One Step Closer…

Yesterday the Obama Administration announced another change in the United States’s landmine policy (Washington Post).  This change, which bans most uses of anti-personnel landmines by the US, builds upon previous policy announcements while specifically carving out an exception for use on the Korean Peninsula to defend South Korea from a North Korean invasion.

In his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative where he discussed the policy change, Obama also quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  In the history of the US effort to ban landmines, that arc is very long, more than two decades and counting and spanning four presidencies.  Yesterday’s announcement was another small step towards a complete ban on landmines.  To quickly cover that history, here’s a summary of the steps to date:

 

1992 – George H.W. Bush bans export of anti-personnel landmines (legislation written by Sen. Patrick Leahy)

1994 – Bill Clinton calls for the eventual elimination of anti-personnel landmines (address to the United Nations General Assembly)

1996 – Bill Clinton bans use on non-detectable (“low-metal” or plastic) anti-personnel landmines (Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons)

2004 – George W. Bush bans use of all persistent (“dumb”) landmines, anti-personnel and anti-vehicle (published US Landmine Policy)

June 2014 – Barack Obama ends all procurement and production of anti-personnel landmines (announcement at Maputo Review Conference)

September 2014 – Barack Obama bans all use of anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula, pledges to destroy all mines not needed for the defense of South Korea (White House announcement)

 

At this point, the US could now be fully compliant with the Mine Ban Treaty except for the Korean reservation.  Until that reservation is removed, the US cannot achieve the stated goal of accession to the Mine Ban Treaty.  One more step, Mr. Obama.  The world is waiting.

Michael P. Moore

September 24, 2014

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Arab Spring and the need to ban landmines

The use of landmines by armed groups since the start of the Arab Spring is alarming.  In 2010, only one government in the world, Myanmar, used landmines and armed groups in six countries used mines, only one of which, Yemen, was affected by the Arab Spring (The Monitor).  Over the course of the last three years, we have seen the governments of Yemen, Syria and Libya use anti-personnel landmines against their own citizenry (Yemen is a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, Syria and Libya are not) and Israel placed new mines along its border with Syria (Israel is also not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty).  Armed groups in Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria have all been accused (with varying levels of evidence) of using landmines as well.

Armies and soldiers, whether the formal armed forces of a recognized government or the members of militias and rebel groups aligned against a government, use the weapons at hand to fight.  Clausewitzian notions aside, once an armed group engages in a fight, it will use the tactics and tools available to conduct that fight until it defeats its opponent or is defeated.  Despite the norms of international humanitarian law, many armed groups will use whatever tactics they think will help them win, e.g., child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, human shields and indiscriminate weapons, or to finance their wars, including conflict minerals, kidnapping for ransom and drug smuggling.  We may believe that we live in a world of decency and humanity, but all too often: once the shooting starts, the rulebook becomes irrelevant.

National armies and rebel groups used landmines because they were available to them.  The failure of states to join the Mine Ban Treaty (Israel, Libya and Syria) and the failure of States Parties to completely destroy their stockpiles (Yemen) meant that the armies of those countries could still use landmines.  Had these countries joined the Treaty and destroyed their stockpiles, the over 500 landmine casualties reported in Yemen and Libya in the last couple of years would have been prevented.  In Syria the number of casualties from new mine usage is unknown but more than 50; no casualties from new mine usage have been reported in Israel.

Among rebel groups, the use of landmines has spread across the Sahel and the Middle East.  Adopting asymmetrical warfare tactics, rebels are using mines, both factory made and homemade, to terrorize local populations, close roads to military and humanitarian traffic, and defend hideouts.  Many of the factory-made mines were looted from Libyan stockpiles in 2011, which, if Libya had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and destroyed its stockpiles, would not have existed.  As for the homemade mines, those might have escaped regulation by the Mine Ban Treaty but their indiscriminate use, especially the victim-activated booby traps, constitute war crimes.  And thanks to the efforts of Geneva Call and its Deed of Commitment, non-state actors can agree not to use anti-personnel landmines (or booby traps that operate like mines).

