In the last few months, some very positive news has emerged from Senegal suggesting that the thirty-year long conflict between separatist rebels in the southern Casamance region and the central government in Dakar may be near an end. The Casamance region separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia which rests along the southern and northern banks of the Gambia River. This physical separation is part of the reason for the conflict, but there are other issues at play including political and economic isolation (which probably weren’t helped by the geography). Since his election in 2012, Senegalese President Macky Sall has emphasized efforts to bring peace to the region with the assistance of international and national mediators between his government and the separatist factions known collectively as the Movement of the Democratic Forces of the Casamance.
The heightened prospects of peace have brought a new focus on mine action in the Casamance region, from demining to risk education to victim assistance. But in addition to the immediate benefits of mine action activities, work around landmines has aided in the cause of peace and provided indirect benefits that may secure a permanent peace in this troubled region.
Direct Benefits of Mine Action in the Casamance
Mine action provides direct benefits in terms of increasing physical security of persons living in mine-affected regions, increased economic activity in mine-affected areas and provision of rehabilitation and reintegration services to victims. Over the three decades of conflict, roughly 1,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines, but this number has been declining since 1997 when over 200 landmine accidents were reported. In 2008, only one accident was reported, but in 2011 32 people were killed or injured by mines and in in 2013, 3 people have been killed in two separate incidents (IRIN News; The Monitor). But the general trend has been positive due to heightened awareness through mine risk education and extensive clearance efforts.
Those clearance efforts were started by Handicap International (HI) which surveyed the portions of the Casamance under the control of the Senegalese government. HI also engaged in clearance activities, but in recent months, demining activities have been led by Denel Mechem, a private South African firm, and Norwegian People’s Aid, an international non-governmental organization. Between the three groups, over 600,000 square meters of land have been cleared representing half of the known contamination. This has led some to suggest that Senegal will definitely meet its Mine Ban Treaty deadline of March 1, 2016 for clearance of all anti-personnel mines (IRIN News).
In addition to reducing the number of landmine injuries, the clearance of former minefields is allowing refugees who fled the Casamance for safety and peace in the Gambia to return to their homelands. Senegalese refugees poured into the Gambia 10, 15, 20 years ago and have been living in Gambian villages and communities ever since, putting strains on local agricultural resources. But, with the clearance of mines from the Casamance and the increased prospects for peace, many of these refugees are returning to their home villages in Senegal. These returns are accompanied by increased agricultural outputs from southern Senegal and therefore increased economic activity overall (All Africa).
Senegal, through the national mine action center (CNAMS) and a variety of national and international NGOs strives to provide victim assistance services to those injured by landmines. Since 2011, the availability of services has increased, but many barriers to access remain. The complete range of victim assistance services, from emergency medicine to psycho-social counseling, is available in the Casamance region, but services are provided by different organizations and many are centralized in the regional capitol, Ziguinchor, making them inaccessible for survivors elsewhere. This is an area in which the government could improve its response, but the fact that services are available at all is notable (The Monitor).
The Indirect Benefits of Mine Action in the Casamance
While harder to quantify, the indirect benefits of mine action are sometimes more important than the direct benefits described above because they can impact the entire country, not just the persons living in mine-affected regions. In Senegal, landmines are being used as an entry point into peace negotiations; mine action is building confidence and goodwill in the residents of Casamance towards the central government in Senegal; and it provides the basis for long-term economic development.
There are two international organizations actively engaged in the negotiating process between the government of Senegal and the MFDC. Under official auspices, the Sant Egidio community, a Catholic lay community based in Rome has been mediating negotiations between the political wing of the MFDC and Macky Sall’s government. Sant Egidio has been involved in a number of peace negotiations, including the one that concluded the twenty-year civil war in Mozambique, and have a strong reputation within the international community. Their involvement is supported by the US State Department and has been welcomed by both parties to the conflict.
However, long before the entry of Sant Egidio, the NGO Geneva Call entered into negotiations starting in 2006 with the MFDC with the hope of getting the MFDC to sign a deed of commitment to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines. Geneva Call’s deed of commitment is modeled on the Mine Ban Treaty and has served as an opportunity to engage with non-state actors to reduce the humanitarian impact of conflict. But, it also provides the opportunity to build rapport with rebel groups, identify leaders and put Geneva Call in the position to facilitate and mediate peace negotiations between parties to a conflict. Thus, using landmines as the entry point, Geneva Call has been able to facilitate humanitarian demining in Casamance while also engaging with the military wing of MFDC (Geneva Call; IRIN News). This relationship feeds into the negotiations mediated by Sant Egidio.
