This month the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met to discuss the operations of the Convention and consider new issues. On the forefront of new issues is the question of Lethal Autonomous Weapons or, colloquially, Killer Robots. We are not in the realm of science fiction here, either. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or, colloquially, drones) are used throughout the world and in many combat situations. Equipped with missiles, drones have been used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in recent months to attack and killed terrorists. The US military’s drones are operated out of bases as far away from the theater of war as Arizona, thousands of miles away, by soldiers using video game controllers and looking at large computer monitors. The monitors display high resolution images captured by cameras on board the drones. When the pilot identifies a threat, he or she can fire a missile at the threat (if the drone is so equipped) or call in armed air support.
As of today, a drone cannot initiate an attack. Only the human controllers (“pilots”) can do so. However, with companies, including seemingly benign ones like Facebook, developing more accurate facial recognition software, there is the possibility that, in the not-too-distant future, a drone could be programmed with a particular individual’s face and set loose in the sky. The drone would fly around and upon finding its target, be able to attack and kill the target with a missile. Technologically, we’re probably only a couple of years from being able to do this: pre-program a drone with a pre-authorized kill list, have the drone identify individuals on that list, and then let the drone launch a missile strike. No warnings, no confirmations. Just push “start,” sit back and wait for the bad guys to get blown up.
A little more than a year ago, Human Rights Watch published its report, Losing Humanity. The report described the human rights and legal arguments in support of a ban on autonomous weapons. The report provided the spark for the April 2013 Launch of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of 45 organizations, including the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, Human Rights Watch and other civil society organizations from 22 countries calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons.
The argument against killer robots is that they are indiscriminate weapons. Unlike humans, a killer robot could not make a judgment call about a particular situation or may launch an attack against a target when the target is in the presence of non-combatants. Or the killer robot could falsely identify a target, killing an innocent. These are all valid points, but I’m sure programmers would say that a nearly flawless facial recognition software is possible, eliminating the chances of a robot targeting the wrong person. Also, drones have killed hundreds of non-combatants whilst under the control of human operators; both by mistake and when non-combatants were in the presence of a verified target. Humans are prone to mistaken identification and could order an attack on an innocent. Armed drones have been used in “signature” strikes where a human evaluated the actions of individuals viewed through the computer monitor and determined that the individuals on screen were engaged in activities that fit a “signature” of terrorists. So while the arguments against killer robots are valid, they could, and should, also be made about the current state of drone warfare which I am certain is part of the issue. By seeking a ban on killer robots, the disarmament community can start to rein in the use of drones, or at least define some limits on their use.
The question of a ban or regulation on lethal autonomous weapons was referred by the United Nations to the CCW as the “appropriate venue” for discussions. But the CCW was not the only possible venue. The issue of killer robots was first raised at the United Nations by the Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings within the context of the UN’s Human Rights Council and some states would have been supportive of the issue being taken up by the Council (the Council will be one of the frameworks to address drone warfare more broadly as some, especially those circumstances mentioned above, fall under the definition of extrajudicial or arbitrary killings). The other alternative would have been to take the issue entirely out of the United Nations framework, just as had been done when the CCW was seen by member states to fail on the issues of landmines and cluster munitions.
The Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for finding an alternative means to achieve international disarmament, outside of the UN system. The ICBL and several countries went outside the UN system when the CCW’s Amended Protocol II on landmines was seen by the ICBL and those countries as insufficient protection from the humanitarian harm of landmines. A decade later when the CCW produced Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, civil society (represented by most of the ICBL membership) partnered with supportive states to draft, sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Both the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions have more signatories than the corresponding CCW Protocols, making the Protocols increasingly irrelevant. Why would a country sign and be obligated to a weaker standard when it has already agreed to the higher standards of the Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Cluster Munitions?
In addition to the threat of pursuing a ban on killer robots through the Human Rights Council, campaigners suggested that another negotiating framework could have been pursued outside of the UN system had the CCW failed to take up the issue. The Campaign the Ban Killer Robots, with the support of many of the ICBL’s members, would have been able to partner with supportive states, including France, Egypt and the Holy See (think about how many times you would put those three in a room together), to draft a multi-lateral treaty banning lethal autonomous robots. That option remains should the CCW fail to achieve a ban in the coming year.
