Unacceptable Risk: The deliberate targeting of deminers

Article 8.2(b)(iii) of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) identified the act of “Intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict” as a war crime for which the ICC would have jurisdiction (Rome Statute, pdf; German Law Journal). On this, the week we observe the annual International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance (United Nations), it is important to recognize the fact that deminers not only face the very real risk of an accident in the line of their work, but deminers have also become a target of those who would wish to prevent peace and development.  Too many deminers have been abducted, attacked, injured and killed in the line of duty.  This must stop.

Last week, Afghan extremists targeted the guest house of the demining and development organization, Roots of Peace, and with bombs and guns, sought to end their commitment to turn “mines into vines.” In defiance, Roots of Peace “remains resolved to helping Afghan farmers nationwide to improve their incomes and create a stable economy” (Roots of Peace; Washington Post).  We should follow the example of Roots of Peace and recommit to landmine clearance and mine risk education and call upon the international community to prosecute those who would hinder this important work.

What follows is a brief and by no means comprehensive list of attacks upon deminers over the last decade:

  • 14-Mar-14           Afghanistan        1 adult, 1 child killed in attack on Roots of Peace guesthouse in Kabul.
  • 21-Jan-14             Afghanistan        54 deminers from the HALO Trust abducted by Taliban near Herat; freed without injury by “police operation”
  • 1-Nov-13             Mozambique     Two deminers with Handical International shot by RENAMO members in attack on convoy traveling through Sofala Province.
  • 2-Jul-13                Afghanistan        Deminer working for Mine Clearance Planning Agency killed in Kandahar by NATO airstrike.
  • 19-Jun-13            Somalia                Two South Africans from Denel Mechem, contracted to do mine action in Somalia, were killed in an Al Shabaab attach on a United Nations compound in Mogadishu.
  • 18-Jun-13            Yemen  Six deminers and three soldiers were kidnapped by armed tribesmen in the southern province of Abyan.
  • 9-May-13             Afghanistan        11 deminers with Mine Detection Center abducted in Nangarhar, local warlord “Sherwali” accused of crime.
  • 3-May-13             Senegal                Twelve deminers from South Africa’s Denel were abducted by MFDC rebels from the Cesar Badiate faction.  All demining halted for six months. Three women were released after a couple of weeks; the nine men were released after two months.
  • 23-Apr-13            Afghanistan        In Meiwand, 9 deminers kidnapped by Taliban, held for one week and then released unharmed.
  • 28-Apr-12            Sudan   Two employees of the United Nations Mine Action Service and two employees of Denel Mechem were arrested by the Sudanese Army and accused of supporting the South Sudanese army.  They were released, unharmed, six weeks later after negotiations involving former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
  • 2-Apr-12              Afghanistan        Three Deminers from HALO Trust kidnapped in Herat.
  • 25-Oct-11            Somalia                Three employees of the Danish Demining Group, a Dane, an American and a Somali, were abducted by “pirates” in northern Somalia while conducting mine risk education.  The Somali was released almost immediately, but the Dane and American were held for three months for ransom.  Both were freed by a US Special Forces operation that received White House attention.
  • 9-Jul-11                Afghanistan        31 employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan abducted from Farah province. 4 deminers were killed (beheaded) before the other 27 were released after four or five days.
  • 7-Jun-11               Afghanistan        Deminer from the Mine Dog Detection Center killed in Logar province.
  • 9-Dec-10              Afghanistan        18 employees from the Mine Detection Centre abducted from Khost province.
  • 2-Dec-10              Afghanistan        Seven deminers from the Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation kidnapped from Nangarhar province and taken to Pakistan’s Khyber region.
  • 10-Apr-10            Afghanistan        Five employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan killed and another 13 injured in Kandahar province by a roadside bomb.
  • 5-Jul-09                Afghanistan        16 deminers abducted as they traveled between Paktia and Khost provinces
  • 19-Aug-08           Afghanistan        In Gardez province, 11 demines and two drivers from the Mine Detection Centre abducted; seven released within 48 hours.
  • 28-Jun-08            Somalia                A Dane, a Swede and a Somali were kidnapped from the International Medical Corps compound in Hodur.  The Dane and Swede were conducting a mine action training assignment on the United Nations behalf.
  • 24-Mar-08           Afghanistan        Five deminers from Afghan Technical Consulting killed, seven others injured in convoy ambush in Jawzjan province.
  • 6-Sep-07              Afghanistan        Thirteen deminers from Afghan Technical Consultants abducted; all released one week later with no reported casualties.
  • 12-Jan-06             Sri Lanka              Two deminers from the Danish Demining Group kidnapped by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Jaffna Province.
  • 11-Jan-05             Sudan   Two deminers from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action were killed by suspected members of the Lord’s Resistance Army

To absent friends.

