Lending our Leg in Washington, DC

On Wednesday, March 27th, half a dozen landmine advocates representing four different organizations gathered in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC to participate in a Lend Your Leg event.

The “Lend Your Leg” concept, asking individuals to roll up their pants leg in solidarity with landmine victims, was launched by the Colombian NGO Fundación Arcángeles in 2011 to call attention to the issue of landmines and their devastating effect on communities in Colombia and throughout the world.

“Lending Your Leg” on April 4th shows global solidarity for the survivors of landmine accidents—and all prosthesis wearers—while stripping away the shame and social stigmas that may accompany the injury.

Lend Your Leg is a call to action for all states to 1) Join the Mine Ban Treaty if they have not yet done so, and 2) Implement the Treaty by destroying landmine stockpiles, clearing mine contaminated land and assisting victims. More information about Lend Your Leg, including events near you, is available at www.lendyourleg.org.

Now, a few words about Washington: there is always something else going on and getting attention on a particular issue – in our case landmines – can be very difficult.  As we were getting set up, two of our number, Jose Arteaga and Zach Hudson told the rest of us about how they had been at the Supreme Court earlier in day, Zach actually inside the courtroom to hear oral arguments and Jose outside to rally on behalf of marriage equality.  So for a third of our party, this was not the first bit of activism they had participated in that day.

Nora, Mary and Jose getting the "legs" and banners set up.

Figure 1: Nora, Mary and Jose getting the “legs” and banners set up.

When we got to Lafayette Park, the large open square just north of the White House, we noticed that we were not the only demonstration happening outside the White House at lunchtime on a Wednesday in March.  There was the permanent encampment of nuclear-free world activists and a protest against genetically modified (GMO) foods (in the background of Figures 1 and 2 with the yellow banners) and as soon as the GMP protesters cleared, a group demonstrating against arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay rolled in (in Figure 3 with the orange banners).  I’m sure if we stayed longer, another group with their issue would have come along. (Side note: it’s not just national and international issues that draw out groups: yesterday evening at dusk half a dozen people protested the National Park Service’s plan to cull deer from Rock Creek Park in the middle of the city [Washington Post].  Yes, deer in Washington, DC could garner as much support as landmine victims around the world.  That’s how many issues abound in this town. Ah well.)

Figure 2: Protest against GMO Foods and Monsanto.

Figure 2: Protest against GMO Foods and Monsanto.

Figure 3: Protest against arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay.

Figure 3: Protest against arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay.

Figure 4: Lending our Legs: (Left to Right) Jose de Arteaga, Mary Wareham, Michael Moore, Riley Abbott and Nora Sheets. Not pictured is Zach Hudson who kindly took the photo.

Figure 4: Lending our Legs: (Left to Right) Jose de Arteaga, Mary Wareham, Michael Moore, Riley Abbott and Nora Sheets. Not pictured is Zach Hudson who kindly took the photo.

We chose Lafayette Park for the iconic images of the White House in the background and the opportunity to interact with others.  Nora kindly provided the “legs” and banners we held.  The legs were made by art class students and members of Proud Students Against Landmines and Cluster Munitions (PSALM) and the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines (WVCBL, www.wvcbl.org).  The legs and banners will feature in the Landmine Awareness Day activities at St. Francis de Sales School on April 5th, sponsored by PSALM and WVCBL.

In addition to the group shot, we took some individual photos.  The brother and sister featured in Figure 6 were tourists visiting Washington with the family.  They asked us what we were advocating for and when we told them, “landmine survivors,” they asked if they could participate.  I never got their names, but I loved that they were interested and wanted to “lend” their legs.  That photo alone was reason enough to host the event in Lafayette Park.

Figure 5: Zach Hudson, Coordinator of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Figure 5: Zach Hudson, Coordinator of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Figure 6: These young people were tourists who saw what we were doing, asked what it was for and then asked to participate to show their support.

Figure 6: These young people were tourists who saw what we were doing, asked what it was for and then asked to participate to show their support.

Figure 7: Nora Sheets, Coordinator for the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines

Figure 7: Nora Sheets, Coordinator for the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines

Figure 8: Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director of the Arms Control Division of Human Rights Watch.

Figure 8: Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director, Arms Division of Human Rights Watch.

Figure 9: Michael Moore (L), Landmines in Africa and Riley Abbott, a colleague from Survivor Corps / Landmine Survivors Network.

Figure 9: Michael Moore (L), Landmines in Africa and Riley Abbott, a colleague from Survivor Corps / Landmine Survivors Network.

In the end, we had a very simple message, expressed in Figure 10.  On April 4th, remember the victims of landmines and believe that something can be done to end the use of this terrible weapon and ensure that every father’s daughter can walk freely and safely.

Figure 10: Our message to President Obama and the World.

Figure 10: Our message to President Obama and the World.

Michael P. Moore

March 28, 2013


Why new use of landmines in Sudan is a greater tragedy than new use in Libya

In early 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Government of Sudan in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement / Army brought an end to a 20-year civil war that had killed millions of Sudanese.  Against the backdrop of worsening conditions in Darfur, the CPA was a moment of hope for Sudan and represented the culmination of years of external mediation, led by the United States among others.  Shortly after the CPA was signed, John Garang, the leader of the SPLM/A and President of South Sudan was killed in a helicopter crash, but the commitment to the CPA by both parties was strong enough to overcome this test. 