The success of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions has put significant pressure on the CCW to remain relevant. Under the leadership of the French delegation, the CCW has agreed to address the emerging issue of killer robots, which maintains the CCW’s position as a relevant and timely negotiating forum, but should talks drag on (and considering the speed with which the issue has developed and achieved a spot on the agenda, even a short delay by the negotiators could be seen as too long), a civil society-led process could be in the offing.
Michael P. Moore
November 27, 2013
The Mine Ban Treaty is not the only treaty to regulate the use of landmines, there is also the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention) and its three associated protocols: Protocol II (“Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices”), Amended Protocol II (which updated and expanded Protocol II in 1996) and Protocol V (“Explosive Remnants of War”). The CCW and its Protocols are not perfect and in fact, the loopholes and allowances in Amended Protocol II and Protocol V led directly to the drafting and signing of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, respectively, which are both more comprehensive and represent total bans on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions. Next week, April 8 – 12, two groups of experts will meet to discuss and advance issues related to Amended Protocol II (APII) and Protocol V.
Each of the Protocols to the CCW are considered separate treaties that require ratification or accession by the states. As such, the Protocols are officially convening two separate groups of experts, but in fact, for the countries that have ratified both APII and Protocol V, the same individuals can be expected to attend which is why the meetings are happening back to back. The week after, April 15 – 19, the intercessional meetings of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) will take place and many of the experts in Geneva for the CCW meetings will stay on the CCM intercessional meetings. For many states affected by landmines and cluster munitions, the cost of multiple trips to Geneva would be prohibitive so by having all three meetings within two weeks will allow more states to participate at a high level. For those deeply impoverished states, the United Nations does provide some assistance in the form of sponsorship to ensure attendance.
There are two topics under consideration at the APII group of experts meeting that I wish to discuss, universalization and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and one at the Protocol V meeting, reporting.
Universalization is the process by which the states party to a treaty encourage non-signatories to sign and ratify or accede to a treaty. There are 22 countries that have not ratified or acceded to Protocol II, APII or the Mine Ban Treaty and there are four (Cuba, Laos, Mongolia and Uzbekistan) that have ratified Protocol II and not APII. One of the priorities for universalization is to encourage those four countries to accede to the more stringent APII.
Universalization is also a priority for the parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and an official position, the “Special Envoy on the Universalization of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention” held by Prince Mired bin Ra’ad Al Hussein of Jordan, has been created to increase outreach. But there are states who have in the recent past declared an opposition (or aggressive ambivalence) to joining the Mine Ban Treaty and for those countries, accession to APII (Protocol II is no longer available as an option) may be acceptable. For example, every year at the United Nations General Assembly, a vote is taken on measure in support of and to encourage universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and in 2012, several states abstained (no one voted against) from the vote. Of those abstainers, some explained their reasoning which included recognizing a continuing military utility for anti-personnel landmines and concerns about the clearance requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty. By encouraging those states to join APII which seeks to balance a perceived military utility of landmines with the humanitarian impact of those mines, the CCW becomes a stepping stone to accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and the United Nations’ goal of a mine-free world.
Improvised Explosive Devices
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are covered by APII under the definition of “Other Devices” which made specific reference to IEDs. IEDs have been a mainstay in irregular (or asymmetric) warfare for decades, from the car and truck bombs of the 1970s and 1980s, to the sophisticated cell phone-activated bombs of Iraq and Afghanistan. The group of experts has been tasked with finding ways to improve cooperation between states to combat IEDs. A focus area for cooperation, based upon the “non-paper” drafted by the Australian government, is on tracking the trade and transport of 14 possible pre-cursors of explosive devices. The problem with this approach is the fact that some of these pre-cursors is that they are dual-use products, like nitrate-based fertilizer which was used in Oklahoma City and has been sought by the Taliban. The same fertilizer could be used in an agrarian society like Afghanistan to boost crop yields and so the Australians are also careful to note that the monitoring of the pre-cursors must not hamper their legitimate trade and non-lethal use.