Michael P. Moore

March 31, 2014

 

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Guest Post: Why does Angola report such a high level of landmine contamination?

Angola has perplexed the mine action community for many years. At the Thirteenth Meeting of States Parties (13MSP) in December Angola caused a kerfuffle when it reported there was 1,560km2 of contaminated area remaining in the country.  Only two years ago they had reported 793km2. Where did this much higher number come from? Is it correct?

 

Angola has always reported high levels of contamination. As early as 1993 Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights reported the head of the British Military Mission in Angola estimated that one-third of the territory was mine affected. The British Mission based the estimate on the fact that Angola had 20 million landmines in stock and if used properly would cover one third of Angola, although the Mission also said only four million of the mines were actually in the ground. Despite the rough calculation the “one-third” estimate (425,000km2) was commonly reported as the de-facto contaminated area until the completion of the Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) in 2007 when Angola declared it had 3,293 suspected hazardous areas (SHAs) covering 982km2. But the LIS results, too, were controversial.  The LIS Final Report noted the contaminated area would be closer to approximately 175-200km2 if the methodology used to measure SHAs by HALO Trust as a pilot test for the LIS had been consistently applied during the survey by the other operators. HALO conducted Technical Surveys rather than estimates usually employed by the LIS and used laser range finders, which at the time were relatively new to mine action. However, this lower level of contamination was never officially recognized and remains a largely unknown finding of the LIS. In the absence of other data 3,293 SHAs covering 982km2 became the Baseline for Angola.

 

Four years later in its 2011 Article 5 Extension Request Angola reported it had 793km2 of contaminated area remaining but acknowledged this was only an estimate and would fluctuate as further surveying and general data management issues were addressed. Commentary from the Analysis Group on the Extension Request did not challenge the level of contamination because the primary activity during the 5-year extension period would be a national Non-Technical Survey (NTS) to determine a new Baseline.  In its next report, the Article 7 report covering 2012, Angola omitted any references to the overall contamination area and only reported that of the 1,493 impacted communities in the LIS there were still 1,395 impacted as of 31 December 2013.

 

The Landmine Monitor  has been reporting on the various problems with the national database, since 2008. Among the major problems has been that the reports the National Intersectorial Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH), the national authority, produces do not reflect the information the NGOs send to CNIDAH. CNIDAH does not dispute the NGOs’ claim. The database problems are more related to poorly managing the flow of completion reports that the NGOs. Literally, the reports would pile up at CNIDAH in Luanda. Various errors regularly occurred at the data entry level. In addition, a subsequent review with the NGOs discovered CNIDAH had also lost completion reports. (See Landmine Monitor 2010 and 2011.)

 

At the Intersessional Standing Committee meetings in May 2013 Angola reported the contaminated area had increased to 1,560km2 from 793km2 without providing a reason for the increase. This increase was particularly odd because the NGOs were reporting large amounts of cancellation from the LIS.  The trend of the NTS is cancellation of SHAs and smaller Confirmed Hazardous Areas (CHAs). However, in May no one paid much attention to the reported increase. The attention was more focused on the ongoing NTS and progress in fixing the database problem.

 

Six months later in December at the 13MSP Angola reported the same 1,560km2 of contamination and the figure was included in the draft progress report of the 13MSP.  When Angola gave this figure in its oral presentation it caused a minor uproar among the participants who were paying attention. Why was Angola reporting such a high number? However, the report Angola submitted to the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) at the meeting and posted online a week later includes data by province and it does not support 1,560km2.  Or does it? On page four of the statement, in the format of a PowerPoint presentation, it says, “The current “Baseline” with 1,153 minefields with a size of 156.633.863.000m2 (156.634km2).” Does 156.634km2 mean 156,634km2? But if there is so such an unprecedented level of contamination in Angola why have there been so few casualties in recent years?

 

Earlier this month CNIDAH confirmed in an email that 1,560km2 is the current level of contamination and that it includes results from the NTS. Still, there is enough evidence and common sense to doubt this figure.

 

In 2012 the Landmine Monitor reported one of the issues with the data from the Executive Commission for Demining (Comissão Executiva de Desminagem, CED) was that CED operators used both the metric and the imperial system of measurement (inches and feet) in its reporting. How did Angola calculate 1,560km2? It’s conceivable they just got confused in recording square meters and then converting them to square kilometers. Could it be a rounding error of some kind? Was the size of the mined area in completion reports incorrectly entered into the database?