In August, circumstances in two countries showed that conflicts need not be accompanied by landmines. Oman became the latest country to ban landmines by acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty and two rebel groups from the Darfur region of Sudan signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment.  Oman did not escape the turmoil of Arab Spring, but through a combination of social spending and government reforms (and the violence that accompanied Arab Spring and its responses elsewhere), the protests and responses did not become violent (The National).  By banning landmines, Oman ensures that any potential conflict in the future will not be marked by the use of these indiscriminate weapons.  The conflict in Darfur has lasted more than a decade and both of the rebel groups that signed the Deed of Commitment have been involved in the fight since the beginning. However, despite the years of conflict, Darfur has largely avoided the scourge of landmines thanks to the fact that Sudan has signed the Mine Ban Treaty and now all of the rebel groups active there have signed the Deed of Commitment (Geneva Call).  The fight continues and may do so for some time, but it will continue without landmines.

Michael P. Moore

September 9, 2014

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Month in Mines, August 2014

Do you take your vacation in August?  I sure wish landmines would.  But they don’t.  They don’t ever take vacations or mercy.

 

Somalia

In the breakaway region of Puntland, the former chief of police was killed when he drove over a landmine (All Africa).  In Mogadishu a crew of women cleaning the streets as part of a city beautification project detonated a landmine that may or may not have been deliberately placed in the trash.  Three women were killed and another eight were seriously injured (All Africa).  In the Lower Shabelle region, an AMISOM vehicle struck a mine in the roadway with at least peacekeeper killed and several wounded (All Africa).  A five year-old was killed and his two friends injured by a landmine that they thought was a toy (Radio Goobjoog).  An International Committee of the Red Cross vehicle drove over a mine in Kismayo, but no casualties were reported (Radio GoobJoog).  Also in Mogadishu a massive firefight broke out when AMISOM forces and local police and military tried to disarm a local militia leader who possessed a massive stockpile of weaponry including landmines.  At least five people, some innocent bystanders, were killed in the operation (All Africa).

 

Tunisia

Tunisian soldiers tracking Islamist fighters in the Kasserine area along the Algerian border set off landmines in separate incidents.  No casualties were reported from the first blast, but two soldiers were injured in the second.  Additional landmines were discovered during the operations (All Africa; Middle East Eye).  In response to the frequent landmine blasts and casualties suffered by Tunisian forces, the United States government provided a military aid package that included equipment to detect mines and improvised explosive devices (All Africal).

 

Mali

French and United Nations peacekeepers and relief workers in northern Mali have been subject to multiple landmine attacks as Islamist fighters, routed by the French forces, have turned to mining the roads around the cities of Kidal and Gao.  Peace talks between the parties had been planned for August, but those talks continue without resolution to date (All Africa; Voice of America). Several peacekeepers were injured, three severely, by a mine in the roadway near Aguelhok (Global Post).

 

South Sudan

The fight between Salva Kiir’s government in South Sudan and rebels led by his former vice president Riek Machar continues.  Neither side has adhered to a Cessation of Hostilities agreement and peace talks amount to farcical opportunities for the negotiators to collect per diems.  This month, the rebels accused the government of placing anti-personnel landmines along routes used by refugees trying to flee to Sudan.  Should this be true, South Sudan would be in violation of the Mine Ban Treaty.  The government of South Sudan responded by saying that the rebels were restricting access to deliveries of humanitarian aid to persons displaced by the conflict.  The government also reported that all stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines had been destroyed.  The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), already viewed dubiously by Salva Kiir and his allies was mentioned by the rebels as a witness to the landmine usage to which a government spokesperson demanded that if UNMISS had evidence of landmine use, UNMISS should present it (All Africa; Radio Tamazuj).  The whole situation is tragic because hundreds of thousands of innocent lives are threatened by violence and hunger whilst Salva Kiir and Riek Machar continue to fiddle as Rome burns around them.

 

Sudan

The last two major rebel movements from Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement – Abdel Wahid El Nur (SLM-AW) and the Sudan Liberation Movement – Minni Arko Minawi (SLM-MM), both named for their leaders, signed the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment pledging not to use anti-personnel landmines.  With their signatures, all parties to the conflicts in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan should no longer employ anti-personnel landmines.  Darfur is littered with explosive remnants of war, possibly including mines, and the rebel leaders called on civilians to report any mines they might find (All Africa).