The thirty years of conflict and repeated promises by Senegalese leaders have left the people of the Casamance politically apathetic and generally feeling forgotten by Dakar. In 2000, the newly elected Abdoulaye Wade promised to resolve the conflict in 100 days and the fact that he failed to do so (by some 4000 days), led to very low turnout in the 2012 election by people in the Casamance. After years of unmet promises and thousands of victims, “forgotten Casamance… has been dying a slow death” (African Arguments). But the renewed engagement by Macky Sall’s government, which has established a de facto cease fire and, and the continued demining has allowed refugees to return to the region as described above. Those returns, and the demonstration of belief that those returns represent on behalf of the people of Casamance, shows that Dakar has not abandoned the region.
And the conflict is not just receiving attention locally. Macky Sall met with US President Barack Obama in March 2013 to discuss the Casamance conflict, a meeting well publicized in Senegal, which reflects the high level of interest concluding this conflict has in both Senegal and internationally. And it starts with landmines. By supporting demining, the US and Senegalese governments have shown to the people of the Casamance their interest in the region and their desire for peace. Through this strategic investment, the US has been able to buy trust among Casamance civil society to be able to send a high level delegation to the region to put pressure on the Senegalese government and the MFDC to negotiate (State Department).
Last, poverty has become endemic in the Casamance. Between people fleeing the violence and agricultural lands abandoned due to landmine contamination, what was once the breadbasket of Senegal had been allowed to run fallow. “For us the demining represents a return to normal life. This will allow people to escape from the poverty into which the landmines plunged them” (All Africa). But in addition to alleviating poverty through cultivation, trade across the borders with the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau can resume. Roads that had been closed due to fears of landmine contamination will now be opened allowing trade within the Casamance. The World Bank estimates that 0.1% of contamination by landmines results in a 0.5% decrease in GDP. For every field freed of landmines, the economy of the whole will grow.
This will also improve relations between the states and within the region. While the Gambian president has pledged his support for peace (All Africa), he has been suspected of aiding the MFDC which has soured relations between the two countries. Once peace is consolidated in the Casamance and the mines are cleared, the rest of the refugees in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau can return to their farms and enter productive cultivation and not rely on support from host governments as refugees. Once the conflict in the Casamance is resolved, the Senegalese army can join regional peacekeeping units instead of being forced to fight in their own backyards. And it starts with landmines; or rather it starts by using landmines to address the larger issues of isolation, poverty and political exclusion. That’s why mine action is important. Because it’s not just about landmines; it’s about development and the consolidation of peace.
Michael P. Moore
April 29, 2013
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action, released in March a six-year strategy for United Nations actions within the realm of mine action (UNMAS, pdf). Released with seemingly little fanfare (although UNMAS’s website, www.mineaction.org, has received a snazzy update), the strategy lays out how the United Nations will work with member states affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). I would like to highlight a few items from the strategy.
The strategy starts, as all good strategies do, with a vision:
The vision of the United Nations is a world free of the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment conducive to development and where the human rights and the needs of mine and ERW victims are met and survivors are fully integrated as equal members of their societies.
I am not sure if the phrase “free of the threat of mines” is a deliberate departure from a “mine-free world” but otherwise, I think the vision is an admirable one and, hopefully, an achievable one.
The United Nations acknowledges the tremendous progress that has been made in mine action since discussions were first held about banning anti-personnel landmines two decades ago. The strategy intends to build on that progress, while also learning the lessons of the last twenty years. In doing so, the strategy recognizes that the UN works within the context of its member states and provides for UN assistance to be delivered “in a manner that is consistent with the specific needs, requests and legal regimes of each context.” The strategy also recognizes that it must complement other global frameworks, specifically mentioning whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
The strategy re-affirms the fact that mine action is “an essential component of the work of the United Nations” and that “Mine action is relevant across the areas of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian and development. In each, the need for immediate post conflict and emergency responses remains as critical as longer-term capacity building support.”
