The Month in Mines, December 2012, by Landmines in Africa

The global story in December, as it usually is this time of year, was the annual Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and the concurrent release of the 2012 Landmine Monitor report.  These two events always spark a lot of discussion and present the opportunity for states and civil society to discuss issues related to mine action.  The narrative for this year’s report and meeting in Geneva was one of continued progress towards the goal of a mine-free world.  Six countries declared themselves to be free of landmines; casualty figures are a fraction of what they were a decade ago; only one country used landmines and the amount of money committed to mine action was the highest ever recorded.  The good news was tempered by the fact that several countries saw in increase in the number of landmine victims (and in fact the total number of victims increased for the second year in a row) and funding for victim assistance, already a pittance in terms of mine action funding, fell by 30% from the previous year.  During the meeting, Poland announced its accession to the Treaty bringing the total number of States Parties to 161 while the United States continued its practice under the Obama Administration of participating in the meetings as a non-state party (IRIN News; The Landmine Monitor; Agence France Presse; Tuoitre News).

In individual countries, there was the usual mix of positive and negative progress, running the full gamut from Angola to Zimbabwe.  Many stories were tied to the Meeting of States Parties while others showed that events in Geneva often have little bearing on what happens elsewhere.  Ongoing conflicts in Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to create new landmine victims, while long-standing problems in places like Zimbabwe remain a threat.



Angola applied for and received a five-year extension to complete its demining obligations from the Meeting of States Parties.  This extension will provide enough time for Angola to determine the extent of landmine contamination in the country and prepare and submit a comprehensive extension request to complete the demining activities.  Angola’s representatives at the Meeting in Geneva declared that “anti-personnel landmines continue to be violators of the basic political, civil, cultural and socio-economic development of” Angola (All Africa; All Africa).

Back in Angola, the national institute of demining continued to provide mine risk education to peoples living in mine-affected regions of the country (All Africa), a task made more urgent by the discovery and identification of nine, not-previously-known, minefields in Bié Province by the HALO Trust (All Africa). In Huambo Province, 1.3 million square meters of land were cleared of landmines and in Malanje Province, two land reserves were cleared to make room for two planned cities (All Africa; All Africa).  In both provinces clearance was undertaken to “ensure the free movement of people and goods” as part of larger development programs by the country.



On the last day of the Meeting of States Parties, December 7, “a country representative unexpectedly announced [Gambia’s] mine-free status to the gathering” (Agence France Presse).  Gambia had been suspected of landmine contamination after several incidents over the years in which loggers moving between Gambia and the neighboring Senegalese region of Casamance had been injured by landmines.  Gambia’s announcement at the meeting of States Parties refuted this suspicion, saying that all such injuries had occurred within Casamance and not in Gambia itself.  The announcement however closely followed an incident in which three Gambians were killed and another injured on Sunday, December 2 by a landmine when they were traveling in Casamance whilst logging (All Africa).  So the announcement of mine-free status while welcome, merely overshadowed much worse news for Gambia and landmines.



Also related to the Casamance region, 44 villages were declared mine-free thanks to funding provided by the Italian government.  More than 100 villages, long-since abandoned, still need to be cleared of mines and a new contractor has taken over from Handicap International to continue the work (All Africa).



Zimbabwe also applied for and received an extension to complete its Treaty-mandated demining obligations at the Meeting of States Parties (Touitre News).  Like Angola, Zimbabwe was requesting additional time to determine the scope of the problem and submit a follow-up request once the needs were identified; unlike Angola, this was Zimbabwe’s third such request and was required because Zimbabwe has made very little progress over the last dozen years towards achieving mine-free status.  Zimbabwe, like much of southern Africa, is in the midst of a terrible drought and being more dependent on subsistence agriculture than its neighboring states, the people of Zimbabwe are engaging in more and more risky behavior.  Reports suggest that Zimbabwean ranchers are grazing cattle in mine-infested regions along the border with Mozambique resulting in dozens of cows being killed as they trigger landmines (All Africa).