The other problem with focusing on monitoring pre-cursors is the fact that many IEDs repurpose military ordnance. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many IEDs are fashioned from artillery shells of which hundreds of thousands if not millions were stockpiled by the regimes in those countries. When Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were toppled, little or no effort was made to secure these stockpiles which were looted and have since been used as anti-tank and anti-personnel IEDs. The same happened in Libya, although in Libya it was so much worse because the US and European governments focused on the threats of handheld surface to air missiles or man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) while ignoring all other ordnance. The result was thousands of MANPADS were secured while hundreds of thousands of mortars, artillery shells and landmines were allowed to be looted. Those shells and landmines will likely turn up around Africa and the Middle East as IEDs. Therefore, the group of experts must also address and provide for cooperation in securing stockpiles of failing regimes to prevent future proliferation, although frankly the amount of ordnance already available could fuel dozens of insurgencies for decades.
Protocol V has substantial victim assistance obligations and in the reporting mechanisms that have been developed for the Protocol, states parties are now asked to report on their victim assistance activities and burdens. Similar requirements for reporting exist for parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, but not for parties to APII. I feel that the victim assistance reporting requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty and Protocol V should be applied to APII, but the test case is Protocol V as the requirements are new. However, because the cause of injury in explosions is often unclear (e.g., the US government reports all injuries from blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan as caused by IEDs when some were almost certainly caused by landmines), the reporting under Protocol V may necessarily cover all victims to be sure as to cover those injured by the ERW regulated by Protocol V.
Michael P. Moore
April 6, 2013
Landmines were both a local story and a global story in November. On the global level, the First Committee of the United Nations met to discuss disarmament issues and held its annual vote on universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty. Also in the November, the Review Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed issues related to its Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) which includes landmines. At the end of the month, in anticipation of the 12th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) published the annual Landmine Monitor report, the de facto monitoring and verification mechanism for the Mine Ban Treaty. These events provided an opportunity for states and non-governmental organizations to present information about landmine issues. On a local level, landmine casualties continue to plague many nations including Somalia, Angola, Uganda and the Sudans. Positive progress was seen in Libya, the Republic of Congo and in Egypt.
In what just may be the first time since I started compiling these monthly summaries, there were no reports of landmine casualties in Somalia. I did notice that Shabelle Media has started to use the term, “road-side bomb” more frequently in places where it used to say, “remote-controlled landmine,” but I think the change is also due to the change in the conflict in Somalia. We are seeing more grenade attacks on soft targets and assassinations than landmine attacks. This is due to the fact that Al Shabaab controls less and less territory and is not trying to defend territory; instead, Al Shabaab is trying to stoke fear through killings of journalists, leaders and random civilians. Also, the AMISOM troops are sweeping former Al Shabaab controlled areas and clearing landmines. Several have been found in the streets of Kismayo after the departure of Al Shabaab and these have been cleared, allowing for use of the roadways (All Africa).
The National Inter-sectorial De-mining and Humanitarian Assistance Commission (CNIDAH) launched a nationwide census of landmine victims as part of the strategy to create a comprehensive victim assistance plan. Previous estimates of the number of Angolan landmine survivors has been as high as 80,000 and this census will provide the first accurate estimate of the number. So far, 3,000 survivors have been identified in five provinces with another 14 to be surveyed (All Africa).
Handicap International (HI), operating in Libya since August 2011, conducted a public demolition of nine tons of ERW, representing 5,500 individual pieces of mortars, landmines, unexploded bombs and other expended and unexpended ammunition. The demolition was the result of months of collecting materials and took three hours to complete. HI has also been busy with mine risk education reaching tens of thousands of individuals with the message of the dangers of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. However, HI’s Chief of Operations in Libya, Paul McCullough, said “after eight months of EOD operations we’ve still not broken the back of the clearance” in Libya and committed to continue working until “a manageable residue is left for” Libya’s national mine action authority to complete (Libya Herald).
