The Month in Mines, June 2014Posted: July 16, 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.”
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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 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).
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).
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).
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