Responses to the Obama Administration’s landmine policy announcement

On June 27th, the Obama Administration, via its Ambassador to Mozambique, pledged to end the purchase and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines and put the United States on a path to joining the Mine Ban Treaty (Reuters).  Since that announcement, many statements have come out for and against the new policy.  Or rather, many statements are cautiously for the policy, but also call on the administration to do more and those against are firmly against, citing the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula.  Here is a round-up.

Cautiously For:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, “Reaction Of Senator Patrick Leahy To The White House Announcement Of Changes To U.S. Landmine Policy,” June 27, 2014 and “Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On A Step Toward A Landmine Ban,” delivered on the Senate Floor, July 8, 2014

The New York Times, “Still Further to Go on Land Mines,” July 4, 2014

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Heavy toll: Land mines meant to deter troops still kill civilians,” July 14, 2014

Matthew Bolton, “Obama’s New Landmine Policy: Change I Can Believe In, Tentatively,” July 9, 2014

LTG Robert G. Gard, Jr. (Ret), “Disappointing U.S. Statement on Anti-Personnel Landmines,” Huffington Post, July 9, 2014

Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick, “Good News, Bad News Story From US Landmines Announcement,” Stimson Center, July 07, 2014

Daryl G. Kimball, “U.S. Pledge Not to Produce Landmines Positive, But Falls Short: It Is Time to Accede to Mine Ban Treaty,” Arms Control Association, 27, 2014

MAG America, “U.S. Declares That It Will No Longer Produce Anti-Personnel Landmines – Good First Step,” June 27, 2014

Handicap International, “Handicap International Welcomes Tentative, U.S. Steps Towards Mine Ban Treaty Accession.” June 27, 2014

Human Rights Watch, “United States: Back on Path to Landmine Ban? A Pledge Not to Produce or Acquire More Stocks,” June 27, 2014

US Campaign to Ban Landmines, “Positive Changes in U.S. Landmine Policy Stop Short of Immediate Ban: Commitment to No Longer Produce Antipersonnel Mines,” June 27, 2014

National Catholic Reporter, “Editorial: Why won’t the US sign a land mine treaty?” July 16, 2014

Lloyd Axworthy, “Another chance to bury the scourge of land mines,” The Globe and Mail, July 18, 2014

Nora Sheets, “Land mines are a scourge that we must eliminate,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 21, 2014

Joe Cirincione, “A Good Step Towards Ending Landmines,” Defense One, June 27, 2014.

 

Solidly Against:

Wall Street Journal (subscription required), “Obama Hedges on Land Mines: In the name of arms control, the U.S. heightens the risks of war in Korea,” June 29, 2014

Lamont Colucci, “Obama is Playing Politics with Landmines: Landmines, believe it or not, save lives.” U.S. News and World Report, July 18, 2014.

Rep. Buck McKeon, “McKeon Statement on President Obama’s Land Mine Announcement,” June 27, 2014

Carl J. Asszony, “Opinion: U.S. shouldn’t join land-mine treaty,” The Daily Record, July 5, 2014  (added 7/24/14)

Special recognition goes to Tim Lockette of the Anniston Star covering Anniston, Alabama (population 22,666) for his article covering the landmine policy announcement and the ongoing, already-planned, destruction of the landmine stockpile at the Anniston Army Depot.  If you read only one article about the new landmine policy, this is the article to read. Lockette corresponded with Navy Commander Amy Derrick-Frost who confirmed the US landmine stockpile of 3 million “smart” mines but Derrick-Frost also confirmed the existence of “dumb” mines – exactly those banned by the Mine Ban Treaty – but noted that those mines were scheduled to be “demilitarized.” An official at the Anniston Army Depot reported that over 125,000 anti-personnel landmines were at the Depot, but “by some definitions, the number of anti-personnel mines in stock could be higher.”  Anniston Army Depot has a history of storing weapons “the U.S. is reluctant to acknowledge” including chemical weapons and landmines which released nerve gas which were incinerated between 2003 and 2011 (Anniston Star)