Mozambique and Zimbabwe
In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Guy Willoughby, a co-founder of the HALO Trust remarked that while in most countries the number of landmines is in the tens of or hundreds of thousands, “There will be a million land mines to still clear on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border.” Both countries are working to survey the region, but the number staggers (Radio Free Europe).
Mozambique, once one of the most mine-affected countries in the world, is making remarkable progress towards becoming mine-free. To date, 97 of Mozambique’s 128 districts have been cleared or confirmed as mine-free. While the border with Zimbabwe remains to be cleared, there is hope that a project believed to require decades of work, just might be completed by March 2014 (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) conducted a survey of the Republic of Congo and based upon that survey has declared Congo to be free of anti-personnel mines. There had been suspected contamination around the Cabinda enclave (part of Angola that is wholly surrounded by the Congo and has been subject to a long-running rebellion). Congo requested an extension to its Article 5 mine clearance obligations (the request was submitted after the initial deadline had passed) and the NPA survey was designed to fulfill the obligations of the extension request (Norwegian People’s Aid).
Three children were killed and a fourth gravely injured by a landmine that was found in a swampy area in Warrap State. The incident has prompted authorities in the state to conduct more mine risk education activities to prevent future casualties (Oye! Times).
To help South Sudan build its capacity to manage the land mine threat, the Canadian Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force funded a team from South Sudan to visit the mine action authority in Afghanistan. The South Sudanese team observed mine clearance activities and had the opportunity for peer to peer learning (Norwegian People’s Aid).
As the dispute between South Sudan and Sudan over the status of the Abyei region continues, the United Nations Security Council authorized a six-month extension of its peacekeeping force there. As part of the re-authorization, the Security Council its concern about “the residual threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the Abyei Area, which hinders the safe return of displaced persons to their homes and safe migration” and demanded “that the Government of Sudan and the Government of South Sudan facilitate the deployment of the United Nations Mine Action Service to ensure JBVMM [Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism] freedom of movement as well as the identification and clearance of mines in the Abyei Area and SDBZ [Safe Demilitarized Border Zone].” So that settles that. It is unfortunate that demining has become politicized in the border disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, but by preventing demining in Abyei, Sudan can effectively prevent South Sudanese people from returning to the area for fear of landmines and establish new “facts on the ground” in Sudan’s favor (All Africa).
Mine risk education continues throughout South Sudan in sometimes constrained circumstances. A local NGO, the Sudan Integrated Mine Action Service (SIMAS), uses red painted stones to mark minefields instead of the formal warning signs found elsewhere. SIMAS conducts outreach to pastoral groups to inform them of the significance of the painted stones and the potential risks of entering a minefield, which all too many South Sudanese are familiar with. To date some 1.8 million people, over 20% of the country’s entire population, have received mine risk education information in South Sudan, but pastoral and traditional societies have been more difficult to reach due to their mobility and suspicions of outsiders. SIMAS has been able to earn their trust and is actively educating “children and adults in cattle camps, returnees at way stations coming back from Sudan, and other displaced persons” (UN Mission in South Sudan).
Two boys, one 12-years old and the other 7, were injured when the landmine they had been playing with in South Kordofan State exploded. They were taken to a local hospital for treatment (Nuba Reports).
Corruption in Uganda has become so rampant that the United Kingdom has suspended foreign aid payments amid accusations that “funds from several European countries had been funnelled into the private bank accounts of officials in prime minister Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s office” (The Guardian). Unfortunately, corruption has also affected landmine survivors in Uganda. According to the State Minister for the Elderly and Disabled, Mr Sulaiman Madada, Uganda is committed to supporting landmine victims but the funds allocated for that support were “misappropriated.” Because of corruption, survivors are unable to get prosthetic limbs or participate in economic re-integration programs. Mr. Madaba says, “We need to work together and ensure all money is used for its intended purpose.” No, Mr. Madaba. The government needs to stop stealing from its most impoverished citizens. There’s no “we” in this problem (The Daily Monitor).