One of the provisions of the CPA was a referendum on independence for South Sudan, a referendum that passed with near universal support in January 2011; the referendum’s outcome ensured the South Sudan would become an independent nation in July 2011.  Between the referendum and the independence date, violence flared in a number of locations in Sudan and South Sudan, including Abyei, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions.  Abyei is a region whose status (whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan) was supposed to be settled by a referendum which was never held and so sovereignty over Abyei is contested, mostly because of the potential oil revenues available from Abyei.  South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions were allied with the SPLM/A at times during the civil war but are part of Sudan under the CPA so the former rebels in those regions are threatening to resume war and have been subject to reprisals from Khartoum.

Prior to the outbreaks of violence, hopes were high for a long-lasting peace in Sudan and South Sudan.  Investment in development activities, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid was very high with aid amounts increasing twelve-fold from 2000 to 2008, from $130 million to $1.75 billion.  Funding for mine action experienced similar increases, from a low of $140,607 in 2000 to almost $100 million in 2007 according to UNOCHA.  All the attention and funding for Sudan allowed the United Nations Mine Action Office in Sudan to declare in 2010 that they expected to clear all landmines and unexploded ordnance from the country by June 2011.

According to United Nations Mine Action Team data compiled in the World Bank’s Landmine Contamination, Casualty and Clearance Dataset (LC3 Dataset), the majority of mine action funding for 2005 to 2009 in Africa went to Sudan (see the below chart). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

This high-level of funding led to the clearance of thousands of kilometers of roads and the destruction of tens of thousands of explosive remnants of war.  However, in the same time period, Sudan did not have the majority of reported landmine and UXO casualties (451 out of 2,328 reported casualties).  The high level of investment did lead to a marked decline in the number of casualties in Sudan (from 140 in 2006 to 43 in 2009), but a similar decline was seen throughout Africa (from 752 in 2006 to 141 in 2009, see chart below). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

I would argue that the mine action investment in Sudan was reflective not of the need (as evidenced by the number of casualties), but of the hope that a permanent peace had been achieved in Sudan.  The violence in Unity State alone crushes some of those hopes. 

In April, a militia commanded by a former SPLA commander, Peter Gadet (also written as “Gatdet” in some articles), launched a rebellion against the South Sudan government in Unity State.  Gadet’s forces used landmines to close roads within Unity; at least six separate landmine incidents were reported in the first half of May and I could identify at least 11 casualties (five killed and six injured) from newspaper articles (found by searching for “landmine” and “Sudan” on http://allafrica.com/) about one of the incidents in early May and three others from April, late May and June.  This is in contrast to UNMAS’s reported figure of 14 landmine and UXO casualties in Unity State for the period 2005-2009.  The UN Mine Action Office in Sudan believed that these incidents were due to new laying of landmines based upon anecdotal evidence and the fact that no minefields had been identified in Unity State as of 2009.  In other words, 11 casualties is the absolute minimum for landmine casualties in Unity State as a result of the new landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels; the real figure is probably much higher and represents a significant increase in the number of landmine casualties and a reversal of the historical trend. 

The developing civil war in Libya, pitting ragtag rebels against Moammar Ghaddafi’s regime, also saw significant new use of landmines by the regime.  The rebels in Libya pledged not to use landmines and many stories, like this one, circulated about the volunteer deminers among the rebels. But Libya never signed the Mine Ban Treaty, maintaining a stockpile of an unknown number landmines, and has supported terrorist organizations in the past as evidenced by the Lockerbie bombing.  In recent years, Ghaddafi sought a thaw in relations with the West and dismantled his weapons of mass destruction programs (providing information about Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan in the process), but I don’t think anyone really thought he was a good guy or that his regime would morph into a democracy.  NATO’s willingness to act under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in Libya was definitely conditioned by the fact that Ghaddafi is an unrelenting tyrant who just happens to be sitting on massive petroleum wealth which would be made available to Europe should the rebels succeed.  The fact that Ghaddafi’s forces used landmines should not be a surprise; had he not given up his WMD I’m sure he would have contemplated their use as well. 

Sudan, on the other hand, is a party to Mine Ban Treaty and destroyed its stockpile of landmines in 2008, as well as destroying found stockpiles that had previously been in rebel hands.  In 2009, the Government of Sudan declared that less than 2,000 landmines had been retained for training purposes (an allowable action under the Mine Ban Treaty).  South Sudan did not retain any mines separately from those controlled by the officials in Khartoum.  So, the Sudanese people, in Unity State and elsewhere, had a reasonable expectation that no new landmines would be laid, an expectation the rebels in Libya could not have.  This is the real tragedy: Sudan was approaching a mine-free (or at least mine-safe) status that has been undermined by the new usage of landmine.  A further question that needs to be resolved is the provenance of the landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels.  Human Rights Watch has used the fact that Libya’s mines were manufactured by Brazil and Belgium, signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty, to shame the producers and leading Brazil to launch an investigation into how its mines came to be in Libyan stockpiles.  To the best of my knowledge, similar inquiries have not been made into the origin of Gadet’s landmines. Either they came from the stocks retained for training or they came from undeclared stockpiles or they were obtained from a third party, all of which are illegal under the Mine Ban Treaty and if such behavior goes unpunished, other nations and rebels could follow suit, deepening the tragedy.

Michael P. Moore, August 12, 2011