 

Angola Table 1, MKendellen
There is wide agreement that the LIS in Angola overstated the level of contamination. So why is Angola reporting almost a 40% increase seven years after the LIS and 12 years since the last mine was laid?

 

A review of the table included in the report Angola submitted to the 13MSP supports the idea. For example, there is only one mined area reported for Luanda and it covers 818.800m2. This can only mean 818,800m2 or .818km2 not anything else. If the same application of decimal points is used for the numbers for each province then 156km2 is the correct figure, not 1,560km2 and certainly not 156,000km2.

 

The Landmine Monitor provides additional support for the more realistic 156km2 when it reported that Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) and HALO Trust had identified 99km2 of contaminated area in the 10 provinces they operate after completing non-technical and technical surveys. (Angola reported at the 13MSP that the contamination in the same 10 provinces was 120km2, not far from 99km2.)

 

The document Angola officially submitted at the 13MSP also included the estimated levels of contamination in the remaining eight provinces of Bengo, Cabinda, Cunene, Luanda, Lunda Norte, Lunda Sul, Moxico and Namibe based on preliminary and incomplete survey results. The eight provinces totaled only 37km2, which pretty much limits what the final Baseline can be, and eliminates the possibility that contamination can be over 1,000km2. While the overall contamination of these eight provinces will increase by the time survey is completed best estimates are that the total contamination in Angola and the new Baseline will likely be close to 200-250km2. The reasons for the estimate are not complex.

 

Most of the remaining eight provinces are lightly contaminated compared to the 10 provinces where NPA and HALO have completed surveys, with the exception of Moxico, the most mine affected province in the country. In Cabinda province, which is the closest province to the off shore oil fields, fighting was at a much lower level than in other provinces. The same with the capital of Luanda, where there is one confirmed mined area on the outskirts of the city near an army base. Namibe in the south is mostly a desert where the LIS identified only 11 suspected hazardous areas. Presumably the re-survey will cancel several of them. Angola reported in December that Cunene had 16 minefields covering 880,000m2 of contaminated area. CNIDAH had reported 160 suspected hazardous areas covering 122km2 for Cunene in 2012. It is unknown how much more there is to survey in Cunene. That leaves Moxico, where it is estimated 20% of all mined area are located.  The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has been there since 1996 and is currently re-surveying the province. How much more the new Baseline will be than 99km2 largely depends on the survey results in Moxico.

 

Additionally, the European Commission (EC) in Angola, which is the major international donor of the ongoing Non-Technical Survey (NTS), cites between 200km2 and 1,000km2 in its funding guidelines for mine action in Angola released in August 2013, a range likely provided by Angola but when Angola finally announces the new Baseline the EC can be confident they will be basically right in their estimate.

 

The other questionable data point Angola reported is the amount of territory that is mined. As noted above the original estimate of contamination in Angola was one-third of the landmass, which apparently had some semblance of credibility in 1993 although it has none today.  At the 13MSP Angola reported that 12% of Angola’s territory is mined, though much less than 33%, it is still not credible. Globally, in all mine affected countries, with the exception of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the total area of suspicious hazardous areas always measures less than one percent of the territory and confirmed mined areas is even less.  The only way 12% of the territory could be mined is if there were 156,000km2 of contaminated area, which cannot be the level of contamination in Angola. Afghanistan, a country many consider the most mine affected in the world, has never reached 1,000km2 or exceeded one percent of landmass. (Note: reporting contamination by landmass is a No Win situation. A high number is not credible and a low percentage of landmass could easily result in the dismissal of the idea that a serious landmine problem exists. Comparing mine contamination to landmass can create the perception that there is no mine problem if total contaminated landmass is the equivalent of one small dot representing all contamination on a map.)

 

Angola Table 2, MKendellen

 

The States Parties are expecting Angola to provide a progress report at the Review Conference in Maputo. The ICBL has issued a challenge to all States Parties to commit to finishing the job by 2024. What can Angola do in response?

 

Without question Angola has the money and the assets to meet the challenge. In its Article 5 Extension Request Angola reported that the government had allocated over $1 billion to clearing mines from 2003-2011. In its Extension Request Angola estimated the Executive Commission for Demining (Comissão Executiva de Desminagem, CED) needed $260 million to meet its development demining target of verifying 315km2 by 2017 and CNIDAH needed approximately $75 million from the government to coordinate the clearance of 22km2 also until 2017.  In the decision that approved Angola’s Extension Request at the 12MSP the States Parties requested Angola to clarify these large numbers at the 13MSP, which they failed to do. The States Parties also requested Angola to provide an update at the Review Conference in Maputo.

