I think it’s the little touches in landmine stories that really get to me. In this month’s news, the fact that the reporter felt the need to confirm that when two herders were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, “their animals did not survive the explosion either.” In Morocco the fact that a young man’s “kicking” of a landmine set it off, provides a visual. Or in Zimbabwe, a young survivor and his girlfriend cannot marry because he lacks the money to pay for the wedding. These small flourishes show the humanity and the human tragedy of landmines.
In response to the Boko Haram insurgency, several vigilante groups emerged from the local populations in northeastern Nigeria to support the Nigerian army in the campaign against the Islamist group. In February, five members of the one vigilante group, euphemistically called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), were killed and another four injured when their truck struck a landmine left by Boko Haram (All Africa). Four Nigerian soldiers were also injured in a separate incident (All Africa). Cameroonian soldiers are also active against Boko Haram and while Cameroon’s forces have been clearing mined roads and dismantling suspected bomb-making facilities, one Cameroonian soldier was killed and another eight injured when their truck struck a mine on patrol in Nigeria (All Africa).
In 2015 the HALO Trust cleared and destroyed more than 4,000 mines and 25,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the southern town of Cuito Cuanavale (All Africa). In Bie Province, landmine clearance is preparing some 250 hectares of land for industrial development and economic diversification (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, the deputy governor witnessed the destruction of several explosive devices and noted how demining enables agricultural expansion and market access (All Africa).
Two members of the Islamist group, Ansar Dine, were killed when they drove over a landmine planted by other members of the group. The vehicle was headed towards Kidal and had four pieces of ordnance in the back which might have contributed to the deaths of the occupants (Mali Web). In northeastern Mali, Malian soldiers were victims of a landmine and firearms attack which killed four – it is not clear from the report how many casualties are attributable to either the mine or the guns (The Chronicle). In Mopti in central Mali, three Malian soldiers were killed and two more wounded by a landmine (BBC). Near Gao, another Islamist was killed by the mine he was trying to plant with the intention of attacking a Malian army convoy (Mali Actu).
Five people were injured, one seriously, when a Moroccan man kicked a landmine in the southern city of Laayoune (Morocco World News).
The Gulu Landmine Survivors Association (GLSA) in Northern Uganda has petitioned the government for victim assistance support. Most survivors are living in poverty and prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. Monica Pilloy, the chair of the GLSA, notes that Ugandan soldiers are entitled to pensions and compensatyion for injuries, but civilian victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, despite the international attention and support for reconstruction, have received little (Uganda Radio Network).
In western Kasese district, the Kayondo Landmine Survivors Association called on the government for amendments to national legislation to reflect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Uganda has ratified (Crooze).
One child was killed and eight others injured when they played with a piece of unexploded ordnance in Kampala. The football pitch where the boys were playing is opposite an old military barracks (News 24).
The 426 kilometer stretch of Zimbabwe’s northwestern border with Mozambique, from Mukumbura to Rwenya, is labelled as “minefield # 2.” 130 kilometers have been cleared, removing over 162,000 anti-personnel landmines. The balance remains to be cleared with the HALO Trust and Zimbabwe’s National Mine Clearance Squadron splitting the duties (Zimbabwe Nation). The presence of the landmines means that the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border hasn’t been formally fixed and efforts by the African Union Border Commission have been stymied (The Chronicle). The HALO Trust’s work is supported, in part, but the Japanese government and during a visit to the minefield, the Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe called for more awareness of the landmine problem in Zimbabwe and more support from the donor community. Literally putting his money where his mouth is, the ambassador also announced an additional US $635,281 for the project (News Day). The Zimbabwean parliament has recognized that demining is underfunded and the committee responsible for defense activities has called for additional funds. With only US $100,000 provided by the government, some members of parliament have suggested taking up a collection among themselves to support the work (News Day).