Michael P. Moore

July 22, 2014 (updated July 24, 2014, August 8, 2014)

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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The Month in Mines, June 2014

The big story for the month was the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, held in Maputo, Mozambique.  Over one thousand delegates and participants from around the world re-affirmed the importance of landmine clearance and survivor assistance while laying out an ambitious agenda night for the next five years.  The participants agreed to a common deadline of 2025 for all landmine clearance in States Parties and approved clearance extensions for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Zimbabwe.  Reports of credible landmine use by non-state actors were heard from Mali, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Tunisia.  On a positive note, Burundi confirmed its status as a landmine-free country and casualties from landmines are less than a quarter of what they were before the Treaty came into force.

Mozambique’s president, Armando Guebuza, opened the Conference, calling the Convention and its ratification or accession by 161 countries, “a victory for the promotion of international humanitarian law.”  Conference documents called on States Parties to “spare no effort to continue promoting universal adherence to the Convention and observance of its norms” and highlighted the fact that a landmine-free world is “within reach” (All Africa; All Africa; Mail and Guardian; All Africa).

Of note was the absence of any delegation from Ethiopia at the Conference.  Ethiopia is obligated to complete its landmine clearance by June 1, 2015 and even though Ethiopian authorities have suggested that less than seven square kilometers of land was contaminated by landmines as of June 2012, observes believe that demining will not be completed by the coming deadline.  As a result, the States Parties expected to receive an extension request from Ethiopia but none was sent.  It is likely that as of June 2, 2015, Ethiopia will be in violation of Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty unless it submits evidence of clearing all known minefields before then.

Unfortunately, the Conference was not the only landmine-related news from the Continent.  We saw ready reminders of the work that remains and the continuing threat posed by these weapons that “just wait to explode, whether set off by a person, an animal or a machine.”

 

Zimbabwe

For over three decades Zimbabweans living along the border with Mozambique have faced the daily threat of landmines.  Those same Zimbabweans are now responsible, with training from the HALO Trust, for clearing those minefields while earning a salary.  Those salaries will pay school fees for their children and, if resources permit, will continue for another 10 years, so extensive is the landmine contamination in this area.  The villagers are able to clear landmines at the rate of 30 per day and have already cleared over a thousand mines in just a few months (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Rumors continue to spread that Boko Haram, an Islamist group accused of abducting hundreds of schoolgirls from Northern Nigeria and forcing them to convert, has used landmines in Sambisa forest to prevent Nigerian armed forces from pursuing the group (All Africa).  However, no credible reports of landmine injuries or blasts have been recorded.

 

Angola

In the 1990s, Angola’s landmine contamination was estimated at 20 million mines, or two mines for every Angolan living in 1990.  This estimate was an intentional fabrication to “discourage potential investors” from coming to Angola in the immediate aftermath of the civil wars in the country.  The high estimate also restricted movement of refugees and displaced persons within the country and according to the Executive Commission for Demining, saved hundreds of thousands of people from death or injury due to landmines.  Instead, less than 500 people were reported killed or injured by mines and other explosive remnants of war since 1996 and over 450,000 landmines and almost 3 million pieces of unexploded ordnance have been cleared (Angola Journal).

Angolan police continue to work with local communities to encourage citizens to turn in weapons left over from the civil wars.  In Bie Province, rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, grenades, pistols and a landmine were turned and will be destroyed (All Africa).

 

Sudan

The eastern states of Sudan are the most mine-affected and in recent months, the number of casualties appears to have increased with over 80 people killed and another 180 injured.  A member of the Sudanese Parliament, Mohamed El Taher Ousham, has taken the Ministry of Defence to task over the casualties and called for the government to allocate funds to the Eastern Sudan Reconstruction Fund to cover the costs of demining and to launch awareness campaigns to prevent additional casualties (All Africa; Sudanese Online).