 

There are five international NGOs in Angola and the CED has over 4,000 personnel and in February 2014 reported they had 57 demining brigades. Assuming Angola will have 200-250km2 remaining at the end of the survey they will need to release approximately 20-25km2 per year to meet the ICBL challenge by 2024. This annual target seems within reach. The NGOs averaged 4km2from 2004-2011 CED operators average approximately 20km2 over the same period.

 

However, the real question is whether the two institutions can cooperate and clear the estimated 200-250km2 by 2024? With such a high level of national funding and CED’s demining assets it would seem that if CED plans to clear and verify 315km2 (or is it 315,000km2?) over five years they could also allocate sufficient resources to include 50% of the estimated 200-250km2.  Understandably, this may be controversial and politically sensitive as it may disrupt national development plans and cause tension within political alliances. Nevertheless, the issue needs to be raised with CED, CNIDAH, Ministry of Social Assistance and Reintegration (MINARS), and, if necessary, the president of Angola to see what can be done. It’s not clear if CED and CNIDAH can work this out themselves.  States Parties, the ISU and the ICBL also need to ask Angola why CED cannot do more to tackle the remaining 200-250km2.

 

Angola can do more. They should also:

 

  • Provide data that supports the claim there is 1,560km2 of contaminated area or else revise its estimates.
  • Adopt the mine free district (comunas) and province reporting from Mozambique.
  • Provide more detail on clearance conducted by CED including number of mines areas cleared and how this impacted on the number of remaining mined areas. Until now CED data is in a vacuum and impossible to determine what they are doing to help Angola meet is Article 5 obligations.
  • Assign more assets to clearing the estimated 200-250km2 by either funding the NGOs through the Angola national budget or moving CED demining teams to help clear what CNIDAH describes as the contaminated area.
  • Conduct quality assurance on reports before they are released for public consumption.

 

Additionally, the ISU and the ICBL should translate as many documents into Portuguese including at a minimum ICBL statements on Angola, Landmine Monitor reports on Angola and ISU documents that pertain to Angola to facilitate a wider readership within the Angolan government.

 

It may be remotely possible the contaminated area is more than the 200-250km2 that is rationalized in this blog but it is not very probable. Angola needs to immediately improve its reporting including the presentation of data and the status of the NTS and explain what 1,560km2 represents. Monitoring, evaluation and the use of data is the theme of the upcoming meeting of Mine Action Program Directors and UN Advisors. The agenda suggests some countries will be examined as examples of various uses of data in monitoring and evaluation. I recommend Angola as one country to look at.

 

Mike Kendellen has worked in mine action since 1999. From 2008-2013 he researched, reported and edited on more than 25 countries including Angola on Mine Ban Treaty Article 5 issues for the Landmine Monitor. He lives in Washington, D.C. Email: mike.kendellen@yahoo.com

 


States, Lies and Videotape: South Sudan’s False Accusations of UNMISS

The following is unequivocal: there were no landmines in the United Nations trucks seized by the South Sudanese Army in Rumbek, in Lakes State on Friday, March 7th.  Guns and ammunition were found in the trucks and the Ghanaian peacekeepers and United Nations Mission in South Sudan have admitted the same, but landmines were not in the shipment.  The guns were being shipped overland against United Nations policy in vehicles whose shipping manifests reported as “food” or “general goods.” In response to the discovery, protests erupted in Juba and as far away as Melbourne, Australia.  The leaders of the protests have latched onto the accusations of the presence of landmines and have stoked passions against the United Nations.  Since violence broke out in December, thousands of people, including some believed to be loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar have sought sanctuary in the United Nations posts throughout the country.  The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has accused the United Nations of running a “parallel government” in South Sudan and is using this arms seizure to discredit the UN (Voice of America; Deseret News; BBC News; Chimp Reports).

The UNMISS Force Commander, Major General Delali Johnson Sakyi, said that the items South Sudan sources have reported as landmines are canisters for gas masks to be used in “crowd control” situations, e.g., if peacekeepers need to use tear gas to disperse crowds such as those that have attacked UN posts.  (Talk of Sudan; Voice of America).  In an interview with Isaac Mugabi of Deutsche Welle, Ariane Quentier, the spokesperson for UNMISS said:

“I can only point you to the pictures that were produced by the government. If you look at these pictures and if you look at the objects that they call landmines – anyone who knows what a landmine looks like will immediately know that what is being displayed is not a landmine!”