Two Saharawis were injured by a landmine in Smara. The landmine was likely placed by Moroccan forces who use landmines to prevent movement of the Polisario Front, the main political entity of the Saharawi people (All Africa). In London, the NGO Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which has been working in Western Sahara for many years to provide services to landmine victims and provide mine risk education, made a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on landmines. During the presentation, AOAV director, Steven Smith said “The Western Sahara is one the most heavily mined territories in the world with over 2,500 people killed in antipersonnel mine blasts” and noted the importance of providing services to landmine survivors (All Africa).
The German, Italian and British governments have combined to provide $25 million to clear 190,000 feddans (roughly 80,000 hectares) of landmines by 2016. The area to be cleared consists of portions of the El Alamein battlefield from World War II. There are an estimated 17.2 million mines in the Western Desert where El Alamein lies, some 15% of the total number of landmines globally (All Africa).
Sierra Leone’s presidential election provided an opportunity to interview members of the Sierra Leone Flying Stars Amputee Football Club. The link between the footballers and the election was tenuous, but the resilience of these young men and their efforts to overcome injury should always be celebrated (Al Jazeera).
In November the First Committee of the United Nations, the group of the whole which is responsible for considering disarmament issues, voted on a resolution entitled, “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction.” The resolution, or one very similar, is voted on each year and is seen as a bellwether of non-states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. This year’s resolution was approved with a vote of 152 in favor and none opposed, but 19 states abstained (no word on which states were simply out of the room at the time of the vote). Three states which abstained from the vote, Egypt, Libya and Morocco, took the opportunity to explain why they had abstained and why they also remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty regime. These explanations can be used by the Mine Ban Treaty’s universalization advocates to address those concerns and try to get the states to accede to the Treaty. Tanzania also took advantage of the vote to promote its work and support for APOPO’s use of rats for mine clearance activities (United Nations).
The High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met in Geneva for 6th Conference on Protocol V on ERWs, the 14th Conference on Amended Protocol II (which covers landmines and was a fore-runner to the Mine Ban Treaty), and a two-day Meeting of States Parties to the Convention. Since many countries who are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are parties to the CCW, like Pakistan and the United States, meetings of the CCW are important opportunities for landmine advocates in NGOs and states to address issues already raised in Mine Ban Treaty meetings, like victim assistance. Rather than paraphrasing, let me quote the report on the meeting written by Katherine Prizeman of Disarmament Dialogues:
Although no “new,” groundbreaking issues related to Protocol V were highlighted or resolved this session, the continued interest and enthusiasm around its universalization and robust implementation are important for both the disarmament and human rights communities as advocates and diplomats alike work to prevent gross human suffering during acts of warfare. It is essential that HCPs, in the context of Protocol V as well as the broader CCW framework, address not only the devastating humanitarian effects of such weapons during conflict, but also post-conflict and even during times of peace. As was noted by UNMAS and other delegations, unplanned explosions of munitions and ammunition sites are increasing risks and deserve attention at all times. Damage from unplanned explosions at munitions sites is far more costly than implementation of generic preventative measures that seek to curb this threat.
Many lessons can be drawn from the work on Protocol V of the CCW, namely the central role of victim assistance, the strong emphasis placed on national reporting and corresponding national templates, and the robust and regular exchange of information and best practices in an issue-specific format. With many other related processes underway in the disarmament and human rights fields, including the ongoing arms trade treaty (ATT) process and the Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons (SALWs), the hope is that CCW practices based on the values of transparency and accountability will inspire these parallel processes. Such core principles must be an inherent part of any successful arms control, disarmament, or humanitarian instrument seeking to make a concrete difference on the ground. (Global Action to Prevent War Blog).
