Landmines in Mali, New Use and the Response

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.

Contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of was, as documented by UNMAS

Contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of was, as documented by UNMAS

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.

Victims by Month

Landmine & ERW victims in Mali, by Month, January 2012 – June 2015

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).

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

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



The Inhumane Weapons Convention Takes Another look at Anti-Vehicle Mines

Before the Mine Ban Treaty, there was the Inhumane Weapons Convention (IWC) also known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) or by its full name, the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.  The Mine Ban Treaty is, in fact, the result of the IWC’s failure to adequately address the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel landmines in the IWC’s Amended Protocol II, “Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices As Amended on 3 May 1996.”  Unlike the Mine Ban Treaty, however, the United States, Russia and China are all parties to the IWC and all of its five protocols covering weapons whose fragments are undetectable by X-rays (and therefore difficult, if not impossible to remove surgically), landmines and booby traps, incendiary weapons, blinding lasers, and explosive remnants of war generally.  For activists and campaigners, the IWC has never been strong enough to adequately restrict the behavior of states, hence the Mine Ban Treaty and the later Convention on Cluster Munitions which was a response to inadequacies perceived in IWC’s Protocol V covering explosive remnants of war.

However, the Inhumane Weapons Convention remains an important treaty and in 2011, the Fourth Review Conference of High Contracting Parties called for renewed discussion about restrictions on anti-vehicle mines or “mines other than anti-personnel mines” (MOTAPM) which are covered (in theory) by Protocols II and V.  Anti-vehicle mines were deliberately not covered by the Mine Ban Treaty because consensus at the time held that the military utility of anti-vehicle mines, specifically anti-tank mines, outweighed the potential humanitarian impacts, whilst the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel mines was accepted to be greater than their military utility.  After Protocol V was negotiated in 2002 and 2003, anti-vehicle mines were subject to discussion by the parties to the IWC, but those discussions were suspended in 2006 when it was clear no consensus could be reached by the parties.  The Fourth Review Conference re-started the discussions by calling for a group of experts to discuss the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines and ways to minimize that impact.

The position on anti-vehicle mines appears to be changing.  With fewer states having access to anti-personnel mines through export bans by producers and outright bans by parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, anti-vehicle mines are being used by states and non-state actors and the humanitarian impact of AVMs is becoming clearer.  Put another way, when anti-personnel mines are banned, armies and armed groups will use anti-vehicle mines for the same purposes with devastating impact.  In 2011 and 2012, anti-vehicle mines have been used in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan to close roads and affect trade. 


Background Materials

The meeting of experts opened with a review of international humanitarian law by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Anti-vehicle mines are victim-activated and “most AV mines cannot distinguish if the vehicle is of a civilian or military character.”  Anti-vehicle mines lead to the “long-term denial of assistance to vulnerable populations of food, water and medical assistance due to blocked transport routes. In many contexts today, AV mines obstruct the efforts of aid agencies to bring relief to war-affected communities.”  These impacts do not serve any immediate military utility.  Also, options to reduce the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines, for example, self-deactivation or neutralization functions, are often not used; this is especially the case with air-delivered anti-vehicle mines whose usage is prohibited “to the extent feasible” without such precautions by Protocol II of the IWC.  The ICRC also encouraged the meeting to considerable steps to increase the detectability of anti-vehicle mines to facilitate their clearance after the conclusion of hostilities (United Nations, pdf).

The United Nations Mine Action Team (UNMAT) in their opening statement, focused on the humanitarian impact on anti-vehicle mines.  Pointing out the anti-vehicle mine “cannot distinguish between a tank or a school bus,” UNMAT also noted that unlike victims of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions or explosive remnants of war, the rights of victims of anti-vehicle mines are not protected by any treaties and there is no international mandate to address their needs.  UNMAT called on the experts “to address the ongoing concerns at the humanitarian suffering caused by MOTAPM and to prevent the indiscriminate effects on civilians, including by limiting the active life of these mines, making them detectable through commonly available metal detectors, banning the use of anti-handling devices or sensitive fuses, and by ensuring that the needs and rights of all victims are adequately addressed” (United Nations, pdf).