Ms. Quentier is right, but not enough people know what landmines look like to be able to come to the correct decision.  So we will correct that now.  First, let’s look at the objects in question.  These are photos / screen shots of the items in question.

Screen-shot of seized items, video aired on South Sudan Television, image via www.Facebook.com

Screen-shot of seized items, video aired on South Sudan Television, image via http://www.Facebook.com

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=643638842337897

Screenshot from Twitter, via @josevieira

Screenshot from Twitter, via @josevieira

https://twitter.com/josesvieira/status/443032071712161795/photo/1

The Facebook screenshot is from video aired on South Sudan Television and you may go to the video and watch it yourself.

Now, let’s look at some landmines.  These images are all taken from the Collective Awareness to Unexploded Ordnance (CAT-UXO) website, www.CAT-UXO.com, and you may view all of these photos there.  The VS-50 and VM-1 anti-personnel landmines are similar in design (the VS-50 was made by Italy, the VM-1 by Iran) and I will grant you that they both bear a resemblance to the items in the photos above.  However, look at where the “ridges” are in the seized items.  They are on the top only and not along the sides as in the VS-50 or the VM-1.  The “knob” at the top of the seized items are also smaller, proportionately compared to the VS-50 and VM-1.

Italian-made VS-50 anti-personnel landmine, via www.CAT-UXO.com

Italian-made VS-50 anti-personnel landmine, via http://www.CAT-UXO.com

Iranian-made YM-1 anti-personnel landmine, via www.CAT-UXO.com

Iranian-made YM-1 anti-personnel landmine, via http://www.CAT-UXO.com

Looking at an anti-vehicle landmine, the Yugoslavian-made TMRP-6 has the “ridges” only on the top, but the ridges are much larger on the TMRP-6 than on the seized items and the seized items have a simple “knob” on top compared to the dual-tiered “knob” of the TMRP-6.

Yugoslavian-made TMRP-6 anti-vehicle landmine, via www.CAT-UXO.com

Yugoslavian-made TMRP-6 anti-vehicle landmine, via http://www.CAT-UXO.com

Yes, there are design similarities, but the seized items do not closely resemble landmines.  And please, do not just take my word for it.  Got to www.CAT-UXO.com and look at other landmine images.  You will see that the VS-50, VM-1 and TMRP-6 are the most likely matches to the seized items, but they are not exact by any means.

General Sakyi said that the seized items were canisters for gas masks, also referred to as respirators.  Take another look at the seized items:

Now, please look at the following:

Israeli-made gas mask canister, via www.Amazon.com

Israeli-made gas mask canister, via http://www.Amazon.com

This is an Israeli-made canister for a gas mask filter and you may find it yourself on Amazon.com (please note the gift-wrapping option): http://www.amazon.com/Original-Gas-Mask-Nbc-Filter/dp/B005KMFPSA/ref=pd_sim_indust_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=02249T268RDSY2W6YNJR

Check out the “knob” and “ridges.”  They are exact matches to what was seized by South Sudan’s army in Rumbek.  The seized items even have the same plastic string connecting the “knob” on top to the rest of the unit; in the images from Rumbek, the string is white and on Amazon, it’s black but I would say they are the same.

The United Nations does not use landmines anywhere and most certainly has not shipped them to South Sudan.  In South Sudan the United Nations has cleared more than 30,000 landmines from 1,100 square kilometers of land and 22,000 kilometers of road.  Did the United Nations ship guns and ammunition against its own policy?  Yes, and they have admitted as much.  But landmines?  No.  That’s a false accusation and needs to stop being made.

Michael P. Moore

March 19, 2014


The Month in Mines, February 2014

Unfortunately, the shortest month of the year did not bring less news about landmines on the Continent.  In addition to the stories below, there has been a renewed push for the United States to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty with a symposium in Washington, DC at which the Mozambican Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellency Amélia Matos Sumbana, invited the United States to join the Mine Ban Treaty and send an official representative to the Third Review Conference in Maputo in June.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congolese militia leader, Bosco Ntaganda, appeared in the International Criminal Court at The Hague for an evidentiary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to prosecute him for war crimes committed in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Ntaganda, popularly known as “the Terminator” and associated with the M23 militia recently defeated in DRC, faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity.  While the official charges include rape, murder and recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC prosecutors included Ntaganda’s use of landmines as evidence of his attacks on civilians.  Militias under Ntaganda’s command would place landmines in villages rendering those places unsafe for return after looting (All Africa).

In February, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and National Mine Action Centre of DRC announced the completion and results of the national landmine contamination survey.  The survey identified 130 suspected minefields in eight of DRC’s 11 provinces; the total contaminated area is equivalent to 250 football fields which makes the scale of contamination relatively small.  However, almost all of the minefields block access to agricultural lands, depriving local communities of their livelihoods.