The ICBL published the 14th edition of the Landmine Monitor covering activities in 2011 and highlighting some exciting progress on Mine Ban Treaty issues. Three states, Israel, Libya and Myanmar, used landmines in 2011, and non-state actors in six countries, Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen, also used mines. However, the editor of the Monitor said, “Active production of antipersonnel mines may be ongoing in as few as four countries” and no exports of landmines from those countries has been documented in several years. Therefore the number of new mines available for use is very small and existing stockpiles continue to be reduced in accordance with the Treaty. Two dozen non-state actors (rebel groups) have signed Deeds of Commitment which state that the groups will abide by the terms of the Mine Ban Treaty, further reducing the demand for landmines. The good news was tempered by the facts that the number of confirmed landmine casualties had increased slightly for the second straight year and that funding for victim assistance is at its lowest level in a decade and a full 30% less than the year before (All Africa). Also in the bad news column, Canada, the country which hosted the negotiations for the Mine Ban Treaty (which is also known as the Ottawa Treaty in recognition for where it was signed), cut its funding for mine action almost in half, from $30 million to $17 million (Ottawa Citizen).
Last, AFRICOM continues to host trainings for African militaries in humanitarian mine action. The curriculum currently covers demining, ordnance identification, explosives safety and theory, metal detector operations, demolitions, physical security, stockpile classes, medical training and one-man drills, but the director of the program for AFRICOM expressed interest in adding victim assistance and mine risk education to the subject topics. As the director said, the humanitarian mine action program is “not very expensive… [and] is the most effective and has the greatest chance to build actual capacity in the country.” To participate in the training program, which has so far engaged militaries in Chad, the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, nations must request support through the Department of State (AFRICOM http://www.usaraf.army.mil/NEWS/NEWS_121130_dmn.html).
Michael P. Moore
December 11, 2012
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege to engage in an extended email question and answer session with the US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Plans, Programs and Operations, Maj. General Walter D. Givhan (Biography from State Department). General Givhan oversees the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM / WRA), among other assignments, within the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM). As such, General Givhan is responsible for the US Humanitarian Mine Action Program and the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program and implements the current US Landmine Policy (State Department).
General Givhan took the opportunity to bring up the work done by PM / WRA on protecting civilians from the dangers of aging ammunition depots and combatting the proliferation of man-portable air-defense systems. He also offered some insight into the State Department’s perspectives on the Mine Ban Treaty (referred to below as “the Ottawa Treaty”) and negotiations surrounding anti-vehicle mines and cluster munitions within the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
I was interested to hear how political events in Guinea-Bissau (a coup in April of this year) and Sudan (expulsion of humanitarian deminers) had affected the State Department’s priorities and on the demining work being done in those countries. I was also pleased to hear that General Givhan and PM are active to protect the funding made available for humanitarian demining from the budget fights on Capitol Hill.
I do worry that the consolidation of humanitarian mine action into the broader Conventional Weapons Destruction program could lead to reduced support for mine action in the future. I absolutely support the elimination of ammunition depots from populated areas because of the tremendous risk they pose, risks made evident from recent explosions in Brazzaville (BBC News), Lagos (Guardian) and Maputo (Metro). However, in Libya, the US government prioritized securing MANPADS over landmines and while some of the funds made available for MANPADS destruction also covered landmine destruction and removal, the intent was to eliminate the MANPADS. This is understandable from a national security and national interests perspective: the United States is not going to be threatened by landmines in the ground in Libya, but US airplanes flying in Libyan airspace could be targeted by MANPADS in Libya. However, the humanitarian impact of MANPADS is dwarfed by that of landmines and this blog is based on the idea that the humanitarian impact should trump the national security argument. Compare if you will the following: since 1975, MANPADS have been responsible for more than 800 civilian deaths (State Department); in 2012 alone landmines were responsible for more.
My thanks go to David I. McKeeby in PM’s Office of Congressional & Public Affairs for his help facilitating these exchanges.
Landmines in Africa: In 2011, the US funded mine clearance programs in Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mozambique, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan; how does the State Department choose which countries to support humanitarian mine action programs?
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Walter Givhan: The purpose of humanitarian mine action is to protect victims of conflict and to restore access to land and infrastructure for internally displaced persons and for returning refugees in post-conflict situations. Humanitarian Mine Action is a necessary precursor for economic development activities and for humanitarian relief. With this purpose, the Department of State chooses to support requests for Conventional Weapons Destruction assistance, including humanitarian mine action, in countries where these efforts will have the greatest humanitarian impact.
