Wait, you told me you didn’t have any landmines: Cote D’Ivoire’s unreported stockpile

The monitoring regime of the Mine Ban Treaty relies heavily on self-reporting. Countries produce annual reports, referred to as Article 7 reports, that describe all activities related to the Treaty’s obligations.  Key points of the reports are the number of landmines possessed by a country, landmine clearance activities and a voluntary section on “other” matters which can include victim assistance activities or support to other countries’ mine action work.  Compare that monitoring process to the verification process Barack Obama described in his recent State of the Union Address for Iran’s nuclear program: “Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb.”  Those inspections will provide observers, including the United States with “verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb” (Washington Post).  The Mine Ban Treaty has a limited verification process in the form of inspection visits, but to date, no country has been subjected to such a visit, no matter how credible the reports of violations have been.

In November 2010, election violence erupted in Cote d’Ivoire between groups loyal to the principle candidates for president.  Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo had been defeated by rival Alassane Ouattara but the army remained loyal to Gbagbo who refused to leave office.  After 3,000 people were killed in what bordered upon outright civil war, Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011 by Ouattara’s militia and Ouatarra assumed power (International Crisis Group; Responsibility to Protect). To facilitate a peaceful reconciliation in Cote d’Ivoire, the United Nations authorized a peacekeeping mission, UNOCI, which included representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  Part of UNMAS’s role in Cote d’Ivoire was to investigate allegations of landmine use by both groups during the five months of violence as well as assist with disarmament and integration of militias in to the national army and securing of firearms and military hardware.  UNMAS confirmed that no landmines had been used and Cote d’Ivoire, which had never been contaminated by landmines, continues to be free of minefields.

However, in the aftermath of the conflict, UNMAS and the new government of Cote d’Ivoire discovered a previously undeclared stockpile of anti-personnel landmines.  Cote d’Ivoire’s Article 7 report from 2009 (the last year the report was available before the election crisis) was unequivocal: Cote d’Ivoire had no anti-personnel landmines and did not even retain a small number for training purposes.  This report was not questioned by the Landmine Monitor and there was no reason to doubt the truthfulness of the report; except for the fact that Cote d’Ivoire clearly did have landmines as documented in their 2012 report.  Some 1,500 landmines were discovered during inventories of weapons and ammunition and of those, over 800 were destroyed by the HALO Trust and UNMAS (UNMAS; All Africa).


From UNMAS, anti-personnel landmines found in Cote d'Ivoire.

From UNMAS, anti-personnel landmines found in Cote d’Ivoire.

Peacekeeping - UNOCI

From UNMAS, peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire prepare to destroy discovered stockpile of anti-personnel landmines

Cote d’Ivoire reported in a timely manner on this discovery and has made an open declaration of the number of these mines that the government will now retain for training purposes.  The Mine Ban Treaty relies on countries to provide complete and accurate disclosures of landmine stockpiles and known minefields and in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, either the reports were known to be incorrect or the person completing them did not have the correct information to submit an accurate report. This is a case where the unreported stockpile caused no harm and has been dealt with in an open and transparent manner.  We cannot always expect this to be the case.  For example, in Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) which is fighting against the government of Sudan recently signed the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.  At the signing ceremony, an SPLM-N representative declared that the SPLM-N had a small stockpile of anti-personnel landmines that had been captured in battle.  But who could those mines have been captured from?  The government of Sudan has declared that its stockpile of landmines has been destroyed, so the mines could not have come from Sudanese Armed Forces.  South Sudan, which is suspected to support the SPLM-N, does not possess any declared stockpiles so the SPLM-N could not have lied about the origin of the mines.  It is possible that the SPLM-N mistakenly called anti-vehicle landmines (which it does possess) anti-personnel landmines, but I would have thought that Geneva Call would have corrected the statement.  So, assuming that SPLM-N does have anti-personnel landmines, where did they come from?  From an undeclared stockpile in either Sudan or South Sudan, most likely.

Landmines aren’t like weapons of mass destruction like chemical, biological or nuclear weapons which require large infrastructures and are difficult to hide.  A box of landmines can languish in the back of an armory or police station or house for years.  States parties are required to disclose any discovery of previously unknown stockpiles, but as we saw in Cote d’Ivoire, national armories may not be the best inventoried spaces, let alone hidden caches from various non-state actors.  When landmines of questionable provenance are found, as with the SPLM-N, it is important for other States parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to follow up and identify the source. Because the next situation may not turn out as well as in Cote d’Ivoire.

Michael P. Moore

February 5, 2014


2 Comments on “Wait, you told me you didn’t have any landmines: Cote D’Ivoire’s unreported stockpile”

  1. Thanks for raising this issue, and for all your great blogs on landmines in Africa! There do indeed seem to be AP mines still available in some African conflict zones, with no clarity on where they have come from. More details on these three cases can be found in the Landmine Monitor profiles, especially on the many boxes of AP mines found and photographed in Sudan. http://www.the-monitor.org/index.php/cp/display/region_profiles

    • Thanks, Tamar. I’ll definitely check up on the Sudan case as that has been worrying me for some time.

      Thanks also for sharing my piece on US policy. Fingers tightly crossed for a positive outcome.

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