To date, 8 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) and now, just 1.5 million square meters remain.  Based upon the survey results, DRC could be “mine impact free” by 2019 if some US $20 million were to be allocated for the effort.  There have been 2,500 landmine casualties in DRC and with this information, future victims can be spared (Relief Web).

Sudan

Five people, including a volunteer with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, were killed and another 19 injured, six of whom were also volunteers with the Sudanese Red Crescent Society, when their vehicle ran over a landmine in Sudan’s South Khordofan State.  In a bitterly ironic twist, the volunteers were on their way to provide medical treatment to civilians injured by gunmen in an attack on the town of Karida.  In South Khordofan, some one million Sudanese are isolated by conflict and unable to access humanitarian aid and the landmine blast occurred just as rebels in southern Sudan and the government in Khartoum began a new round of peace talks, the first in about a year.  The landmine also highlighted the fact that Sudan has one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Africa and that with the blockades of humanitarian aid to South Khordofan, many other landmine survivors may not be able to access the rehabilitation services they need in the aftermath of their injuries (All Africa; Ahram; International Committee of the Red Cross; All Africa).

Angola

In a model of South-South collaboration, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Angola’s National Institute of Demining (INAD), with support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), signed a cooperation agreement on the removal of landmines.  Cambodian and Angolan deminers will share experiences to better serve their respective populations (All Africa).  The agreement came as INAD announced plans to demine over 20 million square meters of land in Cunene province, focusing on secondary and tertiary roads and land designated for housing project (All Africa).  INAD also described its efforts to clear landmines from the transborder conservation area of Okavango-Zambia, with seven demining brigades deployed to Cuando Cubango province which is part of the conservation area (All Africa).

 

Western Sahara

 

The Coordinator of the International Campaign against the Moroccan Wall in Western Sahara, Dr. Sidi Mohamed Omar, traveled to Austria to meet with the Austrian Parliament and supporters of Western Sahara’s independence.  Austrian members of Parliament were “shocked” by the presence of the wall and the millions of landmines that divide Western Sahara; others called it “shameful” (All Africa).

 

Mozambique

 

In an update on the demining progress in Mozambique, the National Demining Institute’s (IND) head of operations declared that 500 suspected hazardous areas across 19 districts remain.  Five of Mozambique’s 11 provinces have been completely cleared and 5.6 million square meters are all that remains to be cleared; in 2013, Mozambique cleared over 9 million square meters.  The occasion for the remarks was a seminar to develop a national victim assistance plan for the almost 2,500 landmine survivors in the country who will continue to need support after the demining tasks are finished, hopefully this year (All Africa).

Mali

In addition to the Cambodians participating in exchanges with Angola, 328 members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) have joined the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali where they will be responsible for demining, ordnance disposal and airport maintenance (Phnom Penh Post).

Unfortunately, the Cambodian team was not in place in time to prevent the landmine incident that took place near the Kidal airport in northern Mali.  Two Malian employees of the organization Medecins du Monde were injured after their vehicle struck the mine.  The injured were transported to Bamako for treatment (Reuters).

Tunisia

Another landmine detonated on Tunisia’s Mount Chaambi in the Kasserine region by the Algerian border.  No injuries or casualties were reported from the blast which occurred as an armored military vehicle passed by the mine.  The mine was not believed to have been newly laid (Tunisia Live).

Kenya

A six year old boy was killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, described as a landmine, he stepped on at the military training ground in Baringo County.  It is not clear if the boy accessed a prohibited site (and if so, how) or if the explosive had been found outside the training grounds (Standard Media).

Chad

Five people were killed and another 15 injured when the nine vehicles they were riding in drove into a minefield.  The anti-personnel mines in the field were powerful enough to damage the first two vehicles, but not to severely injure those inside.  But, when the passengers got out of the vehicles to inspect the damage, they realized only too late the extent of their danger.  Terrified to move after their fellow travelers were killed or injured, one person was able to call Chad’s National Demining Center (NDC) for help.  An emergency response team from the NDC and Mines Advisory Group set off with some 400 liters of water for the ten-hour journey to the minefield.  The response team, with medics drove through the night to reach the survivors.

Stop and think about that.  Fifteen people injured by mines, four killed (the fifth would succumb after the response team arrived), and an unknown number of others spent the night in an active minefield, waiting for rescue.