“Minefield # 1” is near Victoria Falls in the northeast of the country and the National Mine Clearance Squadron had sole responsibility for its clearance. Declared clear in 2015, over 26 thousand mines were destroyed (Harare 24). The third major minefield (not sure if it is formally known as “Minefield # 3”) is along the southern border, near Sango Border Post, where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa share a border. One area of the minefield, Gwaivhi community, is a place “where you can hardly find a family that has not been affected in one way or the other by the landmines. Some families lost their members while others have been maimed. Other families lost their livestock. The area is not suitable for human habitation and therefore has no settlements but those on the periphery of the area have been affected.” Zimbabwe army engineers are clearing the minefield and in 2015 the Defence Minister provided 15 artificial limbs to survivors from the community (Sunday News).
The US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) sent two US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) trainers and a corpsman to work with and train Tanzanian soldiers on EOD techniques as part of the regional command’s capacity building program (AFRICOM).
A South African man was seriously injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance that he had somehow acquired from an army training ground near his home. The range is well marked and fenced, but still poses a danger to local residents (Defence Web).
The Libyan army has liberated areas of Benghazi and has warned local residents about the possibility of landmines and other explosive devices. The army’s engineering teams were sweeping the Laithi neighborhood and asked residents to accompany engineers in order to access homes and secure personal possessions (Al Wasat). The dangers from ERW were made clear when one soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Benghazi, the second such incident in less than a week (Arabs Today).
Two herders were killed along with five of their camels by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).
To combat landmines and ERW elsewhere in Sudan, the government of Italy donated 250,000 euros to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) program in Sudan. the funds will be used to clear 900,000 square meters in Kassala state and provide mine risk education to 5,000 people (United Nations).
Burundi / Rwanda
Both Burundi and Rwanda have declared themselves to be anti-personnel landmine free after completing clearance. Neither army should have these weapons in their arsenal, but allegations that surfaced this month should raise questions about their use. Some Burundian rebels were interviewed by United Nations monitors in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rebels claimed that they had been trained in the use of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines by Rwandan army regulars to be able to overthrow the government of Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundian president who recently ran for a third term in violation of the constitution (Voice of America).
In Somaliland, a young man who overcame the loss of both arms and his sight to a landmine explosion to attend college and complete his degree has resorted to asking for charity in a newspaper article (Somaliland Informer).
Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), which has been conducting mine risk education programs in Western Sahara for many years, has recently commenced landmine clearance activities in the region. With two teams now working in the country, NPA is hoping to contribute to a mine-free Western Sahara (NPA).
Two archaeologists were killed and third wounded at the Tel al-Dafna site near the Suez canal. The area had been subject to extensive landmine use in the Egypt-Israel wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and the archaeologists apparently set off a mine during their excavations (Mada Masr).
Michael P. Moore
March 28, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
The annual observance of the International Day of Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th generates many news stories about the current conditions of mine-affected countries and this year was no different. The April 4th stories tend to be positive in tone and so there is a striking discord between the stories about demining progress and reports of new mine accidents that occurred in April. Especially troubling news came out of Mozambique where political tensions have spilled into violence that threatens the impressive gains there; in Tunisia where landmines are being used by insurgents on Mount Chaambi; in South Sudan where false accusations of landmine use were levelled against the United Nations mission; and Somalia where landmine casualties continue to mount. Additional positive news was seen as Burundi declared itself landmine free (again).
Zimbabwe’s landmine clearance began soon after the new country emerged from the civil war with the former Rhodesia regime in 1980. The clearance continues today after suffering numerous fits and starts. The majority of the more than one million landmines lie along the borders with Zambia and Mozambique and were place by Rhodesian soldiers to prevent liberation fighters from entering the country. The minefields were mapped by Rhodesian soldiers, but those maps were lost in the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, a loss that has hampered clearance and caused loss of life and limb. Best estimates suggest almost 4,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines and over 120,000 cattle have been killed over the last three decades. Even areas that were thought to be safe from landmines can become contaminated by the frequent flooding in the mine-affected regions which disturb and displace the mines.
