Africa at the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty

On December 3rd to 7th, the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty met in Geneva as part of the regular meetings required by the Treaty.  The Meeting, the 12th Meeting of States Parties (12MSP) was chaired by Slovenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Matjaž Kovačič.  As in previous years, Africa was well-represented at the meeting and many agenda items addressed mine action issues on the continent.

Thirty-three African states sent representatives to the Meeting; 30 States Parties (Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Cote d”Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gamia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and three non-States Parties (Egypt, Libya and Morocco).  Of mine-affected countries in Africa, only Mali failed to send a representative (possibly due to the current political crisis there).  The two mine-affected regions of Somaliland and Western Sahara are not able to send official representatives as they are not states as recognized by the United Nations.

In addition to sending country delegations, Algeria and Zambia were elected as Vice-Presidents of the Meeting.  Zambia co-chaired the Standing Committee on Mine Clearance and presented a report, with Indonesia, on a “Proposed rational response to States Parties discovering previously unknown mined areas after deadlines have passed.”  In recent years, the concern has arisen that a country may, after declaring itself mine-free by virtue of never having been mined or having cleared all minefields, discover newly laid landmines or a previously unidentified minefield.  In response to the Report, the States Parties at the 12MSP committed to immediately inform all States Parties should a country discovered a newly mined or previously unknown mined area and demine and destroy all landmines as soon as possible.  If the mine clearance cannot be completed before the next annual meeting of the States Parties, then the country with the mined area will submit to the States Parties a proposal for demining, using the Article 5 deadline extension process.

Algeria had stepped forward as a candidate to preside over the 13th Meeting of States Parties to be held in Geneva in December 2013, as Slovenia had done for the 12MSP, but another state also submitted its candidacy and so a decision will be made in February 2013 to confirm the Presidency of the 13th Meeting.

Angola and Zimbabwe submitted Article 5 Extension requests to allow more time to complete the demining process as required by the Mine Ban Treaty.  According to the Treaty, States Parties must complete demining within ten years of the Treaty entering into force for the country, so any extension to that deadline is subject to review by the other States Parties.  Angola’s request for a five-year extension, until January 1, 2018 was approved by the Meeting despite “a number a substantive concerns.”  One of those concerns is the fact that after 10 years and a tremendous amount of human, technical and financial resources made available by domestic and international mine action operators, Angola is still not able to identify the scope and scale of minefields that still remain to be cleared.  Also, the extension request submitted was only meant to afford enough time for Angola to make that determination; at which time a second extension request with a detailed plan for the completion of all demining activities will be submitted.  The Meeting asked Angola to provide frequent reports on progress and take advantage of all resources and techniques at its disposal.

Zimbabwe’s extension request is actually its third submitted to date and while Zimbabwe has not fulfilled promises made in earlier extension requests, the Meeting approved the extension request. Zimbabwe is still unable to determine the true extent of its landmine contamination and while it has been subject to international sanctions that preventing international mine action support, those sanctions did not relieve Zimbabwe of its Treaty obligations.  The States Parties, in approving the request to allow Zimbabwe more time to determine the extent of demining required, make note of the fact that the sanctions have been lifted for the most part and that Zimbabwe has been making rapid progress with the help of several international NGOs to increase its technical and human capacity for demining.

(It’s here that I must interject an earlier question of mine: what would happen if the Meeting rejected an extension request?  Shouldn’t the Meeting reject requests that merit rejection either on the basis of being unreasonably optimistic or lacking the necessary detail to make an informed decision?  Wouldn’t that make the extension process more accountable?  The Meeting considered a report on improving the Article 5 Extension process, but in reading the report, I get the feeling that the report and its recommendations are about the request process and do not really allow the States Parties to reject a request.  The recommendations will make the process smoother and should improve the quality of requests, but, in the case of a Zimbabwe which has utterly failed to meet its obligations under previous extensions or the Republic of Congo which submitted a hastily written request late, why not reject the request and force the country to properly and completely address the demining challenge in a revised request while holding the State in violation of the Treaty?)

At the 12MSP, four African countries were able to declare themselves as mine-free.  Gambia submitted a formal report declaring mine-free status by virtue of never having landmines laid in its territory.  Some Gambians are landmine victims however, because they travel to and from the adjacent Casamance region of Senegal which is heavily contaminated by landmines.  As such, Gambia still has an obligation to provide care and services to landmine victims despite never being mined.  Guinea-Bissau, despite a coup in April 2012, was able to declare itself mine-free having cleared the final minefields in January 2012.  Guinea-Bissau’s original clearance deadline had been November 2011, but the country had requested and received a brief extension to complete the planned demining tasks.  The Republic of Congo had long had suspected landmine contamination, especially around the Cabinda enclave of Angola which is bordered on three sides by Congolese territory.  In 2011, Congo hastily requested an extension to enable it to survey the suspected hazardous areas and in 2012, Norwegian People’s Aid conducted non-technical surveys and, having found no landmines, declared the country mine-free.  Uganda also declared itself mine-free but acknowledged the fact that it was not able to complete its demining by the extended deadline of August 1, 2012.  Demining activities only concluded on November 28, 2012, a mere five days before the start of the 12MSP.  Uganda communicated the fact that additional time (three months, but it actually took four) would be needed hopefully this is a one-time only exception granted to Uganda and no other State will be allowed to take a similar extension without submitting a formal request.

Lastly, in 2014 the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty will hold their Third Review Conference.  Mozambique has offered to host and preside over the Conference, nine or so months after its demining deadline of March 1, 2014.   This suggests that Mozambique, once one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, will be free of landmines in less than two years, since they would not want to host the meeting if clearance obligations had not been met.

<All information from the Unofficial Report of the 12MSP; AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf>

Wishing you a safe and happy New Year,

Michael P. Moore

December 21, 2012

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