To implement the strategy, the United Nations lists four strategic objectives related to 1) demining and mine risk education, 2) victim assistance, 3) capacity building of national mine action authorities and 4) policy and advocacy. Each objective is accompanied by a series of indicators and the activities that are intended to achieve the objectives. I imagine these indicators will be used during the mid-term review to assess the efficacy of the strategy and determine if any adjustments are needed.
To complete the logical framework (vision, mission, objectives, outputs and activities), the strategy lists its “Principles of Partnership in Mine Action” and the “Enabling Factors” which constitutes the assumptions that the United Nations is making. While the principles are supposed to guide how the UN will work, I can also read them as the expectations the United Nations will have for member states that it provides assistance to. The principles – clarity of objectives, information exchange, mutual accountability and transparency – are not controversial, but essential to any successful partnership.
The “Enabling Factors” are the contributions required of partners. Again, these are non-controversial, but very important to achieving the goals of the strategy. Factors include national ownership on the part of affected states of the problem and actively addressing the problem; political and financial support states and the international community; recognition of mine action’s place within broader contexts of development, human rights, post conflict reconstruction and disarmament; and participation of civil society and the private sector in supporting the strategy. Long term financial support may be the biggest stumbling block in these assumptions and the language used related to financial support – “predictable,” “necessary,” “sustainable,” “critical,” “effective” and “commitments” – suggests the level of concern that the United Nations has for the availability of funding for the strategy.
One last point I want to raise is the commitments that the United Nations makes to strengthen its own capacity. Of the seven specific initiatives, the fourth, “Update the UN Policy on victim assistance, taking into account the new and stronger normative environment for victim assistance and persons with disability and focusing on the integration of victim assistance into broader disability programs and frameworks at the country and global levels” is near and dear to my heart and I sincerely hope the revised policy provides for a robust victim assistance framework that enables survivors to become “equal members of their societies” as described in the vision.
Michael P. Moore
April 18, 2013
A couple of weeks ago, Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRC-E), a UK-based NGO working on behalf of the human rights of Eritreans in Eritrea and the diaspora, issued this report:
76 Eritrean refugees in Libya are being used to clear land mines in Sirte, the home town of the late Gaddafi. The refugees are forced all day to clear land mines. These are not trained professionals. This is not humanitarian de-mining. This is a callous, inhuman treatment of humans as if they were disposable pieces of equipment. It amounts to nothing less than murder.
These refugees are not given access to UNHCR. It is inhuman that these refugees, who fled persecution in Eritrea, should suffer further harassment and risk being blown up while clearing the mines. The Libyans do not want to do it themselves, so they use refugees. This is barbaric and should be condemned. (Human Rights Concern – Eritrea).
The mine action community mobilized pretty rapidly after the fall of the Gaddhafi regime to provide mine risk education and demining services in Libya. On the ground are several operators and significant funding was provided at the outset by donor states (although much of that funding was specifically geared towards preventing the proliferation of shoulder-fired surface to air rockets). As such, this report seemed pretty incredible and I have not yet been able to locate any corroboration. However, it does – unfortunately – fit into a much broader pattern of behavior in North Africa towards Sub-Saharan Africans. It is also not the first report of people being forced to clear mines without proper training and support.
Prior to the revolution in Libya, as many as 2 million of Libya’s 7 million residents were foreign-born immigrants, some from Arab states, but many if not most from Sub-Saharan Africa. Gaddhafi presented himself as leader of the pan-African movement and trained separatists and rebels from many countries including the Toureg who have recently been fighting against the Malian government and the convicted war criminal Charles Taylor and his allies in Liberia. Gaddhafi also invited many black Africans to work in the Libyan oil fields where lucrative jobs were available and workers were able to earn enough to send remittances home to support families and communities. In a billboard in Tripoli, “Colonel Qaddafi appears as a savior as sun rays break over his shoulder and a crowd of black men and women reach toward him with outstretched arms.” Native Libyans were angered by these acts and resented the presence of what they believed were “illegal” immigrants in their country. In 2000 pogroms in Libya led to the deaths of many black Africans at the hands of native Libyans, attacks that were repeated in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Against that backdrop, Gaddhafi’s use of African mercenaries to try and hold onto power in 2011 was an invitation for abuse.