Al Shabaab, while in definite decline in Somalia, continues to use landmines and improvised explosive devices to attack Somali and African Union targets.  A landmine exploded under a car carrying the Somali Ministers of Justice, Defense and Interior and the Chief of Police.  After the blast, Al Shabaab fighter opened fire on the car and its security detail, resulting in several injuries to the security detail’s members (Global Post).  In its retreat from central Somalia, Al Shabaab has also strengthened its presence in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.  In separate attacks on Puntland soldiers near Sugurre town, Al Shabaab fighters killed two soldiers in a firefight and 10 soldiers with a landmine (All Africa).

In the same week as the attack on Somali ministers, Somalia participated in the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty as a full member, being the 160th country to ratify or accede to the Treaty.  Somalia’s participation offered an opportunity to highlight the work being done by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in the country.  As the lead mine action operator in Somalia, UNMAS oversees demining and mine risk education while also funding “an emergency team of a dozen Somali medics who… provide emergency support [and] have treated 5,381 trauma victims, including more than 4,000 gunshot wounds, 50 UXO accident survivors, 965 shell injuries and 342 improvised explosive device (IED) victims since February 2010” (UNOPS).


Democratic Republic of Congo

The M23 rebels and fighting around Goma has received the lion’s share of headlines related to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that is not the only active conflict in the eastern part of DRC.  Near the border with South Sudan (in the Orientale Province rather than the Kivus where Goma is located), “unrelated” fighting has driven almost 20,000 refugees into South Sudan, 4,000 in December.  The rebels involved are unnamed, but Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has been active in this region as well as several rebel groups fighting against the government of the Central African Republic.  Unfortunately, safe locations for refugee camps are at a premium in this part of South Sudan as there are known minefields in the area.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees will transfer the DRC refugees to safer locations once they are identified (All Africa).



With the announcement that the Mozambican Province of Gaza has been completely cleared of landmines, only 23 districts remain to be cleared of landmines in advance of the March 2014 deadline for demining.  Mabalane, the most heavily mined district in Gaza Province, was cleared by the Belgian NGO APOPO which uses specially trained rats to find mines; in Mabalane those rats found 3,000 such mines along the rail-line connecting Mozambique and Zimbabwe which were cleared in advance of the deadline for clearance set by Mozambique’s National Demining Institute (All Africa).  Mozambique believes it will make the 2014 deadline and has offered to host the 2014 review conference of the Mine Ban Treaty  as a demonstration of its belief.  Considering the fact that Mozambique was once considered one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, this would be an impressive achievement and hosting of review conference would give Mozambique ample opportunity to show off and be an example for others (Touitre News).



Uganda declared itself to be mine-free having completed its demining tasks four months after the August 1, 2012 deadline for doing so had passed.  Recognizing that clearing anti-personnel landmines is only part of the necessary exercise, Uganda is making plans for clearing other explosive remnants of war over the next three years.  Now the next phase begins in earnest where the country looks to rehabilitate and reintegrate the survivors of landmines and to that end, the government of Uganda has pledged to compensate all landmine survivors and provide the necessary services for their recovery.  To date, 2,000 individuals have been identified, but the announcement is likely to locate additional survivors.  The State Minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru announced that Uganda is drafting a Victim Assistance Intervention law between the Office of the Prime Minister and the gender ministry.  Already the country has been providing prosthetic limbs to victims of the Lords Resistance Army in the northern district of Lamwo and in the near future a psycho-social counseling program will be established with Handicap International (All Africa).


South Sudan

Political Map of South Sudan

Political Map of South Sudan

The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has been active in refugee camps in South Sudan to ensure their safety from landmines and other explosive remnants of war.  In Unity State, DDG provided mine risk education to 800 individuals, cleared a minefield on the grounds of a Catholic church and declared a suspected minefield to be free of landmines (Reuters AlertNet). The refugee camps served by DDG are home to Sudanese and South Sudanese people fleeing the conflicts around the border between the two Sudans.  The threat to civilians and refugees from the conflict is very real, with reports from Human Rights Watch about bombs being dropped on or near refugee camps by the Sudanese Air Force (HRW).  For refugees crossing the border, active minefields lurk and at least four people were killed by a landmine in the contested “Mile 14 territory” in Northern Bahr El Ghazal State (All Africa).