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) prepared an issue brief on anti-vehicle mines as a background document for the meeting’s participants.  GICHD noted that in 2010, there were at least 375 casualties attributable to anti-vehicle mines (compared to 1,275 from anti-personnel mines).  Also, because anti-vehicle mines are larger and contain significantly more explosive force than anti-personnel mines (APMs), “AVMs are likely to cause multiple deaths and injuries in one incident. Data… indicates a clear tendency of higher casualty ratio among demining personnel resulting from AVM accidents than from APM accidents. The average number of victims per AVM incident is more than twice the average number of victims per APM incident. The maximum number per incident has reached more than ten casualties in the case of AVM detonation.”  In addition to immediate impacts of anti-vehicle mine accidents, the presence (or even just the rumor) of anti-vehicle mines impacts post conflict reconstruction and recovery. “AVMs can trap populations in destitution, denying them the opportunity to develop. AVMs can also block the return of refugees and IDPs to their places of origin. AVMs raise the cost of implementing humanitarian projects” (United Nations, pdf).


Statements made by the United States

The United States delegation, in their opening statement, described a “humanitarian threat created by the presence of persistent and non-detectable anti-vehicle mines, in particular in Africa, where the use of MOTAPM has prevented access to land and infrastructure.”  The US acknowledged “room for specific restrictions on the use of MOTAPM” and declared itself willing “to find a way to move forward in addressing the humanitarian problem caused by the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of MOTAPM” (United Nations, pdf).

In a second statement, the United States delegation reaffirmed the position that “AVM have a clear military utility” and described that utility and how the US military uses anti-vehicle mines for force multiplication and area denial.  But the US also acknowledged the “humanitarian problem caused by the indiscriminate use of persistent landmines” (emphasis mine).  The US delegation declared that the “US has removed all persistent anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines from the active inventory;” that the US has “removed non-detectable, plastic anti-vehicle mines from its active inventory;” and that “the United States has destroyed 1.7 M of 2.6M persistent anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. The remaining [persistent] mines will be destroyed through our normal conventional ammunition demilitarization process.” 

If there is an anti-vehicle mine protocol developed under the IWC, I would expect it to conform to the requirements described for the US active mine inventory.  According to the US delegation, all “mines remaining in the active inventory have a highly reliable, self-destruct mechanism with a self-deactivation back-up that prevent the munitions from becoming persistent hazards;” and the “United States will not transfer any AVM that does not have a self-destruct or self-deactivation device.”  This means that the mines exported by the US will not necessarily meet the same standard for mines used by the US military which must have both the self-destruct and self-deactivation features.  For the mines that do remain in the US inventory, all “self destruct mines are detectable with a commonly-available mine detector” (United Nations, pdf).   



Unfortunately, the advance report available does not describe the actual outcomes of the meeting.  The completed text of the report on the meeting’s outcomes is as follows:

“In its final session on ‘The Way Forward’ delegations discussed the potential for future work on mines other than anti-personnel mines.”

The formal outcomes will be submitted as a report to the 2012 Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the IWC which will meet in November in Geneva (United Nations, pdf).  Again, my assumption would be that any protocol would match the US’s requirements for its own inventory which are:

  • Mines must have a reliable self-destruct mechanism; and
  • Mines must be detectable by a commonly-available mine detector.

I’m not sure the needs and rights of victims of anti-vehicle mines would be addressed to any greater degree than they are in Protocol V which declares in Article 8.2:

“Each High Contracting Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of victims of explosive remnants of war. Such assistance may be provided inter alia through the United Nations system, relevant international, regional or national organizations or institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and their International Federation, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis” (Inhumane Weapons Convention, Protocol V, pdf).