For example in FY 12, the Department of State began providing assistance for clearance activities in Zimbabwe. There is heavy mine contamination in Zimbabwe and there have been over 1,500 human casualties and over 120,000 accidents with livestock. Humanitarian demining activities will reduce the likelihood of such accidents.
Specific factors used to determine whether to provide assistance to a country include: the amount and location of the landmines/unexploded ordnance (UXO); the capacity of the host nation; and whether the security and political situation is favorable to carrying out demining and UXO removal.
LIA: As a follow-up, what criteria does the Department use to determine whether or not to continue funding programs in countries where support has been given?
DAS Givhan: The Department of State uses the same criteria to determine whether or not to continue funding a program as it does on whether or not to establish a program.
LIA. Are there any countries the Department wanted to support humanitarian mine action programs in, but did not and why?
DAS Givhan: Yes, in FY 2012 there were two:
- The Department had planned to provide Humanitarian Mine Action assistance to Guinea-Bissau. However, given the April 12, 2012 coup, the United States was obliged to terminate foreign assistance to the Government of Guinea-Bissau consistent with the requirements of section 7008 of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act for 2012.
- The Department also suspended its support for programs in Sudan when the government of Sudan asked all of the humanitarian demining NGOs to leave the country and seized their equipment. In addition, political unrest has led to significant personnel reductions at U.S. Embassy Khartoum, which compromises our ability to monitor demining programs in country.
LIA: The Bureau of Political-Military [PM] Affairs primarily funds mine clearance and mine risk education programs and victim assistance programming and funding is mostly left to USAID’s Leahy War Victims’ Fund; do you believe there is a role for PM to support victim assistance and how would PM fulfill that role?
DAS Givhan: The State Department does fund survivor assistance programs when they are complementary to our mine action programs and are not duplicative of work being undertaken by USAID. In these cases, we coordinate with our colleagues at USAID to ensure the best use of funding. Any assistance programs managed by USAID and the Department of State do not differentiate victims by the munition that caused their injury.
Although we did not provide survivor assistance in Africa in FY 2011, we did provide funding for survivor assistance in Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Peru, Vietnam, and Yemen. PM/WRA funding for survivor assistance generally includes rehabilitation and vocational services.
LIA: With the budget fights on Capitol Hill, how will PM preserve the funding for humanitarian mine action?
DAS Givhan: The Department of State’s Conventional Weapons Destruction programs receive widespread bipartisan support from Congress. We appreciate this support and will continue to make the case to Congress that these programs are effective and in the nation’s interest.
LIA: The Convention on Conventional Weapons framework has recently considered Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (meaning anti-vehicle mines) and cluster munitions; where do you think these negotiations will go?
DAS Givhan: The United States has been a leader in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) efforts on Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM). The United States was among the original co-sponsors of a proposed additional protocol to address the indiscriminate use of MOTAPM in the years leading up to the Third Review Conference of the CCW in 2006. We were frustrated that the CCW was forced to suspend this work because of the inability of states to reach consensus at that Conference.
We have been supportive of the decision to resume work with an expert-level meeting and actively participated in the discussion at this meeting in April. We fully recognize the humanitarian threat associated with the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of MOTAPM and believe that there is room for specific restrictions on the use of MOTAPM in addition to the relevant provisions of CCW Amended Protocol II (Mines, Booby Traps, and other Explosive Devices). We look forward to further discussing this issue at the CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties in November.
The United States was deeply disappointed by the failure of the Fourth Review Conference of the CCW to conclude a protocol on cluster munitions. The protocol would have prohibited a greater number of cluster munitions for the United States alone than the Oslo Convention has prohibited for all of its member states combined. There are no further negotiations scheduled at this time. The CCW States Parties could decide to restart negotiations in the future, but that seems unlikely anytime soon.
LIA: The Administration initiated a review of the 2004 US Landmine Policy; what is the status of that review and do you foresee any significant changes on the horizon?
DAS Givhan: We have not made a decision on U.S. accession to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Production, Stockpiling and Transfer of Anti-Personnel landmines (Ottawa Convention).
The operational issues raised by accession require careful consideration, and this work is ongoing.