While Sudan has been labeled as an aggressor by Human Rights Watch, Khartoum has also accused South Sudan of attacks.  A spokesman for the Sudan Armed Forces denied the bombings described by HRW and said South Sudan’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) “is now planting landmines trying to stop the tribesmen and animals to go for drinking water at the river Bahr al Arab.”  Of course the SPLA denied the accusation, but the fact remains that minefields are present in the area described, whoever placed them there (All Africa).


South Africa

While not affected by landmines, South Africa has a long legacy as a producer and exporter of landmines and some December stories show how far the country has come from its past.  Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius, who was born with a defect that led to the amputation of both legs below the knee, has promised to “be involved in landmine victims relief work in Africa. I would like to work like this in the coming years” when he retires from competition (The Peninsula).  Also, UNMAS singled out South Africa’s Mechem, a quasi-governmental organization that engages in landmine clearance, for praise for its work in and around Goma in DRC in the wake of the M23 rebellion.  Mechem is contracted by the United Nations to provide mine action support to the mission in the Congo while also providing mine risk education to local communities.  Mechem is the only African-headquartered organization accredited by the United Nations for mine clearance (Defence Web).


United Kingdom

Sir Bobby Charlton’s Charity, Find a Better Way, and researchers at Furness College in Cumbria announced the development of a prototype device that “can identify landmines via their unique acoustic signature, making detection far easier and saving a lot of time.”  The next step will be to create a probe that can be used either by hand or by remote-controlled robot for field testing (Northwest Evening Mail).


Lastly, let me be among those wishing the cast and crew of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” a most-welcome goodbye.  Thanks to their antics every Twitter and Google search for the term “landmine” returns many useless hits of misogyny and sexism and ensured that many Americans no longer associate landmines with conflict but with clubbing.  Please don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


Michael P. Moore

January 4, 2013

Africa at the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty

On December 3rd to 7th, the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty met in Geneva as part of the regular meetings required by the Treaty.  The Meeting, the 12th Meeting of States Parties (12MSP) was chaired by Slovenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Matjaž Kovačič.  As in previous years, Africa was well-represented at the meeting and many agenda items addressed mine action issues on the continent.

Thirty-three African states sent representatives to the Meeting; 30 States Parties (Algeria, Angola, Benin, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Cote d”Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gamia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and three non-States Parties (Egypt, Libya and Morocco).  Of mine-affected countries in Africa, only Mali failed to send a representative (possibly due to the current political crisis there).  The two mine-affected regions of Somaliland and Western Sahara are not able to send official representatives as they are not states as recognized by the United Nations.

In addition to sending country delegations, Algeria and Zambia were elected as Vice-Presidents of the Meeting.  Zambia co-chaired the Standing Committee on Mine Clearance and presented a report, with Indonesia, on a “Proposed rational response to States Parties discovering previously unknown mined areas after deadlines have passed.”  In recent years, the concern has arisen that a country may, after declaring itself mine-free by virtue of never having been mined or having cleared all minefields, discover newly laid landmines or a previously unidentified minefield.  In response to the Report, the States Parties at the 12MSP committed to immediately inform all States Parties should a country discovered a newly mined or previously unknown mined area and demine and destroy all landmines as soon as possible.  If the mine clearance cannot be completed before the next annual meeting of the States Parties, then the country with the mined area will submit to the States Parties a proposal for demining, using the Article 5 deadline extension process.

Algeria had stepped forward as a candidate to preside over the 13th Meeting of States Parties to be held in Geneva in December 2013, as Slovenia had done for the 12MSP, but another state also submitted its candidacy and so a decision will be made in February 2013 to confirm the Presidency of the 13th Meeting.