One group that has been active in mine risk education in Sudan is the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan).  Since the start of their work in 2006, AAR Japan has sensitized almost 90,000 people about the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance in Sudan using a variety of materials during in-person information sessions.  Those materials have recently been revised for use in the eastern states of Kassala and South Kordofan, but the remoteness of some settlements in these areas limits the effectiveness of in-person sessions.  To address the risk education needs of the persons living in those settlements, AAR Japan developed a radio drama in Arabic and local languages which has been broadcast on a daily basis.  AAR Japan followed up the broadcasts with an on-air quiz program to test message retention and while participation in the quiz program was high, few listeners were able to provide the correct answers.  AAR Japan will revise its materials and radio drama script to emphasize the gaps in knowledge (Relief Web).

 

Western Sahara

The International Campaign against the Wall of the Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara launched its website in June and the Campaign will focus on three main pillars: the wall itself, the seven million landmines that accompany the wall and the victims of those landmines.  With participation from NGOs from three continents, the Campaign’s goal is “to compel the occupying Moroccan State to comply with the rules of international humanitarian law and demilitarise the wall, neutralise and remove the… landmines” (All Africa).

In Britain’s House of Lords, Lord John Stevens questioned the minister of state about what steps the British government had taken to “neutralize” the wall and the associated landmines.  The minister of state responded that demining teams from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, the Moroccan Army and the Polisario Front are cooperating to clear the landmines on both sides of the wall (All Africa).

 

Uganda

The Refugee Law Project based at Makerere University has launched a traveling exhibition of objects and recorded testimonies from persons affected by conflict in Uganda.  Specifically excluding artifacts and stories related the more-famous Lord’s Resistance Army conflict, the “Traveling Testimonies” project focuses on conflicts with the 43 other rebel movements that have fought against Uganda’s governments since independence in 1962 (that’s almost one new rebel movement per year!?).  The exhibition curator, Kara Blackmore, says that the testimonies reflect all experiences of conflict, “from an arms trader to landmine survivors to widows.” The Traveling Testimonies materials will form a core of the National Memory and Peace Documentation Centre under construction in Kitgum (All Africa).

 

Chad

Chad continues to face challenges both from its landmine contamination and assisting the survivors.  The extent of contamination in Chad is still not known and accidents still occur in the northern deserts from mines laid during conflicts with Libya.  For survivors, there are only two rehabilitations centers, one in the capitol of Ndjamena and the other in the southern city of Moundou.  Neither center is adequately resourced and both are huge distances (Chad is the size of France and Spain combined) from the minefields in the north of the country.  Survivors from the north of Chad are forced to relocate to either Ndjamena or Moundou to be able to access services on a regular basis (All Africa).

 

Somalia

One child was killed and two others were wounded by a landmine in the Galgadud region near the Ethiopian border.  The children found the mine on their way to the local market and the mine exploded as they played with it (Radio Ergo, no link).  In the Banadir region, one person was killed and two injured by a landmine (Goobjoog News).   Both of these incidents took place before the start of Ramadan, which marked a new offensive in Somalia by the Al Shabaab Islamist group.  In one of the first attacks during Ramadan, two people, a soldier and a civilian, were killed by a landmine near a business center in Mogadishu.  The blast destroyed several market stalls in the center and likely injured many people (CTV News).

 

Mali

Near Timbuktu where a United Nations peacekeeping force has taken over security duties from the French military which ousted the Islamist Al Qaeda in the Maghreb forces who had briefly seized control of northern Mali, a UN vehicle with seven peacekeepers from Burkina Faso struck a newly placed landmine. One peacekeeper was killed, three were severely injured and the other three less so.  The blast was only the most recent in a series of attacks on United Nations and humanitarian staff trying to bring security and relief to the region after a series of conflicts in recent years (Business Insider).