Upon arrival, the response team provided first aid and then helped to transport the wounded get into ambulances for a two hour drive to the clinic.  The next day, the government of Chad provided a plane to carry the injured to hospitals in the capitol, Ndjamena.  The response team completed the task of marking the minefield for future clearance and removed the two damaged vehicles (Trust).

Algeria

The Algerian army reported clearing almost 3,700 landmines in January placed by the French army during the liberation struggle in the 1950s and 1960s.  The mines were removed from minefields along the eastern and western borders of the country (Ennaha).

Zimbabwe

A parliamentary report on the financial situation of Zimbabwe’s police and military shows massive underfunding of priority projects.  In addition to soldiers losing healthcare coverage due to failure of the army to pay debts, only a quarter of the requested US $2 million budget for demining was allocated.  With such a reduced budget, Zimbabwe will fail to meet its Article 5 landmine clearance deadlines under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Without the support of the ICRC, Norwegian People’s Aid and the HALO Trust, the country would be even further behind in its mine clearance obligations.  The poor financial situation is the result of sanctions against the Zimbabwe government in response to election violence and land seizures and a dwindling tax base and the national economy has faltered (Mail and Guardian).  Of course, the government was able to find US $1 million to pay for Robert Mugabe’s 90th birthday party (Voice of America).

Somalia

A landmine blast in Beledhawo town killed three people and injured many more.  The mine appeared to be targeting government troops and may have been detonated remotely (All Africa).  In Kismayo, four civilians were injured by a landmine near one of the city’s mosques (Hiiraan Online).

In a ray of hope, the disabled community, including landmine survivors, is organizing as civil society in Somalia emerges.  The Institute of Education for Disabled People in Somalia, an organization founded in 1993 which has survived two conflict-ridden decades, called on the government to include disability on the development agenda for Somalia and provide reintegration services for all persons with disability.  As an example, the African Education Trust provided vocational training to 115 disabled Somalis, all of whom were able to find work after the conclusion of the training program.  The Somali government needs to also address physical accessibility of official buildings (All Africa).

South Sudan

Normally we don’t cover cluster munitions or other weapons, just landmines, but a recent turn of events in South Sudan requires some discussion.  This month, UNMAS confirmed the presence of cluster bombs on the Juba – Bor road in Jonglei state.  The bombs in question are air-dropped cluster bomblets which could have been dropped by either a plane or a helicopter.  South Sudan has reported in the past that it does not possess any cluster munitions and the rebel groups in Jonglei state lack the aircraft to have used the bombs.  The South Sudan army’s spokesperson declared “We (do not) have the capacity to deliver these weapons. We have no capacity to use them, transport them or even stockpile these weapons.”

There were credible reports of Ugandan helicopters in the area two months before the cluster bombs were discovered and UNMAS confirmed that the bombs were dropped less than two months before their discovery.  Uganda has made conflicting claims about the possession of a cluster munitions stockpile, but Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Development Programme has evidence that air-dropped cluster munitions of the same type found in South Sudan were used in Northern Uganda during the conflict with the LRA.  Now, here’s why I want to highlight this story: “Uganda denied that its armed forces ever used cluster munitions and said the LRA was responsible.”  The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has never, ever had the ability to use cluster munitions.  The LRA did use landmines, but never had any aircraft or artillery to deliver cluster munitions (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; ENCA; All Africa).  The Ugandan army and government often use the LRA as a bogeyman or cover for all kinds of illegal activities, including smuggling and human rights abuses.  Whenever the Ugandan government faces questions from outside about its military activities, Uganda would bring up the LRA as an excuse.  That won’t fly here.  The cluster bombs were probably dropped by the Ugandan air force on South Sudanese rebels in violation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions which Uganda has signed (but not yet ratified).  There were accusations that in 1998 Uganda used landmines during its invasion of DRC when Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers fought for possession of the city of Kisangani (which was part of the survey mentioned above…).  No concrete evidence was ever found, but Uganda’s denials then were as hollow as their denials of cluster munitions use are now.

Michael P. Moore

March 6, 2014


Profile of Mozambique’s Rede para Assistência às Vítimas de Minas (RAVIM)

One of the key contributors to planning and implementation of the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty taking place this June in Maputo, Mozambique will be Mozambique’s landmine survivor community.  One of the representatives of that population is RAVIM.  Founded in 2005 by two landmine survivors, Rede para Assistência às Vítimas de Minas (RAVIM, the Assistance Network for Landmine Victims) is the only Mozambican organization dedicated to providing support and comfort to Mozambique’s landmine survivors.  With forty members and a permanent staff of five, RAVIM conducts outreach to identify and register landmine survivors with the goal of linking survivors to basic and specialized health services.  RAVIM has also provided some material support to survivors through grants from donors and educates Mozambicans on landmine risk and HIV / AIDS among persons with disabilities.  Since 2007, RAVIM has worked closely with Handicap International to conduct assessment of the disability sector and landmine survivor assistance needs.