This is a lower standard for protection and assistance than was negotiated in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), but is almost verbatim to what is in the Mine Ban Treaty.  At the minimum, the language from Protocol V should be in any new protocol, but better language would be that from Article 5, “Victim Assistance,” from the CCM which is as follows:

1. Each State Party with respect to cluster munition victims in areas under its jurisdiction or control shall, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion. Each State Party shall make every effort to collect reliable relevant data with respect to cluster munition victims.

2. In fulfilling its obligations under paragraph 1 of this Article each State Party shall:

a.      Assess the needs of cluster munition victims;

b.      Develop, implement and enforce any necessary national laws and policies;

c.       Develop a national plan and budget, including timeframes to carry out these activities, with a view to incorporating them within the existing national disability, development and human rights frameworks and mechanisms, while respecting the specific role and contribution of relevant actors;

d.      Take steps to mobilise national and international resources;

e.       Not discriminate against or among cluster munition victims, or between cluster munition victims and those who have suffered injuries or disabilities from other causes; differences in treatment should be based only on medical, rehabilitative, psychological or socio-economic needs;

f.        Closely consult with and actively involve cluster munition victims and their representative organisations;

g.      Designate a focal point within the government for coordination of matters relating to the implementation of this Article; and

h.      Strive to incorporate relevant guidelines and good practices including in the areas of medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as social and economic inclusion (Convention on Cluster Munitions, pdf).

So, keep an eye on negotiations and hopefully a fully, more detailed report of the outcomes of this meeting of experts will be available before the November meeting in Geneva.

Michael P. Moore, April 13, 2012

Anti-tank or Anti-vehicle mines: Perfectly legal and plenty lethal

I said when I started this blog (August 1st Post) that I would be using the Mine Ban Treaty’s definition of a landmine, specifically meaning anti-personnel landmines, but of late I’m having trouble with that definition.  A landmine is a landmine is a landmine.  An anti-tank or anti-vehicle mine is as dangerous (if not almost certainly more lethal) to a person than an anti-personnel mine.  A single anti-vehicle mine can also kill or injure on a greater scale than an anti-personnel mine.  Recent mine accidents in Abyei, Sudan (BBC News), in Eritrea (All Africa) and just this past weekend in South Sudan’s Unity State (Africa Review) were likely caused by anti-vehicle mines, killing thirty-one and injuring fifty-two others in just three incidents.  In addition to their greater potency, anti-vehicle landmines are perfectly legal for states to use, even those that are party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

From the recently updated United Nations Disarmament page on landmines:

“Landmines come in two varieties: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Both have caused great suffering in the past decades. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the [Mine Ban Treaty], adopted in 1997… The Secretary-General calls on all countries to also regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Such weapons [anti-vehicle mines] continue to cause many casualties, often civilian. They restrict the movement of people and humanitarian aid, make land unsuitable for cultivation, and deny citizens access to water, food, care and trade.” (United Nations).

So, where does this distinction between anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines come from?  I can trace it back to the International Committee of the Red Cross’s 1996 report, Antipersonnel Landmines: Friend or Foe?, in which a group of military experts had made several declarations regarding the military utility of anti-personnel mines.  The report and the assembled experts declared that “the military value of anti-tank mines is acknowledged, the value of AP mines is questionable” and “The limited military utility of AP mines is far outweighed by the appalling humanitarian consequences of their use in actual conflicts” (Journal of Mine Action). With the support of military experts and leaders, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines could lobby governments to ban anti-personnel mines, but the declaration of the “military value of anti-tank mines” meant that governments would be loath to ban those munitions as well.

Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines are defined in Article 2 of the Mine Ban Treaty as follows:

“’Anti-personnel mine’ means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped…

“’Anti-handling device’ means a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine” (Mine Ban Treaty, emphasis added). 