Currently, three international NGOs, the HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid and the International Committee of the Red Cross are assisting with the landmine clearance. Mukumbura, the most mine-affected province in Zimbabwe was described by HALO as “resembling ‘a country in the immediate post-conflict phase,’ with mines found close ‘to houses, schools and clinics’” suggesting how little clearance has actually taken place. “The younger generations in Mukumbura area are victims of a war that ended years before they were born.” The government of Zimbabwe frequently pleads poverty due to international sanctions (brought about because of Zimbabwe’s illegal farm seizures) and only allocates US $500,000 of the requested $2 million for mine clearance, reflecting the government’s “misplaced priorities.”
Zimbabwe has requested yet another extension, its fourth, of its Mine Ban Treaty-mandated deadline to clear the remaining minefields. The current deadline in January 1, 2015, which will not be met, and the proposed deadline is January 1, 2018 and yet another extension request will be made once the full extent of landmine contamination is known (Southwest Radio Africa; Sunday Mail).
In June Mozambique will host the Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty and the country is hoping to show off its best side at that time. There is a strong push within the country to clear the remaining minefields which are mostly along the border with Zimbabwe. With some 20,000 landmine survivors across the country, the scale of the landmine problem in Mozambique was once thought nearly insurmountable, but Mozambique and its donors feel that completion of all demining tasks is possible this year. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) took advantage of the April 4th observances to highlight to role of women deminers in clearing Mozambique’s landmines (All Africa) the director of Mozambique’s national demining institute, Alberto Augusto, highlighted the progress to date: 200,000 mines cleared and a casualty rate of only four persons in 2012. However, Mr. Augusto also described one of the greatest challenges facing Mozambique’s landmine clearance program may not be the landmines or the terrain, but politics. Because the opposition party RENAMO has returned to the “bush” and its roots as a rebel organization, violence in Sofala province, one of the few remaining mine-affected provinces, has halted landmine clearance there, especially after two deminers were injured. Mr. Augusto said that if a ceasefire could not be agreed with RENAMO by May 1, then Mozambique would likely miss its clearance deadline of December 31, 2014 (Voice of America).
The Saharawi Mine Actions Coordination Office (SMACO) hosted a mine risk education workshop in conjunction with the Saharawi Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Saharawi Association of Landmine Victims and Action on Armed Violence. The workshop informed government and civil society leaders of the landmine risks in Western Sahara arising from the separation wall, the berm, erected by the Moroccan government (All Africa). The need for such a workshop was unfortunately confirmed later in the month when a 29 year-old Saharawi was killed by a landmine outside of the city of Smara while he was herding camels (All Africa).
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was accused by the government of South Sudan of arming the rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar with landmines and anti-aircraft weaponry. The accusation arose when South Sudan’s army seized a UNMISS convoy that was carrying weapons for the UN peacekeeping force in the country. The convoy did have guns and riot suppression gear (tear gas and gas masks) but the accusation of landmines was completely false and reckless as was the accusation that UNMISS was arming the rebels (All Africa). In fact, the United Nations has one of its largest landmine clearance programs in South Sudan and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been doing heroic work since the start of the civil war in South Sudan in December 2013. UNMAS continues to clear mines from routes and has been investigating use of cluster munitions and new use of landmines by some of the rebels. UNMAS has also provided safe haven for some displaced persons in its compounds (Relief Web). The government of South Sudan does recognize the threat of landmines and has also been educating school children about the threat and has called on all parties to the current conflict to refrain from landmine use (eNCA).
While three-quarters of the minefields of Sudan have been cleared so far, much work remains to be done both in terms of clearance and assistance to survivors because “the number of victims is underestimated in Sudan.” Some 35 million square meters of land, mostly in Sudan’s eastern states, have yet to be cleared and ongoing conflict in Blue Nile and South Kordofan States prevents access to clear minefields there. Sudan’s current landmine clearance plan places work in those two states on hold until the security situation permits access and instead focuses all efforts on other areas. That plan, approved by the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty requires additional support from the international community as Sudan estimates the cost of mine action at $10 million per year for each of the next three years (All Africa).