Angola and Zimbabwe submitted Article 5 Extension requests to allow more time to complete the demining process as required by the Mine Ban Treaty.  According to the Treaty, States Parties must complete demining within ten years of the Treaty entering into force for the country, so any extension to that deadline is subject to review by the other States Parties.  Angola’s request for a five-year extension, until January 1, 2018 was approved by the Meeting despite “a number a substantive concerns.”  One of those concerns is the fact that after 10 years and a tremendous amount of human, technical and financial resources made available by domestic and international mine action operators, Angola is still not able to identify the scope and scale of minefields that still remain to be cleared.  Also, the extension request submitted was only meant to afford enough time for Angola to make that determination; at which time a second extension request with a detailed plan for the completion of all demining activities will be submitted.  The Meeting asked Angola to provide frequent reports on progress and take advantage of all resources and techniques at its disposal.

Zimbabwe’s extension request is actually its third submitted to date and while Zimbabwe has not fulfilled promises made in earlier extension requests, the Meeting approved the extension request. Zimbabwe is still unable to determine the true extent of its landmine contamination and while it has been subject to international sanctions that preventing international mine action support, those sanctions did not relieve Zimbabwe of its Treaty obligations.  The States Parties, in approving the request to allow Zimbabwe more time to determine the extent of demining required, make note of the fact that the sanctions have been lifted for the most part and that Zimbabwe has been making rapid progress with the help of several international NGOs to increase its technical and human capacity for demining.

(It’s here that I must interject an earlier question of mine: what would happen if the Meeting rejected an extension request?  Shouldn’t the Meeting reject requests that merit rejection either on the basis of being unreasonably optimistic or lacking the necessary detail to make an informed decision?  Wouldn’t that make the extension process more accountable?  The Meeting considered a report on improving the Article 5 Extension process, but in reading the report, I get the feeling that the report and its recommendations are about the request process and do not really allow the States Parties to reject a request.  The recommendations will make the process smoother and should improve the quality of requests, but, in the case of a Zimbabwe which has utterly failed to meet its obligations under previous extensions or the Republic of Congo which submitted a hastily written request late, why not reject the request and force the country to properly and completely address the demining challenge in a revised request while holding the State in violation of the Treaty?)

At the 12MSP, four African countries were able to declare themselves as mine-free.  Gambia submitted a formal report declaring mine-free status by virtue of never having landmines laid in its territory.  Some Gambians are landmine victims however, because they travel to and from the adjacent Casamance region of Senegal which is heavily contaminated by landmines.  As such, Gambia still has an obligation to provide care and services to landmine victims despite never being mined.  Guinea-Bissau, despite a coup in April 2012, was able to declare itself mine-free having cleared the final minefields in January 2012.  Guinea-Bissau’s original clearance deadline had been November 2011, but the country had requested and received a brief extension to complete the planned demining tasks.  The Republic of Congo had long had suspected landmine contamination, especially around the Cabinda enclave of Angola which is bordered on three sides by Congolese territory.  In 2011, Congo hastily requested an extension to enable it to survey the suspected hazardous areas and in 2012, Norwegian People’s Aid conducted non-technical surveys and, having found no landmines, declared the country mine-free.  Uganda also declared itself mine-free but acknowledged the fact that it was not able to complete its demining by the extended deadline of August 1, 2012.  Demining activities only concluded on November 28, 2012, a mere five days before the start of the 12MSP.  Uganda communicated the fact that additional time (three months, but it actually took four) would be needed hopefully this is a one-time only exception granted to Uganda and no other State will be allowed to take a similar extension without submitting a formal request.

Lastly, in 2014 the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty will hold their Third Review Conference.  Mozambique has offered to host and preside over the Conference, nine or so months after its demining deadline of March 1, 2014.   This suggests that Mozambique, once one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, will be free of landmines in less than two years, since they would not want to host the meeting if clearance obligations had not been met.