Reports of Africans being held by Libyan rebels in detention camps abounded. According to the US State Department African refugees in Libya faced killings, arbitrary detention, attacks on camps, and gender-based violence. The State Department also reported on the presence of a camp at al-Kufrah where migrants faced physical abuse in addition to needing humanitarian assistance; a camp that Human Rights Concern – Eritrea also mentions as holding 300 Eritrean refugees. Because Gaddhafi used African mercenaries, mostly from Chad, Niger and Mali, to protect his regime, all Africans in Libya after the 2011 revolution were subject to suspicion, detention and deportation, along with a host of abuses throughout. Since the revolution, the new government has not taken steps to protect immigrants or refugees and human trafficking routes for forced labor and forced prostitution have returned.
The divide between North Africans and Sub-Saharan Africans and the racism of North Africans towards Sub-Saharan Africans has been well documented (see Think Africa Press’s pieces here and here and UN Watch’s piece here). In the United States, the dichotomy came to the forefront in discussions about Darfur where the Arabized militias of the janjaweed would attack the black Darfurians as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign. This simplistic and reductive argument paralleled the narrative about the Sudanese civil war between Sudan and South Sudan where the Arabs of Khartoum fought the Christians and animists of the South to maintain control over the oil reserves. Again, a too-pat description, but one that was easy for Americans to understand and had a strong basis in the racism of North Africans and Arabs towards Sub-Saharan Africans.
It is very possible that Eritrean refugees are subjected to forced labor in the new Libya. Many Eritreans have suffered greatly in their attempts to flee their country (in recent months, two Eritrean pilots defected to Saudi Arabia with the Eritrean President’s official plane; a third pilot sent to retrieve the plane from Saudi Arabia defected herself [Think Africa Press]; in 2009, 2011 and 2012 members of the Eritrean national football team sought asylum during regional tournaments [Sudan Tribune]) paying huge ransoms to human smugglers to avoid the country’s mandatory military service. Traffickers take advantage of those wanting to flee Eritrea and have basically sold them into slavery in places like Libya.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea’s report would also not be the first report of people being forced to demine fields with little or no protection. In Burma, the practice of “atrocity demining” has been reported by Human Rights Watch. Atrocity demining, or “human mine sweeping,” is the “forced passage of civilians over confirmed or suspected mined areas or the forced use of civilians to clear mines without appropriate training or equipment.” It is a war crime and survivors of the practice in Burma were “forced them to dig out landmines, to strike or beat the ground with a pitchfork or pickaxe before [Burmese] soldiers walked on it, or to walk in front of Tatmadaw columns in a mined area or in an area suspected to have been mined.”
At its very root, the HRC-E report shows how marginalized persons suffer greater risks and abuses during and immediately after conflict. Those risks are magnified when combined with racism and discrimination and can constitute war crimes when in the presence of landmines.
Michael P. Moore
April 10, 2013
The Mine Ban Treaty is not the only treaty to regulate the use of landmines, there is also the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention) and its three associated protocols: Protocol II (“Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices”), Amended Protocol II (which updated and expanded Protocol II in 1996) and Protocol V (“Explosive Remnants of War”). The CCW and its Protocols are not perfect and in fact, the loopholes and allowances in Amended Protocol II and Protocol V led directly to the drafting and signing of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, respectively, which are both more comprehensive and represent total bans on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. Next week, April 8 – 12, two groups of experts will meet to discuss and advance issues related to Amended Protocol II (APII) and Protocol V.
Each of the Protocols to the CCW are considered separate treaties that require ratification or accession by the states. As such, the Protocols are officially convening two separate groups of experts, but in fact, for the countries that have ratified both APII and Protocol V, the same individuals can be expected to attend which is why the meetings are happening back to back. The week after, April 15 – 19, the intercessional meetings of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) will take place and many of the experts in Geneva for the CCW meetings will stay on the CCM intercessional meetings. For many states affected by landmines and cluster munitions, the cost of multiple trips to Geneva would be prohibitive so by having all three meetings within two weeks will allow more states to participate at a high level. For those deeply impoverished states, the United Nations does provide some assistance in the form of sponsorship to ensure attendance.