In an interesting comment by Sudan’s vice president, Hassabo Mohamed Adbul Rahman, Sudan reiterated its commitment to the Mine Ban Treaty but called on “signatories to stop landmines manufacturing due to their hazardous effects.” I’m hoping something was lost in translation or the Vice President was insufficiently briefed before his remarks because banning manufacture of landmines is one of the most basic requirements of the Treaty (Sudan Vision Daily).
Tunisia has seen a large number of artisanal or home-made landmines being used in the vicinity of Jebel (Mount) Chaambi on the Algerian border. Islamist rebels have used the mountain as a base and placed landmines to kill or injure Tunisian soldiers who are trying to dislodge them. At least 16 mines have exploded over the last year including several in April. On April 10th and 11th, three mines exploded and according to official reports, the first and third mines damaged military vehicles but did not injure the soldiers riding in the vehicle. The second mine injured a civilian when his tractor struck a mine (All Africa; All Africa). In addition to the mines on Mount Chaambi, two mines on nearby Mount Alhaanbe injured eight soldiers, two severely on April 11th and the Tunisian army appears to have tried to minimize the coverage of the incident (All Africa). A week later, a soldier was killed and two more wounded when their vehicle struck a mine on Mount Chaambi (All Africa; Reuters; All Africa).
In the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, three people were killed and two other injured by an anti-personnel landmine in Qorilugud. The mine was attributed to forces loyal to Somalia’s former dictator Siad Barre and dated to the 1980s (Somaliland Sun).
Somalia’s prime minister, Adbiweli Sheikh Ahmed declared the capitol, Mogadishu, free of landmines, saying, “we must have the ability to give our youth a better life towards greater accomplishments. We also have a responsibility to clean up and eliminate destructive items” (All Africa). Mine clearance is urgently needed in other parts of Somalia. In Dhobley district in the south of the country, a landmine killed three people and injured others when an AMISOM vehicle struck a mine (Somalia Focus). In Galgadud, four people were killed and three injured by a mine (Radio Barkulan).
In Ajdabiya, a man was injured by a landmine, losing his leg and damaging his pelvic bone (Libya Herald). To address the extensive landmine contamination in Libya, civilian volunteers have taken on the dangerous job of minefield clearance. As one of the volunteers noted, the location of minefields is not known, instead “We discover them when a landmine explodes.” The volunteers have formed an organization, “No to Landmines and War Debris,” and received some training from mine action operators through observation and assistance. Now then, I have a very hard time faulting these unbelievably brave men who are doing this work, but they need to be following International Mine Action Standards and accurately documenting their work. Unfortunately, several of the volunteers have been killed in the line of work, two as recently as March, but they have cleared over 23,000 landmines. If there are mine action operators who can help these volunteers out, please do so (All Africa).
As part of the April 4th observances, Angola reported that is has cleared over seven billion square meters of landmines since 1996 (All Africa).
Burundi declared itself free of landmines and will make the formal announcement at the Third Review Conference. In 2011, Burundi declared itself mine-free but discovered some additional, previously undocumented minefields after that declaration and so, per the Treaty’s requirements, Burundi had to complete its landmine clearance again. Burundi is the 11th African country to complete its demining obligations (Xperedon). In addition to clearing mines within its own territory, Burundian soldiers have been trained on landmine clearance in advance of their deployment as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. With support and expertise from the US African Army Command, Burundian peacekeepers will be prepared to sweep a road suspected of landmines or improvised explosive devices (Defence Web).
A French soldier serving in Operation Serval in northern Mali was slightly injured by a landmine near the town of Tessalit (Mali Web). Two weeks later, seven Malian soldiers were injured by a mine in the Gao region of northeastern Mali. The mine was recently laid and blamed upon Islamist fighters who had been ousted by the French forces (AFP).
The United Kingdom used April 4th to highlight their policy paper on landmine clearance, “Clearing a Path to Development,” and described how the UK is helping to clear landmines from Ethiopia. According to the UK, some 2 million landmines pollute Ethiopia with mines dating back to 1935’s invasion by Italy with the worst contamination along the borders with Eritrea and Somalia (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).