<All information from the Unofficial Report of the 12MSP; AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf>

Wishing you a safe and happy New Year,

Michael P. Moore

December 21, 2012

Zimbabwe’s Third Request for an Extension of the Demining Deadline

Zimbabwe’s Third Request for an Extension of the Demining Deadline

I think Zimbabwe may be setting some unwelcome record: on March 31, 2012 Zimbabwe submitted its third request for an extension of its deadline to completed clearance of all anti-personnel landmines as required by the Mine Ban Treaty and acknowledges that a fourth will be forthcoming (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  Zimbabwe’s original deadline for mine clearance was March 1, 2009, reflecting the fact that Zimbabwe was one of the original States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  Zimbabwe submitted its first request in 2008, obtaining a 22-month extension until January 1, 2011.  The request submitted in 2008 was intended to allow Zimbabwe to complete survey work to determine the extent of landmine contamination in the country and develop a comprehensive work plan that would serve as the basis for a second extension request.  Due to a variety of factors but mostly because Zimbabwe became politically isolated in the wake of the 2008 presidential elections and the violence that followed (the third request uses the phrase “illegal sanctions” four times), Zimbabwe was unable to complete the survey work proposed in the first request and so submitted in 2010 a second request for an additional 24 months to complete the survey activities and workplan drafting proposed in the first request.  That extension, approved in 2010, will expire on January 1, 2013 (AP Mine Ban Convention).

The third extension builds on the second, but essentially admits that the objectives of the second extension will not be met by the deadline so additional time is needed.  All three extensions submitted to date have had the same objectives: complete an analysis of the extent of landmine contamination and develop a comprehensive work plan to address the contamination.  There has been some progress made in each of the extension periods, but Zimbabwe is asking the States Parties to approve another extension, the third, while knowing that at least one more will be coming soon after.  Is there any hope that the objectives of this third request will be met?  Yes, but let’s be careful out there.


Why the 3rd extension request should be approved

First, the political situation in Zimbabwe appears to be thawing.  Despite the continued threat of another term as president from Robert Mugabe, the European Union and several European governments have lifted most of their sanctions against all but the highest-ranking individuals in Zimbabwean regime (BBC News).  The thaw is not universal, nor is it apolitical.  A rival to Mugabe recently died under questionable circumstances and non-government organizations allied to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been banned in advance of expected elections (IRIN News).  However, the trend in general seems to be positive. Also, the Wikileaks reports that Mugabe is dying of prostate cancer seem to have spurred more discussions in Zimbabwe about succession than any election has done (BBC News).

Second, three international mine action operators have begun collaborating with the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC).  The HALO Trust and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) will conduct demining activities along the country’s borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will provide training and new equipment to ZIMAC and the army’s demining teams to ensure that the national demining teams are fully capable of the tasks they will be asked to perform.  This is the first time in more than a decade that international mine action operators have been active in Zimbabwe; most left the country after the land seizures in 2000 by the “war veterans,” loyalists to Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF.  Because of the thaw and the lifting of sanctions, these operators can work and import equipment into Zimbabwe, so as long as no new sanctions are imposed on the country, the involvement of international operators can continue which should greatly increase the demining progress.

Third, the quality of information has improved.  I would be negligent and wrong to suggest that no survey has been conducted over the last several years, through the course of the first two extension periods.  In fact, ZIMAC and other domestic deminers have cleared much land and been able to survey some mine-affected areas.  This information, combined with information from the HALO Trust’s survey of the Mozambique-Zimbabwe border from the Mozambican side, has improved the knowledge of landmine contamination in the country.  With a further push and the final surveys proposed in the third request completed, ZIMAC will have the complete picture and be able to draft the work plan that is needed.

Fourth, the work needs to be done.  Zimbabwe’s economy has been absolutely ruined by the regime’s policies over the last decade and any opportunity for improvement would be welcome.  There have been over 1,500 reported landmine casualties to date in Zimbabwe (The Monitor) and those most affected by landmines are often the poorest in the country.  Landmines contaminate rural areas where subsistence farming is the norm and over 120,000 livestock animals are believed to have been lost due to landmines.  In addition, commercial farming and tourism opportunities (the area around Victoria Falls needed to be demined to open up that natural marvel to tourism) are hindered by landmines. 