In 2004, the First Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty was held in Nairobi, Kenya and Luis Silvestre Wamusse and Manuel Alberto Chauque, attended the conference under the Raising the Voices program hosted by Landmine Survivors Network (LSN).  Raising the Voices trained survivors to be advocates for the Mine Ban Treaty, especially the provision of survivor assistance.  Upon their return from Nairobi, Wamusse and Chauque, and other Mozambican landmine survivors, began working to create the core of what would become RAVIM to respond to the incredible need in Mozambique for survivor assistance.

Luis Wamusse (on left), Director of RAVIM at 13MSP in Geneva, 2013.  Photo by Giovanni Diffidentii

Luis Wamusse (on left), Director of RAVIM at 13MSP in Geneva, 2013.
Photo by Giovanni Diffidenti

Landmines have been the third leading cause of amputation in Mozambique, trailing only diabetes and road accidents, and for many people rehabilitation and reintegration services are unavailable.  RAVIM has found “victims who stepped on a mine fifteen to twenty years ago and have never been able to get to a hospital.”  While the government of Mozambique has a national disability policy that would include landmine survivors (it’s actually had two), no funds have been allocated to implement the plan.

In March 2007, a munitions depot in Mozambique’s capitol, Maputo, erupted killing 100 people and injuring 500 more. Shortly after the blasts, which lasted for four hours, RAVIM mobilized.  The members went to the hospitals where people were being treated for injuries, many of which resulted in traumatic or surgical amputations. RAVIM’s members had been trained in peer counseling and support and demonstrated that there was life and opportunity after the loss of a limb.  Wamusse said, “People did not believe that we were also victims and had had limbs amputated, so we had to take off our prosthetics in the hospital and show them that we have adapted to live a normal life … I told them, ‘You lost your leg, you did not lose your life, so please do not lose your will to live’.”

RAVIM’s objectives are:

  • The reintegration of victims of mines or UXO in society within the context of the full implementation of the Ottawa Treaty ;
  • The protection and promotion of rights of persons with disabilities; and
  • Fighting poverty in this vulnerable section of society.

RAVIM strives to have an accurate evidence-base for its efforts so much of the work of the members has consisted of assessing Mozambique’s landmine survivor population.  With more than 2,000 documented casualties in the country, RAVIM has registered over 900 individual survivors identifying where they are and what their needs are.

For individuals, RAVIM has provided wheelchairs and other mobility devices to survivors; for youth survivors, RAVIM has provided scholarships for students to complete their education.  With funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), RAVIM and Handicap International conducted a survey on the living conditions and needs of landmine survivors in Inhambane and Sofala provinces.  Funding is being sought to address the issues and needs identified in the survey.  Most recently, RAVIM received funding from the Norwegian government’s Survivor Networks initiative, managed by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). RAVIM’s Survivor Network project focuses on Gaza province and will assess the needs of survivors there and provide referrals and direct assistance to survivors.  In addition to its service provision, RAVIM participates as an advocate for survivors and persons with disabilities in negotiations for the unfunded national disability policy and Wamusse frequently attends international meetings related to landmines to advocate on behalf of all survivors.

Photo via ICBL

Photo via ICBL

Unfortunately, RAVIM’s financial situation is precarious despite the economic gains of Mozambique.  To save costs, RAVIM shares office space with ADEMO, a school for the blind.  With the support and partnership of Handicap International, RAVIM has been able to conduct assessments of landmine survivors to try and determine their population and needs, but RAVIM does not have the funding to provide rehabilitation services and is instead reliant on referrals to other service providers.  Even those referrals may be inadequate since many government-run rehabilitation and prosthetic centers lack the supplies needed for production.

Michael P. Moore

March 3, 2014

 

Many thanks to Luis Wamusse for his help in putting together this profile.  Luis can be reached via email (in Portuguese) at lwamusse.ravim@gmail.com


15th Anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty

The Mine Ban Treaty came into effect 15 years ago.  When it was negotiated in 1997, the United Nations estimated that 20,000 people were killed or injured every year by anti-personnel landmines.  Had the Mine Ban Treaty not been negotiated and become international law, then the last fifteen years might have seen as many as 300,000 landmine victims.  Instead, less than 92,000 people were killed or injured in that period.

Landmine casualities, Actual

 

Michael P. Moore

March 2, 2014