Also related to the United Kingdom, a lawyer in Egypt has filed a complaint against the UK for refusal “to pay Egypt over 100 billion British pounds in compensation for landmines planted in the Alamein area of the Western Sahara to target German tanks, which ultimately led to the deaths of thousands of Egyptians.” The landmines in Egypt’s western desert “impede the opportunities of development in the area.” Any response to the complaint from the British government or the office of British prime minister David Cameron who was named in the complaint was not reported (Cairo Post).
The enormous scale of landmine contamination in Egypt has drawn the attention of NATO which is trying to address issues related to the fact that at least 10% of the mines in Egypt are at least 1.5 meters underground as a result of shifting sands in the desert. Traditional detection systems, specifically metal detectors and dogs, are not reliable at such depths and many minefields are also full of other metal fragments. Egyptian and NATO scientists have been experimenting with ground-penetrating radar and dual-sensor technologies to increase the accuracy of mine detection systems. This will lead to better, safer and faster demining of the mine-affected areas in Egypt (NATO).
As part of the African Union’s observance of April 4th, the AU donated “55 handheld mine detectors, 55 protective aprons and 55 visors to Ethiopia, Mauritania, Sudan and Zimbabwe” is support of the AU’s goal of a landmine-free Africa (Defence Web).
Michael P. Moore
May 23, 2014
The US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) based in, of all places, Stuttgart, Germany, inspires a kind neo-colonial fear among many Africans and Africanists, not unlike the shadow that France and China cast over the continent. Without directly addressing those fears, I believe it’s important to recognize some of the good that can come from AFRICOM’s presence and activity in Africa. Specifically AFRICOM’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program. Active since at least 2009, AFRICOM’s HMA program conducted 22 training missions in nine different countries in 2013 alone (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014). Training included topics such as: demining, explosive remnants of war (ERW), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) Levels I and II, Vehicle Maintenance, Medical First Responder, Mine Risk Education, and stockpile conventional munitions assistance in support of the US Government’s HMA program. The training curricula were developed by experts at the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and reflect current best practices and knowledge (All Partners Access Network). One current gap in the training program is comprehensive victim assistance for landmine and ERW survivors.
To receive support from AFRICOM’s HMA support, national authorities must submit requests to the US embassy which then forwards requests to the State Department. The State Department then combines all requests and reviews them as part of the broader humanitarian efforts conducted by the State Department and the Department of Defense. While plans are still being confirmed, AFRICOM may conduct as many as 40 HMA missions in nine countries in 2014 covering IMAS Levels I and II, ERW Operations, Medical First Responder, Basic and Advanced Demining, and stockpile management and destruction (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).
As examples of the kind of training offered by AFRICOM, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have participated in multiple HMA missions. In 2009, the DRC military (the FARDC) requested support from the US State Department to conduct mine action activities in the eastern provinces, in and around Kisangani. After at least eight separate missions of up to three weeks in duration and the donation of $125,000 worth of mine detection and explosive ordnance destruction equipment, a sustainable mine action program has been established within the FARDC. From the FARDC soldiers trained by AFRICOM, a select group of engineers participated in a training of trainers to further expand the skill set within the force (AFRICOM).
About a year ago, AFRICOM hosted a Train the Trainer program for Kenyan Army EOD Combat Engineers. AFRICOM deployed the US Navy’s EOD Mobile Unit Six to train future instructors within the Kenyan military to respond to the variety of munitions and explosives the Kenyan army encountered in Somalia. Using a combination of classroom exercises and field simulations, the training mirrors that of the DRC training with the intention of increasing the ability of Kenyan soldiers to train their colleagues (AFRICOM).