Why the 3rd extension request should be rejected

First, we’ve been here before and there is no guarantee we won’t be here again.  This is the third proposal to complete the survey work needed to draft a comprehensive work plan that will be part of a subsequent request.  Yes, progress is being made, but if the anticipated elections in Zimbabwe lead to more violence (as they are expected to), then the international operators will withdraw from the country and all work will halt.  In addition, any delays in the survey work for whatever reason may necessitate another extension before the work plan can be developed.  Also, the activities of the international operators have not been confirmed (the memorandum of understanding with the HALO Trust was signed after the request was submitted and I have not yet seen confirmation of the agreement with the NPA).  Therefore, the ability of Zimbabwe to complete the activities described in the request is not certain.

Second, ZIMAC estimates that $100 million will be required to pay for the work plan once it has been developed and the Government of Zimbabwe has only been able to provide $5 million in funding over the course of the past decade.  Assuming Zimbabwe can continue its current funding level ($800,000 per year) for another decade, $92 million would be required from other sources, specifically international donors, to pay for the complete demining of the country.  We can assume that the work plan will include some plans for fund-raising, but considering the amount and the history of sanctions against Zimbabwe, the absence of any plan or evidence of current fund-raising is worrying.  ZIMAC should be securing these funds now in anticipation of the development of the work plan and be able to demonstrate that some consideration towards fund-raising activities has been made. 

Of course, the proceeds from the Marange diamond mines could be diverted from the ZANU-PF coffers (and presumably the Mugabe family accounts) and used to fund landmine clearance which would solve the money problem.  Just kidding, I know that won’t happen.

Third, Zimbabwe has been a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty since March 1999.  After thirteen years, for the extent of landmine contamination to still remain unknown is simply negligent on the part of the government.  Despite the sanctions and the violence and the poverty and epidemics, the fact that the government did almost nothing in mine action for the decade between 2000 and 2009 does not lend an air of credible commitment to the government’s future efforts.  No State Party should be rewarded or excused for negligence in their Treaty obligations.

Fourth, by approving this extension request, the States Parties will be providing tacit approval of the pending request that includes the work plan.  ZIMAC could have submitted a better work plan for the period that will follow the immediate extension period (they included only the barest of outlines).  That work plan would be recognized as subject to change as facts on the ground became known, but for the areas where landmine contamination is known, a plan could have been presented along with a funding proposal.  Instead, by submitting another two-stage extension request, they have allowed themselves to kick the can down the road and not attempt to address the clearance issues.  A better developed work plan would have allowed the States Parties to make some initial assessments about feasibility and help to developing funding strategies.


What could improve the request in the very near future

First, ZIMAC should obtain letters of commitment from ICRC, the HALO Trust, NPA and any other international mine action partners detailing what those partners will provide to Zimbabwe during the extension period and beyond.  This will allow both ZIMAC and the States Parties to identify any gaps and address those gaps before approving the extension request. 

Second, ZIMAC should secure as much funding as possible for the period after the extension and provide those commitment letters to the States Parties.  Finding the $100 million needed to clear the mine-affected areas will be the toughest part of the work plan and the sooner this process begins, the better.  If the HALO Trust or NPA can secure funding for work in Zimbabwe, that would also count towards the $100 million budget.

Third, recognizing that this is a request for an extension to the demining deadline, more information about mine risk education and victim assistance planning would demonstrate the comprehensiveness of Zimbabwe’s mine action program.  Demining is only one pillar of mine action and the extension request recognizes the need for mine risk education and alludes to the need for victim assistance, especially socio-economic assistance.  Some evaluation of the scale of the problems would help the evaluators to appreciate and contextualize the mine clearance. 

Last, the States Parties need to work to find the necessary resources for Zimbabwe as well.  It’s not enough for the States Parties to just approve the extension request, but the Parties must help ensure that the funds, supplies and training needed by ZIMAC are available.


Michael P. Moore, May 8, 2012