 

Tunisia

A Tunisian army patrol operating in the Mount Chaambi region triggered a landmine killing one person and injuring five others.  The soldiers are part of a larger operation in the region trying to oust Islamist fighters who have used Mount Chaambi as their base from which to threaten the new Tunisian state (Strategy Page).

 

Michael P. Moore

July 16, 2014


Four Takeaways from the Maputo Conference on a Mine-Free World

States, advocates and survivors came together in the Mozambican capitol of Maputo to review the progress of the Mine Ban Treaty after 15 years of implementation and agree upon an agenda for the next five years. From June 23rd to the 27th nearly one thousand delegates participated in formal sessions and dozens of side events celebrating the Treaty’s accomplishments and preparing for the next phase of work. (Round-ups of each day’s activities, as reported in social media, can be found here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.) While there were entirely too many moments of note to try and summarize, from the United States’s announcement that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines (3rd Review Conference) to the continued confirmations from the host country of its desire to be mine-free by the end of the year (3rd Review Conference), there were four items that particularly stood out for me despite only observing the Conference from a distance of more than 8,000 miles away. These items include challenges from deminers, a defense of the use of landmines, and the continuing challenge of survivor assistance.

“Doing the Math on Clearance Rates”
Co-founder of the HALO Trust and current president of HALO-USA, Guy Willoughby, addressed the Conference’s attendees on Day 3 (The HALO Trust). With over 25 years of experience in humanitarian demining and over 7,000 employees employed in 17 countries clearing landmines, Mr. Willoughby challenged the attendees to “aspire to making landmines history” and reminded states that they had agreed to a ten-year deadline to clear all landmines. The HALO Trust’s forecasting shows that with modest increases in donor funding, all landmines could be cleared from Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Cambodia, Colombia, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Somalia and Zimbabwe by 2025. But, if mine action contributions decline, “Angola will take 28 more years to clear instead of ten… and Zimbabwe 48 more years.” Those delays would mean “thousands more human and livestock casualties, thousands of hectares left uncultivated.” The HALO Trust is widely respected within the mine action community and Mr. Willoughby’s intervention generated the momentum needed for the participants to agree upon 2025 as the goal for a landmine-free world.

“Persistent Failure”
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) presented a report during a side event on June 26th which assessed the scope of the landmine clearance challenge that remained. NPA listed 40 countries, 24 of whom are party to the Mine Ban Treaty and 16 which are not, that are fully capable of clearing all known minefields by 2019. However, NPA’s report stated that “the primary obstacle to effective and efficient clearance of mined areas is not funding per se, as is sometimes alleged, much less the weather or difficult terrain, but lack of political will to get the job done. In particular, when we look at the Article 5 waifs and strays, such as Chad, Senegal, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (discussed below), it is has been lack of political will that is the major cause of persistent failure to implement Article 5, not the availability or otherwise of adequate funding.” The report goes further to critique the United Nations’ role in mine action saying the UN’s focus on capacity building of mine action centers was “a strategic mistake” with “petty squabbles about ‘who gets the overhead’ between UNDP, UNMAS, and UNOPS.” A better role for the UN would have been “to focus on generating political will at the higher levels of government, creating an enabling environment for mine action.” A further critique of the UN agencies was the fact that they “never sought to gather basic mine action data about contamination, progress in clearance, and victims.” The data problems are evident as mine action operators and mine action centers “are unable to disaggregate land release into cancelation of mined areas by non-technical survey, release by technical survey, or release by clearance, or even to distinguish battle area clearance from mine clearance.”

NPA’s report then lists the criteria for an effective mine action program that is fully able to address any existing landmine contamination. In NPA’s assessment: “The best performing mine action program in 2013 among 30 affected States Parties was Algeria, followed by Mauritania and Cambodia. The most improved mine action program in 2013 was Zimbabwe. The least performing mine action program in 2013 was Chad, slightly below Turkey and then, equally, Ethiopia, Senegal, and South Sudan.”