There are two topics under consideration at the APII group of experts meeting that I wish to discuss, universalization and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and one at the Protocol V meeting, reporting.
Universalization is the process by which the states party to a treaty encourage non-signatories to sign and ratify or accede to a treaty. There are 22 countries that have not ratified or acceded to Protocol II, APII or the Mine Ban Treaty and there are four (Cuba, Laos, Mongolia and Uzbekistan) that have ratified Protocol II and not APII. One of the priorities for universalization is to encourage those four countries to accede to the more stringent APII.
Universalization is also a priority for the parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and an official position, the “Special Envoy on the Universalization of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention” held by Prince Mired bin Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, has been created to increase outreach. But there are states who have in the recent past declared an opposition (or aggressive ambivalence) to joining the Mine Ban Treaty and for those countries, accession to APII (Protocol II is no longer available as an option) may be acceptable. For example, every year at the United Nations General Assembly, a vote is taken on measure in support of and to encourage universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and in 2012, several states abstained (no one voted against) from the vote. Of those abstainers, some explained their reasoning which included recognizing a continuing military utility for anti-personnel landmines and concerns about the clearance requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty. By encouraging those states to join APII which seeks to balance a perceived military utility of landmines with the humanitarian impact of those mines, the CCW becomes a stepping stone to accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and the United Nations’ goal of a mine-free world.
Improvised Explosive Devices
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are covered by APII under the definition of “Other Devices” which made specific reference to IEDs. IEDs have been a mainstay in irregular (or asymmetric) warfare for decades, from the car and truck bombs of the 1970s and 1980s, to the sophisticated cell phone-activated bombs of Iraq and Afghanistan. The group of experts has been tasked with finding ways to improve cooperation between states to combat IEDs. A focus area for cooperation, based upon the “non-paper” drafted by the Australian government, is on tracking the trade and transport of 14 possible pre-cursors of explosive devices. The problem with this approach is the fact that some of these pre-cursors is that they are dual-use products, like nitrate-based fertilizer which was used in Oklahoma City and has been sought by the Taliban. The same fertilizer could be used in an agrarian society like Afghanistan to boost crop yields and so the Australians are also careful to note that the monitoring of the pre-cursors must not hamper their legitimate trade and non-lethal use.
The other problem with focusing on monitoring pre-cursors is the fact that many IEDs repurpose military ordnance. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many IEDs are fashioned from artillery shells of which hundreds of thousands if not millions were stockpiled by the regimes in those countries. When Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were toppled, little or no effort was made to secure these stockpiles which were looted and have since been used as anti-tank and anti-personnel IEDs. The same happened in Libya, although in Libya it was so much worse because the US and European governments focused on the threats of handheld surface to air missiles or man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) while ignoring all other ordnance. The result was thousands of MANPADS were secured while hundreds of thousands of mortars, artillery shells and landmines were allowed to be looted. Those shells and landmines will likely turn up around Africa and the Middle East as IEDs. Therefore, the group of experts must also address and provide for cooperation in securing stockpiles of failing regimes to prevent future proliferation, although frankly the amount of ordnance already available could fuel dozens of insurgencies for decades.
Protocol V has substantial victim assistance obligations and in the reporting mechanisms that have been developed for the Protocol, states parties are now asked to report on their victim assistance activities and burdens. Similar requirements for reporting exist for parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, but not for parties to APII. I feel that the victim assistance reporting requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty and Protocol V should be applied to APII, but the test case is Protocol V as the requirements are new. However, because the cause of injury in explosions is often unclear (e.g., the US government reports all injuries from blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan as caused by IEDs when some were almost certainly caused by landmines), the reporting under Protocol V may necessarily cover all victims to be sure as to cover those injured by the ERW regulated by Protocol V.
Michael P. Moore
April 6, 2013
Every year, thousands of men, women and children are killed or injured by landmines in dozens of countries around the world. The only way to ensure that these injuries and accidents stop is to completely remove all landmines from the ground, an expensive and time-consuming process. Well, we’re going to help get a few more landmines out of the ground and hopefully have a little fun doing it.