 

Angola

To prepare for the construction of some 40 industrial plants in Bie Province with an investment value of US $25 million, Angolan deminers cleared over a thousand acres of land.  The project will serve as the core of a larger development in the area (All Africa).  In Cunene Province, demining work focuses on clearing the roads between Chiulo and Manquete to allow the free flow of goods and people (All Africa).  In total, 70% of the Angolan countryside has been demined to date (All Africa).

Angolan deminers received training from the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (All Africa) and are making plans for providing demining services to other countries, should it be requested (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

Rumors continue to fly about the presence of landmines in and around areas controlled by Boko Haram.  The most recent report is from the town of Banki in Borno State near the border with Cameroon where residents have run out of food and no aid can be delivered due to the fear of mines in the roads (All Africa).

 

Western Sahara

Development + Cooperation published an extensive article on the landmine issue in Western Sahara and the difficulties faced by persons with disabilities in the refugee camps in Algeria.  The article notes that while 352,000 square meters of land has been cleared, some 7 million landmines remain along the berm built by the Moroccan army and 1,400 persons have been killed or injured by landmines.  Of those, some 450 have undergone amputations and thanks to the prosthetic center run in the camps, amputees have their choice of olive, brown or grey for the color of their artificial leg.

In addition to the physically disabled, the article described the plight of persons with developmental disabilities: “’Years ago, when the Sahrawis were still nomadic, disabled people were tethered in tents all day long, for their entire lives. And if the tent happened to catch on fire, no one tried to save them,’ Castro [founder of the only school for persons with developmental disabilities located in a refugee camp] recalls. ‘Even relatively recently, intellectually disabled children spent their days tied in tents and were only let out at night on a leash because their families were ashamed of them’” (Development + Cooperation).

Also in August, a young man was killed by a landmine in Madalchiat, about 50 kilometers east of the coastal city of Boujdour (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

In addition to rampant poaching from Mozambique and Zambia, Zimbabwe’s national parks are rife with landmines.  Many of the parks are along the Mozambican border where Rhodesian forces laid minefields in the 1970s and three specific parks, Victoria Falls National Park, Zambezi National Part and Gonarezhou National Park are affected.  The presence of landmines reduces the parks’ viability as tourist destinations (News Day).

 

Kenya

Two landmines probably left over from World War II were found by herders in Wajir County in northeastern Kenya.  The herders informed security forces who quickly disposed of the mines.  Residents reported many injuries from similar mines and called for the government to survey and clear the area (Citizen News).

 

Senegal

After the African Leaders’ Summit in Washington, DC, Senegal’s President Macky Sall made a side trip to visit Vermont. No, he wasn’t there to stock up on maple syrup (but I’m sure he could have picked up a bottle or two), instead he was seeking to expand the relationship between Senegal’s military and the Vermont National Guard.  Since 2008, the Vermont National Guard has been providing military training and support to Senegal including landmine detection expertise.  A spokesman for the Guard noted Senegal’s participation in peacekeeping missions across Africa but failed to note Senegal’s own landmine contamination (Burlington Free Press).  That contamination, resulting from the decades-long independence fight in the Casamance region, was highlighted when a wedding party struck a mine, killing seven and injuring three.  Despite ongoing peace talks over the conflict, neither the government nor the rebels have made a strong enough commitment to clear the mines that are present (Jollof News).

 

United States

In advance of the expected publication of the State Department’s annual report, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the Department has published a number of blog posts about its support for landmine clearance and conventional weapons destruction. Key takeaways from the series include the fact that the United States has supported landmine clearance in 31 African countries and helped Burundi, Nigeria and Uganda to become mine-free with the expectation that Mozambique will do so in 2015.  Current funding supports landmine clearance in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe (All Africa).  Individual posts focused on work in the Sahel, Angola, South Sudan, Somalia and the Mozambique – Zimbabwe border.

Michael P. Moore

September 4, 2014

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org