By defining anti-vehicle mines according to their intended purpose and mentioning anti-handling devices, but specifically using the word “that” instead of “and,” the Mine Ban Treaty authors allowed states to continue to manufacture and use anti-vehicle mines. Also, not all anti-vehicle mines possess anti-handing devices: “Technical literature suggests that between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of existing anti-vehicle mine types are equipped with antihandling devices. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden and the UK [all parties to the Mine Ban Treaty] possess anti-vehicle mines with anti-handling devices” (German Initiative to Ban Landmines, pdf), but the report does not say whether all of those countries’ anti-vehicle mines have antihandling devices.  

According to Human Rights Watch, “Under the definition of “antihandling device” in the Mine Ban Treaty, the following would be included:

  • antihandling, anti-disturbance, anti-tilt circuits and fuzes
  • anti-lift and pressure release circuits and fuzes
  • trip, contact and break wires
  • tilt rod fuzes
  • magnetic influence fuzes
  • light sensitive fuzes
  • cocked striker mechanisms in the firing chain
  • motion sensitive fuzes
  • acoustic sensors
  • infra-red (IR) sensors
  • seismic or vibration sensors
  • electro-magnetic sensors

It would appear that any use of tilt rods, tripwires, breakwires, and contact wires would be prohibited under the treaty, as they could clearly cause the antivehicle mine to explode from an unintentional act” (ICBL).

Four state parties, Denmark, France, Japan and the United Kingdom, have declared that all anti-vehicle mines, whether or not they possess anti-handling devices, are allowed under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Other states parties, twenty-five in all, “Support the view that any mine, despite its label or design intent, capable of being detonated by the unintentional act of a person is an AP mine and is prohibited;” which includes anti-vehicle mines and those with anti-handling devices.  Certain anti-handling devices, like tilt rods and trip wires are more likely to be accidentally triggered than others, hence the broader definition taken by these twenty-five parties.  Therefore, that means that remaining 120 parties have not expressed any opinion about when anti-vehicle mines might qualify as anti-personnel mines (The Monitor, pdf).

So, many countries possess anti-vehicle mines, many without anti-handling devices, and countries are allowed to buy, sell or transfer anti-vehicle mines to any country virtually without restriction.  Where the Mine Ban Treaty strictly prohibits the sale or transfer of anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicle mines face no such restriction.  I had been wondering about where the landmines that were plaguing the roads in Sudan and South Sudan in recent months had come from since both Sudan and South Sudan had declared their stockpiles of anti-personnel mines, but they are under no such obligation to report or restrict the use of anti-vehicle mines.  There could be thousands of such mines stockpiled by African militaries and rebel groups.  In Libya, tens of thousands of anti-vehicle mines had been stockpiled by the Gaddhafi regime and recently weapons looted from Gaddhafi’s warehouses have been smuggled into Darfur (Bloomberg) demonstrating the possible proliferation of anti-vehicle mines in northern Africa.  

In terms of relative proportions, 20% of all mines in Angola and Ethiopia are believed to be anti-vehicle mines and in Kosovo, half of the 7,200 mines cleared between June 1999 and May 2000 were anti-vehicle mines (German Initiative to Ban Landmines, pdf). According to the 2010 Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, States Parties had destroyed 45 million stockpiled anti-personnel landmines and another 13.6 million anti-personnel landmines were due for destruction by four parties (Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine) (Landmine Monitor).  Using the figures from Angola / Ethiopia and Kosovo as the low and high estimates, that would mean that States Parties (not counting those States not Party, i.e., China, Russia and the United States among others) may still possess stockpiles of between 15 and 60 million anti-vehicle mines. 

The Mine Ban Treaty is a laudable document, but the definition of anti-personnel landmines in the Treaty represents a compromise; we need not be bound by such compromises.  It does not matter to the men, women and children killed and injured in Abyei, Unity State and Senafe that the anti-vehicle mines they struck were “legal.”  All that matters is that they were mines.  So, I going to avoid parsing things: a landmine is a landmine is a landmine.  And all future landmines need to be banned and all existing mines need to be destroyed, whether they are “smart,” “non-persistent,” “anti-personnel” or “anti-vehicle.” 

Michael P. Moore, October 11, 2011.