In honor of International Mine Action and Awareness day, I’m happy to announce that on Thursday, July 4th 2013, Landmines in Africa will host the second annual “This Frisbee Clears Mines Tournament,” an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, with support from the Washington Area Frisbee Club to benefit MAG America‘s landmine clearance activities. Last year, Team Libya (pictured to the right) won the tournament while raising almost $750. This year’s Tournament will take place at Anacostia Park in Washington, DC; all participants should arrive no later than 9:30 am for registration and team assignments.
The tournament is open to all and will follow a “Hat Tourney” format. What’s a Hat Tourney, you say? In a Hat Tourney, all the participants show up at 9:30 am, put their name in a hat and from that hat, names will be drawn to form 15-person teams. Those teams will then be put into groups and play three games each. If there are enough teams, we’ll have a final championship match.
Since the Tournament is on the Fourth and what’s the Fourth without a barbecue, we’ll have some grills going for lunch and snacks. MAG will have a table in case you want to learn more about landmines and their work.
To register, you can either show up on the Tournament day with your $20 donation to MAG America, or you can pre-register by making your $10 donation via Tournament’s dedicated First Giving page. You should feel free to donate more, if you so choose or if you can’t make the tournament, but want to contribute, your support would be welcome.
For more information about the tournament, please email me at email@example.com.
To register, please visit our First Giving page.
For more information about MAG America, please visit their webpage.
For more information about Ultimate Frisbee and the Washington Area Frisbee Club, please visit WAFC’s webpage.
For more information about landmines and mine action, as well as information about other landmine awareness raising activities, please visit the US Campaign to Ban Landmines webpage and the Lend Your Leg campaign website.
Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you on the 4th!
Michael P. Moore
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March was very good to the HALO Trust and Japan has been very good to the mine action community. Globally, civil society used the month to raise awareness and ramp up interest in the landmine issue as April 4th, the International Day for Landmine Awareness approached. Mali continued to dominate the headlines, but landmine injuries were also reported in Somalia, as Egypt progressed towards a mine-free state.
The conflict in Mali continued as French and Malian forces, supported by contingents from Chad and Niger, sought to clear the remaining Islamists from Northern Mali. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) were very active in releasing reports about the dangers from landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW), pointing out the presence of new and old landmines and munitions. All three agencies reported on their efforts to provide emergency relief (UNHCR), mine risk education (UNICEF) and training for Mali deminers (UNMAS) (All Africa; Voice of America; All Africa). A touching story came from the Provincial council of Maine-et-Loire in Western France which voted to give a grant of 5,000 euros to a French demining organization to provide mine awareness comics to children in Mali (Angers Info ). This grant is very important because almost 50 children have been killed or injured by landmines and ERW since the coup in Mali in March 2012 and even schoolyards have been contaminated by munitions in the fighting and UNCIEF estimates more than 200,000 children are at risk, but only 27,000 have received mine risk education (Voice of America; All Africa .
In what has turned out to be a sadly prescient statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned Mali and the international community about the safety situation in Mali. “Terrorist groups and tactics, the proliferation of weapons, improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordnance and landmines are expected to pose significant threats” in Mali, Ban warned in his report which also called for more than 11,000 peacekeepers in addition to a sizable force tasked with actually combatting the remaining Islamists (All Africa). On March 30, three days after Moon’s report, two Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine near Gao and on the 31st, a suicide bomber attacked Timbuktu killing himself and wounding another Malian soldier (Al Jazeera; France24).
In Northern Uganda’s Gulu district, 21 landmines have been reported still in the ground despite the November 2012 declaration that the country was mine-free. These reports are unverified, but if true, the landmines would have been placed during the 1990s and 2000s by the Lord’s Resistance Army or the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF). The UPDF would also be responsible for clearing any found mines and local community members have marked the locations of the suspected mines (Sunrise News).
I bring this story up not just because of the incredible danger that landmines pose in places that have been declared mine-free, but also to highlight a very brave story from the other side of the world. On the Thailand – Cambodia border, near where soldiers from the countries fought just two years ago, a Thai ranger on patrol stepped on a landmine and suffered catastrophic injuries. 11 other landmines were found in the vicinity. The Bangkok Post conducted an investigation and while they found the landmine were anti-tank mines and not anti-personnel mine, the mines were equipped with anti-handling fuses making them victim-activated booby traps and thus banned by the Mine Ban Treaty. In an editorial, the Bangkok Post calls for a full investigation by outsiders, not the Thai or Cambodian militaries and says simply, “Ranger Niran has been crippled for life in an incident that should not have happened and must not happen again” (Bangkok Post). My hope would be that if landmines are present in Uganda, the Ugandan press will be as forceful and direct as their Thai counterparts.
