on the values of transparency and accountability will inspire these parallel processes. Such core principles must be an inherent part of any successful arms control, disarmament, or humanitarian instrument seeking to make a concrete difference on the ground. (Global Action to Prevent War Blog).

 

The ICBL published the 14th edition of the Landmine Monitor covering activities in 2011 and highlighting some exciting progress on Mine Ban Treaty issues.  Three states, Israel, Libya and Myanmar, used landmines in 2011, and non-state actors in six countries, Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen, also used mines.  However, the editor of the Monitor said, “Active production of antipersonnel mines may be ongoing in as few as four countries” and no exports of landmines from those countries has been documented in several years.  Therefore the number of new mines available for use is very small and existing stockpiles continue to be reduced in accordance with the Treaty.  Two dozen non-state actors (rebel groups) have signed Deeds of Commitment which state that the groups will abide by the terms of the Mine Ban Treaty, further reducing the demand for landmines. The good news was tempered by the facts that the number of confirmed landmine casualties had increased slightly for the second straight year and that funding for victim assistance is at its lowest level in a decade and a full 30% less than the year before (All Africa). Also in the bad news column, Canada, the country which hosted the negotiations for the Mine Ban Treaty (which is also known as the Ottawa Treaty in recognition for where it was signed), cut its funding for mine action almost in half, from $30 million to $17 million (Ottawa Citizen).

 

United States

Last, AFRICOM continues to host trainings for African militaries in humanitarian mine action.  The curriculum currently covers demining, ordnance identification, explosives safety and theory, metal detector operations, demolitions, physical security, stockpile classes, medical training and one-man drills, but the director of the program for AFRICOM expressed interest in adding victim assistance and mine risk education to the subject topics.  As the director said, the humanitarian mine action program is “not very expensive… [and] is the most effective and has the greatest chance to build actual capacity in the country.”  To participate in the training program, which has so far engaged militaries in Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, nations must request support through the Department of State (AFRICOM http://www.usaraf.army.mil/NEWS/NEWS_121130_dmn.html).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 11, 2012

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