I love, love, love both of these interventions. The HALO Trust and NPA have decades of on-the-ground experience in landmine clearance and have born witness to what countries are capable of when those countries have the political will to act. Guy Willoughby challenged the donor community to step up and commit the necessary resources to deliver a landmine-free world and NPA called out those countries who have been negligent in their obligations. NPA’s report reflects what I have heard many people say in private conversations and I’m so happy to see them come out and say it out loud. Long overdue. On the flip side, here are the two things that I did not like so much:

“Harmonizing Military Necessity with Humanitarian Concerns”
I do not envy the Indian and Chinese delegations at the Maputo Conference which participated as observers since neither country has signed or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty. The Indian delegation stated that the Mine Ban Treaty was unnecessary as “the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons provides the appropriate legal framework for harmonizing military necessity with humanitarian concerns” and defended the need for anti-personnel landmines as part of “the legitimate defence requirements of States, particularly those with long borders.” Despite its support for “a world free of the threat of landmines,” India’s “national security concerns oblige us currently to stay out of the Convention” (3rd Review Conference).

The Chinese delegation admitted to keeping “a very limited number” of anti-personnel landmines in its stockpile “for defence purpose.” These mines are compliant with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons but absolutely banned by the Mine Ban Treaty. Also, in a challenge to the Mine Ban Treaty’s Article 5 which obligates States to clear known minefields within their territory, China advocated for “the principle of ‘user to clear’” to “accelerate the elimination of the landmine scourge.” The “user to clear” principle would relieve States of any obligation to protect their own citizens from landmines (3rd Review Conference).

By defending the use of landmines and reiterating their “legitimate” use, India and China continue to provide cover to states like Egypt, Morocco and Israel which remain outside the Mine Ban Treaty. As the Special Envoy for the Universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty said, the decision to ban landmines is not a military one, it is a humanitarian one. There is no balance between military utility and humanitarian costs when it comes to anti-personnel landmines; the humanitarian costs so far outweigh any possible military utility as to render the mines mere “weapons of cowards” as Pope Francis described them.

The “user to clear” principle is just wrong and let me offer two examples to show why.  1) In Zimbabwe there are over 1 million landmines that were laid by the Rhodesian government in the 1970s.  Rhodesia has not existed since 1980 so who would be responsible for clearing its landmines if “user to clear” were the rule?  2) In current conflicts, most landmine users are rebel groups, not governments.  Who would be responsible for clearing rebel-laid mines under “user to clear”?

“The Solemn Promise to Mine Victims”
In the Maputo Action Plan, the States Parties recommitted themselves to the “full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society.” The Plan then goes on to say that each State Party with landmine victims “in areas under its jurisdiction or control… will do its utmost to assess the needs of mine victims… [and] will do its utmost to communicate to the States Parties… by April 30, 2015, time-bound and measurable objectives it seeks to achieve… that will contribute to the full, equal and effective participation of mine victims in society” (emphasis added) (Maputo Action Plan). Why, oh why, have States Parties not already conducted these needs assessments and why couldn’t States Parties come to Maputo prepared to discuss their objectives and activities to respond to these needs? Why will States Parties only do their “utmost” to meet these commitments? Why not have the commitments be binding? Because the commitments are not binding – a State can always say that it tried, but could not meet the deadline and still have fulfilled the obligation of the Action Plan – I am afraid that we are kicking the can down the road yet again. If we have made a “solemn promise to mine victims,” why can’t we keep it? How much longer will survivors trust the States when they make pledges that are not adhered to? The Maputo Action Plan says all of the right things, but in the end, there is nothing binding there on survivor assistance and we have once again let down this group that has led the charge for a mine-free world. I wish I was surprised and not just disappointed.

On the whole, the Conference was extremely positive, the Maputo Action Plan can be an aspirational document and hopefully the goal of a mine-free world in 2025 will be achieved. Let’s get to work.

Michael P. Moore
July 9, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica.org