The Japanese government provided US $4 million in March to the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action in Somalia. Japan’s support since 2010 has enabled UNMAS to provide mine risk education to 60,000 Somalis and destroy 7,000 pieces of ERW and the announced support will continue that work and allow displaced persons to return to their homes (Sabahi).
In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, the HALO Trust has been working on mine clearance since 1999 and supports a demining team of 600 people. As part of a plan to expand that work, the Trust’s Director General, Guy Willoughby visited Somaliland and met with the region’s Vice President (and acting President). On behalf of his country, the Vice President thanked Willoughby and the Trust but also said that Somaliland still needs the Trust’s services to clear minefields and reduce the danger to people and livestock (Somaliland Press).
The good news from Somalia does not continue. In Kismayo, a young girl was injured when a command-activated landmine was detonated, targeting a government vehicle (AMISOM Media Monitoring, no link). A couple days later, two landmines were discovered on the grounds of the city’s hospital as the local government prepared to re-open the hospital for medical services (AMISOM Media Monitoring, no link). Near Mandera Town on the Kenya – Somalia border, a victim-activated improvised explosive device (essentially a home-made landmine), detonated and killed one Kenyan police officer while wounding two others (The Standard). And in Galgadud region, a landmine exploded on the grounds of a Koranic school. Two children were killed in the blast and three others were injured. The report did not indicate if the mine had been found on the school grounds or if one of the children had brought it to the school (All Africa).
In the last story from Somalia, landmines revealed some of the continuing divisions and political in-fighting in Kismayo. Kismayo is in the proposed region of Jubbaland and would likely serve as Jubbaland’s capitol should a semi-autonomous region (like Somaliland) be established. Some members of the Kenyan government are pushing for the establishment of Jubbaland to create a buffer region between Kenya and Somalia while actors in Somalia are resisting attempts to carve up the country. In March, the chief of security for Kismayo was arrested by local militia members. The security chief claimed he was arrested because “he detonated and removed a land mine that was meant to harm the [Somali] prime minister” and the landmine had been placed by “members of the interim administration” (Mareeg).
Handicap International and the Libyan Ministry of Education launched a training of trainers program for Libyan teachers to spread the word about the threat of landmines and other ERW. In total, 250 teachers will become trainers, but the program is already demonstrating success. So far, 36 trainers have been able to train 121 teachers. In addition to the training of trainers program, a teacher training kit will soon be released to provide teachers with additional materials to use when giving mine risk education (Libyan Herald).
The European Union has committed 20 million euros to demining in Angola in 2013. The funding will allow the HALO Trust to clear minefields that have not been prioritized by the Angolan government and are being cleared by the national demining agencies like INAD and CNIDAH (Angola Press Agency). CNIDAH, the government commission with oversight of mine action in Angola, continues to provide capacity building sessions to provincial mine action agencies and hosted a four-day training in Huambo province to “improve the staff’s knowledge of the types of the landmines and unexploded ordnances, types of demining operations, landmine risk education and assistance to victims.” The training is intended to improve provincial coordination and strengthen the mine action focal points within local agencies (All Africa).
The result of the all of the landmine clearance in Angola has been an increase in the amount of land available for agriculture. Currently 40% of Angola is under active cultivation and another 43% of the country is forested (Macau Hub).
After forty years of war, Angola had two million landmines that contributed to the deaths of one million Angolans and the maiming of 200,000 more. In an address to the Pan-African Forum, Angola’s president, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos declared peace to be “one of the most precious assets for the African continent” and certainly Dos Santos should know about precious assets as he governs and controls Angola’s tremendous mineral wealth. As the father of Africa’s first female billionaire and Angola’s for the last 33 years, Dos Santos identified, without any apparent irony, “democracy as the only path that enables peoples to be the masters of their destinies and periodically choose their leaders in an environment of respect for others’ ideas and people’s will.” And since he was giving the speech in Luanda, one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in due to the tremendous oil wealth concentrated there, at the expense of the rest of the country, Dos Santos also said “we must care about the material, moral and spiritual satisfaction of individuals, families and people” (All Africa). Ahem.