The United States shares the humanitarian concern of parties to the Ottawa Convention and sent an observer delegation to the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Convention, November 28-December 2, 2011, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
We continue to demonstrate our commitment to addressing the potential humanitarian consequences caused by landmines:
- The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, and since 1993 (through October 2012) has provided over $2 billion in aid in over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs, including clearance of landmines and unexploded munitions.
- The United States has ended use of all non-detectable mines, both anti-personnel, as well as anti-vehicle mines, which are not covered by the Ottawa Convention.
- The United States ended all use of persistent mines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, at the end of 2010. These are the mines that can remain active years or even decades after a conflict ends.
In addition, the United States has ratified the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a separate international treaty that establishes transparent and verifiable standards for the use of landmines to minimize risks to civilians.
LIA: Mine clearance activities funded by the State Department rely on tried and true techniques such as manual clearance, mechanical clearance and mine detection dogs; are there any new or emerging techniques, e.g., rats, acoustics, chemical films, that you find intriguing and why?
DAS Givhan: The State Department is generally not involved in Research and Development for humanitarian mine clearance techniques. We refer you to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program which focuses on developing technologies to improve the efficiency and safety of removing post-conflict landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). HD R&D designs, builds, demonstrates, and evaluates prototype mine-and UXO-clearing technologies for indigenous, host-nation-conducted demining operations supported by the U.S. Department of Defense.
LIA: Will the US be represented at December’s Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and if so, what will your goals for attendance be; if not, will the US participate in the next Review Conference?
DAS Givhan: The United States has attended the Ottawa Convention annual meetings since the 2009 Cartagena Review Conference. This has been a useful opportunity to meet with representatives from other states and non-governmental organizations to discuss and coordinate our common humanitarian mine action efforts.
No formal decision has been made regarding attendance this year. (As of 11/15/12, no decision had been made).
LIA: [Regarding] question 5, I did not specifically ask about the Ottawa Treaty. I am glad to hear that the US Government is reviewing what the consequences of accession to the Ottawa Treaty would be and is committed to addressing the potential humanitarian consequences of anti-personnel landmines, but I would also like to know more about the review of the US Government’s 2004 Landmine Policy. Does your response mean that the central question of the review was whether or not the US Government should accede to the Ottawa Treaty? Or did the review have another central question at its core? Also, do you know when a decision on accession to the Ottawa Treaty might be made, since consideration on that question is ongoing?
[Question truncated by the State Department to: “Regarding the 2004 Landmine Policy Review, was the central question of the review whether or not the United States should accede to the Ottawa Treaty, or did the review have another central question at its core? What is the timeline for the current Landmine Policy Review?”]
DAS Givhan: While I’m obviously not in a position to speak to the internal deliberations of previous administrations, this statement from Lincoln Bloomfield, the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the time of the 2004 Landmine Policy announcement summarizes their vision.
We are mindful of the humanitarian consequences of indiscriminate landmine use. Indeed, the United States remains the world’s largest donor to humanitarian mine action.
The operational issues raised by the review require careful consideration, and this work is ongoing.
LIA: What will success look like for the US’s Convention Weapons Destruction Program?
DAS Givhan: Substantial assistance from the United States and other donors over the last 20 years has significantly reduced casualties from landmine and unexploded munitions. While our vision of success is to continue this trend, explosions from munitions depots are of growing concern. Our experience has shown us that overlap often exists between explosive remnants of war (ERW), at-risk small arms and light weapons, including man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), and excess, unsecured or unstable conventional munitions.
To more effectively confront these overlapping threats to human and national security, our programs and funding have merged under an umbrella known as Conventional Weapons Destruction. Our consolidated CWD budget increases flexibility by allowing program implementers the ability to address multiple threats simultaneously for greater efficiency and impact.
Increasingly, our efforts have focused on destroying unstable munitions before they explode and helping states to improve management of their stockpiles to prevent such tragic humanitarian disasters, as well as cleaning up depot explosions when they do occur. Unfortunately, due to the enormous challenge before us, efforts to mitigate ERW and munitions depot explosions will continue to be a long-term effort.
Michael P. Moore, November 19, 2012
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.
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