Other countries to have received support from AFRICOM include Burundi, Chad, Namibia, Mauritania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Sharp-eyed readers will note that Kenya and Tanzania do not have landmine or significant ERW contamination and Burundi and Namibia have limited ERW contamination. For Kenya and Burundi, and likely for other African countries with limited contamination, AFRICOM is deliberately training for peacekeeping operations like the African Union Mission in Somalia to which Burundi, Kenya and Uganda have contributed soldiers. Referring to the experience, one US Navy trainer said of the peacekeepers, “”They go downrange a lot and we want to make sure they have the knowledge to do well.” Training engagements support the Component Commands’ goals, like Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s (CJTF-HOA) “mission to strengthen security in East Africa through military-to-military engagements with partner nations” (AFRICOM).
US Army Africa (USARAF), based in Vicenza, Italy, is the most forward-thinking of AFRICOM’s Component Commands. According to its HMA coordinator, Maj. Jennifer Smith, USARAF is looking “expand into victim’s assistance and mine risk education,” adding preventive instruction to the technical training currently on offer. “If that happens, our numbers will probably increase because we will have concurrent training squads” (US Army Africa). USARAF has also reached out to UNMAS, the HALO Trust and the French government to complement, and not compete with, other actors’ work and address shortfalls identified by the international community and civil society. USARAF wants to leverage its position to “assist in coordinating and integrating [the HMA] program with our multinational allies’ efforts.” USARAF is also exploring tailoring “U.S. instruction on demining activities to correspond with UNMAS’s ability to help host nations certify their own de-miners and unexploded ordnance incident responders” (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).
Michael P. Moore
February 26, 2014
I have spoken out in previous posts against states that have submitted Article 5 Extension requests, seeking additional time to meet the Mine Ban Treaty’s obligation to clear all mined areas within ten years of the Treaty entering into force. My concern is that many states do not begin the demining process promptly and then use the extension process to ask for forgiveness for the delays. The good news is that 10 countries in Africa have declared themselves to be mine-free, having cleared all national territory of anti-personnel landmines (International Campaign to Ban Landmines). By starting the demining process promptly after ratifying or acceding to the Treaty, most states should be able to complete the demining process within the ten-year period allowed by the Treaty. However, there is also a risk of proceeding too quickly with the demining process and recent reports test the claims of two of those “mine-free” countries, Burundi and Zambia and a lawsuit against the international demining company, Ronco Consulting, demonstrates the liability issues in declaring areas mine-free prematurely.
I would also like to point out that the Mine Ban Treaty only requires states to clear all anti-personnel landmines, not all unexploded ordnance or anti-vehicle mines. Therefore, states should be clear when they declare themselves to be mine-free whether or not they include all unexploded ordnance in that declaration or only anti-personnel mines.
Early Question Marks
Burundi and Zambia are not the first African countries to have their mine-free claims challenged, only the most recent ones. In 2008 Djibouti declared itself to be mine-free, but a border conflict with Eritrea in that same year appears to have led to new anti-personnel mine contamination. In 2009 Djibouti reported to the Second of African Francophone Seminar on Mine and ERW Action that the country “had a residual problem of anti-personnel mines” (The Monitor).
In 2009 Namibia declared itself “in full compliance with Article 5” of the Mine Ban Treaty, repeating an assertion made in 2001 that all demining activities had been completed. However, in 2009, the government of Namibia sought several hundred thousand dollars worth of funding to clear landmines along the Angolan border. Australia and Canada have published warnings about the presence of landmines in the Namibian sections of the Okavango transborder park and Namibia reported at least one landmine accident to the Third Continental Conference of African Experts on Landmines in 2009, but did not disclose the location of the incident (The Monitor).
In 2011, at the meeting of States Parties in Cambodia, Burundi declared itself to be mine-free. After several years of work by Mines Advisory Group, Burundi completed clearance activities a full three years before its Treaty-mandated deadline of 2014. Burundi was able to declare itself mine-free despite continued conflict in mine-affected regions that only concluded in 2010 (Reuters). However, not even six months after the declaration of mine-free status, villagers living in the Rumonge nature reserve reported the presence of anti-personnel mines and a teenager was killed while gathering firewood. A resident said “These devices [anti-personnel landmine] still exist on this reserve and the population is ready to collaborate with the technical demining team” (Networked Blogs).