The embassy of Japan in Zimbabwe announced a nearly US $900,000 grant to the HALO Trust for landmine clearance along the border with Mozambique. These mines were placed by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s to prevent Zimbabwean liberation fighters from moving across the border from their camps and supply lines in Mozambique. Since the end of the war in 1980, an estimated 1,500 people have been killed by landmines along the border, including 25 in 2012. The Japanese Ambassador, Yonezo Fukuda, hoped “the area should completely be rid of land mines to allow local people, particularly children, to move freely without any fear” and that “Japan looks forward to a future where the production of indiscriminate munitions such as landmines and cluster bombs will be forever banned.” The HALO Trust’s project manager in Zimbabwe, Tom Dibb, called on the government of Zimbabwe to prioritize landmine clearance and said this project was a demonstration of the benefits of demining. Dibb said that in addition to directly employing 90 Zimbabweans, another 20,000 will have access to cultivable land and be able to move freely without fear of landmines (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company; Bernama).
26,000 acres of land, some 20% of the Egyptian Sahara Desert in the western region of the country has been cleared of landmines that back to the World War II battles of El Alamein. A military spokesperson said “The landmines were hindering development projects planned for the area; they also led to the death of many Bedouins and shepherds” and with the cleared land, a planned city of 1 million people will be established (Daily News Egypt).
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRC-E), a United Kingdom based organization working on behalf of the human rights of Eritreans in Eritrea and around the world, reported that 76 Eritrean refugees in Sirte, Libya were being forced to clear landmines. The refugees have received no training and are not supervised in their tasks. HRC-E believes that “Libyans do not want to do it themselves, so they use refugees” and that the refugees are denied access to UNHCR representatives (Human Rights Concern – Eritrea). This report is unconfirmed, but there is some historical background to suggest that this is not out of the ordinary and will be covered in a future blog post.
March 2013 saw the start of the annual awareness campaign by landmine activists that spans the six weeks from March 1st to April 4th, the International Day for Landmine Awareness. In the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, authors reminded the health community of its “major role to play in matters pertaining to landmines” and the need to “address the social determinants of health” including landmines. The global health community was among the early leaders and champions of the ban landmines movement and its continued engagement is needed (WHO).
In Addis Ababa, experts from the African Union and member states met to “share experiences and tackle obstacles to freeing the continent of this scourge [landmines].” The need to share expertise and information is acute in Africa since several African states have had to request extensions to complete their mine clearance obligation under the Mine Ban Treaty so the meeting had the intention to “find ways to clear affected land faster and more effectively” (All Africa).
Jody Williams, the Nobel Laureate who served as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, release her memoir, “My Name is Jody Williams,” describing her life activism which has continued since her departure from the ICBL (Boston Globe; book available from Amazon).
In addition to the previously mentioned contributions, Japan gave US $18 million to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action to support mine action in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan. The funds will “help the United Nations survey and secure huge swaths of territory in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to provide risk education to people exposed to explosive hazards. In Libya and Somalia, it will provide support for operations and training for explosive ordnance disposal and clearance. In South Sudan it will allow on-going work, surveying and securing at risk areas, to continue and will expedite clearance of the most contaminated areas.” The contribution confirms and continues Japan’s status as the largest contributor to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Mine Action (UNMAS, pdf).
Prince Harry, the third in line (for another four months) to the throne in the Great Britain made two major landmine related announcements in March. First, he agreed to serve as the patron of the HALO Trust’s 25th anniversary appeal. His mother, Princess Diana, supported the HALO Trust in Angola shortly before her death in 1997 and Harry’s patronage provides a direct link to that work. Prince Harry had already been supportive of the Trust and visited Trust projects in Mozambique. As part of his patronage work, Harry’s second announcement was a trip to the United States to promote the HALO Trust at a Washington, DC exhibition, in addition to promoting his other charitable interests (The Express).
Just as I was writing this, I saw the news that the Arms Trade Treaty has passed in the United Nations General Assembly by a vote of 154 countries for, 3 against and 23 abstentions. Congratulations to the campaigners who worked so hard for this moment and shame on the 26 states that did not vote yes.
Michael P. Moore
April 3, 2013