Landmines in Mali, New Use and the ResponsePosted: November 17, 2015
Earlier this month, the States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met for their annual meeting and covered many topics, including anti-vehicle mines or mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) in Convention-speak. Since the early 2000s, a number of groups and countries have advocated for the regulation of anti-vehicle mines for humanitarian reasons, similar to the bans on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. However, some countries continue to insist that anti-vehicle mines have a military utility that outweighs their humanitarian impact. In response to the military utility argument, we present the case of Mali and the impact of anti-vehicle mine contamination.
In January 2012, the Tuareg people of northern Mali rebelled against the government, provoking a coup by military members who were tired of putting down Tuareg rebellions. Intervention by the French army restored civilian rule, but the damage had been done: in the wake of the rebellion and the coup Islamist groups, including Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized control and briefly declared independence. The French army ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to stabilize the region as the Malian government sought peace with the various factions. That peace has not been forthcoming and Northern Mali has seen waves of violence and the MINUSMA mission has been the deadliest in years for peacekeepers.
One of the features of the conflict has been the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Mali had previously not been a mine-affected country – before 2006, no landmine casualties were reported in the country and only 33 casualties were identified between 2006 and 2011 (The Monitor). The January 2012 rebellion introduced significant numbers of landmines to Mali and the Islamists, using mines possibly looted from stores in Libya, began extensive use of anti-vehicle mines. Reports indicate that a common tactic is for Islamists to monitor the peacekeepers’ movements and race ahead of convoys on motorbikes and place landmines immediately in the path of the convoys. Roads that had been clear of mines only the day before would be mined in advance of peacekeepers’ vehicles. The United Nations was slow to provide mine-resistant vehicles to the mission, but now peacekeepers have armored vehicles for protection.
How significant is the landmine problem now in Mali? More than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). The above map shows the extent of known landmine and ERW contamination, but data is also coming from a dedicated effort to track anti-vehicle mine casualties. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) have teamed up to document the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines. From 1999 – 2013, less than 10 casualties from anti-vehicle mines were reported in Mali (GICHD – SIPRI). However, from January to September 2015, 17 anti-vehicle mine incidents have been reported in Mali causing 71 casualties, the second highest number in the world (trailing only Ukraine which reported 73 casualties from 14 events) (GICHD – SIPRI). Prior to the 2012 coup, most of the mine casualties in Mali were from anti-personnel mines or other ERW. Since the coup, nearly all mine casualties have been from anti-vehicle mines.
As the chart above shows, landmine casualties have come in waves. The first was in 2012 after the initial coup and then more waves in January 2013, June – July 2013 and August 2014.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has been a frequent target of landmine attacks. Mali has also been one of the deadliest missions for UN peacekeepers with 68 killed since the start of the mission (United Nations) and at least 109 injured (War is Boring). There were seven attacks on MINUSMA convoys between June and September 2015 alone. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been busy with weekly call-outs to respond to landmines and other explosive remnants of war while also training Mission staff on mine awareness. UNMAS has also provided victim assistance in the form of rehabilitation assistance, mobility devices and socio-economic support for landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities (Report of the UNSG on the situation in Mali, S/2015/732).
According to UNMAS, there were 144 victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war from January 2012 through June 2015 (note: this differs from MINUSMA’s records). Mali’s landmine victims are overwhelmingly male (5 out of every 6 victims are male), but more than half (83 out of 144) are children (see charts above). Also, Mali was the site of the single worst anti-vehicle mine incident in 2015 when a bus struck a mine on the way to the weekly market in Gao in April killing four people and injuring another 28 (Global Post). The bus and the civilians riding in the bus had been deliberately targeted by two men who had planted the mine in the road and then fled the scene by motorcycle.
A significant majority of the landmine victims in Mali over the last three years have been non-combatants and civilians. Of military personnel killed by landmines, many have been United Nations peacekeepers and not active combatants. Prior to 2006, no landmine victims were known in Mali and in a single incident in April of this year, almost as many people were killed or injured by an anti-vehicle mine (32) as had been killed or injured by mines and ERW in the years 2006 to 2011 (33) and of those, less than 10 had been victims of anti-vehicle mines. Anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured 71 people in 17 events the first nine months of 2015. In October 2015, four more incidents resulted in at least three more persons killed and five injured (Press TV, Agence France Presse, Reuters).
Landmines and especially anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured Malians far out of proportion to any military utility. Market routes have been disrupted and humanitarian aid has been stalled due to unsafe roads in northern Mali. Anti-vehicle mines are inhumane weapons and should be banned just as anti-personnel mines are. Had anti-vehicle mines been banned, the suffering in Mali might have been lessened considerably.
Michael P. Moore
November 17, 2015
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org