At the Mine Ban Treaty’s second review conference in Cartagena, Colombia in 2009, Zambia declared itself to be mine-free (Voice of America). Earlier this month, Zambia’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Mwenye Musenge, called on the Zambian government to provide more assistance to the Zambia Anti-Personnel Mine Action Centre (ZMAC). In his call, Musenge pointed to the plight of landmine victims in Zambia while noting the “Western, Eastern and Southern provinces have been cleared of the landmines.” Musenge said that ZMAC “has done almost 100 percent of its work of removing landmines,” suggesting that some landmines remain in the northern province, along the Angolan border (Daily Mail, emphasis added).
It is possible that the minefields in Zambia and Burundi were not recognized as such at the time the countries announced themselves as mine-free. If that is the case, then, just as they are required to do if they discover previously unknown stockpiles of landmines, Burundi and Zambia should proceed to clear these landmines as soon as possible. If the minefields were recognized at the time of the announcement or if the countries had not bothered to consider the possibility that there might be landmines in Rumonge reserve or the Northern province, then the countries were irresponsible in making their announcements. More care and prudence might have prevented the death of the Burundian teen mentioned above. In addition, a recent lawsuit may establish liability for those who prematurely declare areas mine-free.
Fantham versus Ronco Consulting
In April 2009, United Nations Mine Action Office Quality Assurance Officer Steve Fantham was injured by a landmine during a routine evaluation of a minefield south of Juba in what is now South Sudan. Fantham’s right leg was amputated below the knee. Despite his injury, Fantham returned to his quality assurance position less than six months after his accident with a renewed sense of purpose: Fantham now knew firsthand the potential damage that landmines could cause (United Nations Mission in Sudan, pdf).
For Fantham, the injury was unexpected. As a mine action professional with many years of experience, he was familiar with the risks posed by landmines, but Fantham also knew that the minefield in which he was injured had been declared clear of mines by Ronco Consulting. The United Nations had contracted with Ronco Consulting demine roadways in South Sudan, including the areas on each side of the roads. In April 2008, Ronco declared the minefield where Fantham was injured to be clear of mines and after investigation, the United Nations found no evidence that new mines had been laid between Ronco’s clearance activities and Fantham’s injury. Further, the United Nations team, in its investigation of Fantham’s accident found three other landmines in the area that Ronco had declared to be cleared. The United Nations investigating team declared that Ronco should have found and cleared the mines.
Based upon the findings of the UN investigating team (which included a representative from Ronco), Fantham sued Ronco in United States court, claiming that Ronco’s negligence had led directly to Fantham’s injury (Fantham v. Ronco Complaint, pdf). Shortly after filing the claim, Ronco settled the lawsuit with Fantham for an undisclosed sum of money (Fantham had sued for $10 million) without responding to or challenging the claim (Blake Hannafan).
Unfortunately, not every landmine victim who is injured by a landmine in a supposedly cleared minefield will be able to sue those who made the mine-free claim. Many international demining organizations will be protected from lawsuits through their contracting mechanisms and national demining authorities will be protected by national sovereignty, and many landmine survivors will not have standing in the countries where international operators are registered. Having said that, hopefully the Ronco case will ensure that deminers use caution when declaring minefields to be clear because of Fantham’s ability to sue and receive a settlement.
But countries also need to be cautious before declaring themselves to be mine-free. If injuries from anti-personnel landmines occurred in Burundi and Zambia after the mine-free declarations, the other Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty should review the mine-free claims and force a re-assessment of minefields. States should also be explicit about what the declaration of mine-free status actually means: does it include anti-vehicle mines and unexploded ordnance or only anti-personnel mines? Will demining continue to clear all explosive remnants of war once the Treaty-mandate for clearing anti-personnel mines is met? Every day there are new victims of landmines; we need to be sure those victims are not coming from areas that are thought to be mine-free.
Michael P. Moore, June 28, 2012