After the last mine is cleared: The future of landmine survivor assistance

In Mozambique, thousands of our fellow citizens who have been mutilated by [anti-personnel landmines] are waiting for the day when we shall have the conditions required for increasing assistance and effecting the social and economic reintegration to which they are entitled.  It is within this framework that my Government, in close cooperation with friendly countries, drew up a national assistance strategy for landmines victims.  As the document will be presented in the next few days, you will have the opportunity to undertake a detailed assessment of this multidisciplinary programme we have worked out.  In fact, I hope to see this strategy encompass health, job promotion and social reintegration activities, for without these we cannot talk about adequate assistance to landmine victims.

Joaquim Alberto Chissano, President of the Republic of Mozambique

May 3, 1999 (Opening Ceremony of the First Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty)[1]

Since coming into force in 1999, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Convention or Mine Ban Treaty) has served as the framework for clearing millions of anti-personnel landmines, providing mine-risk education to citizens of dozens of mine-affected countries and providing survivor assistance to tens of thousands of survivors of landmine injuries.  Mozambique hosted the first Meeting of States Parties to the Convention in 1999 and will soon, just as it is about to clear the last anti-personnel landmine from its territory, host the Third Review Conference of the Convention (the first Review Conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004; the second in Cartagena, Colombia in 2009).  From June 29 to July 4, 2014, governments, civil society and landmine survivors will meet in Mozambique’s capitol, Maputo, to review progress towards the Mine Ban Treaty’s objectives and plot the way forward for the next five years (2014 – 2019).

Mozambique had once been considered one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. An estimated 2 million anti-personnel landmines polluted the country from decades of war beginning with the liberation struggle against Portugal through a brutal civil war that began shortly after independence in 1975 and lasted until a negotiated settlement in 1992.  In 1999, President Chissano estimated that clearance of Mozambique’s landmines could take 160 years to complete. While the true number of landmines in Mozambique was much lower than the original estimates, the symbolic nature of clearing the minefields of a country like Mozambique is not to be overestimated.  Mozambique will be an epic success story for the Mine Ban Treaty and held up as an example to other severely mine-affected countries like Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Colombia as proof that the minefields can be cleared and the land returned to productive use.  But there is a flip side to this success.

The government of Mozambique estimates that almost 11,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines.  Of that total, the number of survivors is unknown, but historical data suggests that at least half of those casualties would be alive today.  A survey conducted between 2009 and 2012 identified 1,500 landmine survivors in the three provinces of Maputo, Inhambane and Sofala (Mozambique has 10 provinces and the capitol, Maputo).  For those landmine survivors, the heroic feat of landmine clearance is meaningless; it comes too late to help them.  Landmine survivors, depending upon the nature of their injuries, require surgery, assistive devices, physical rehabilitation, economic support and psychosocial counseling.  For this reason, one of the notable achievements of the Mine Ban Treaty was the inclusion of Article 6.3 which obligated states “in a position to do so”[2] to provide support to landmine survivors.

This paper, “After the last mine is cleared: The future of landmine survivor assistance,” seeks to describe how that obligation has (or has not) been met in Mozambique after 20 years of international support for mine action in the country.  This paper asks, “What is the future of survivor assistance?” now that we are able to envision a world free of landmines. With Mozambique as a case study for survivor assistance implementation, the goal is to spark conversations in advance of the Third Review Conference with an emphasis on the post-2015 development framework that is under discussion now.


[1] Final Report of the First Meeting of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines.

[2] Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.


The Month in Mines, April 2013 by Landmines in Africa

Annually, the world observes April 4th as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Action.  As a result, the month of April, along with the month of the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and the accompanying release of the annual Landmine Monitor, sees many articles and news stories about landmines, their impacts upon communities and efforts to clear them.  This year was no different and there were re-affirmations of landmine policies, calls to action and general reports in addition to specific stories about landmine accidents and activities.  During months like this, one does get a sense of how widespread the threat of landmines continues to be and the importance of continued mine action.  From West Africa to East Africa, from North to South, the threat remains and in some places appears to be growing.  Also be forewarned, this will be a long report; there is an awful lot of news to cover…

 

Liberia

Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, declared April 4th to be a national working holiday in honor of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Action.  The country called upon others to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and warned about maintaining vigilance for landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).  The African Union Ambassador to Liberia, with support of representatives from the European Union, the government of Liberia and the International Committee of the Red Cross, declared Liberia and the West African sub-region to be free of anti-personnel landmines (All Africa), although he did not say which countries he included in the region since landmine continue to be an issue in Senegal and have emerged as an issue in Mali. 

 

Sudan

In the western region of Darfur, officials took advantage of the April 4th observances to highlight the continuing threat of landmines and ERW in the conflict-affected region despite efforts by the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping forces to demine affected areas (All Africa).  Unfortunately, their warnings were sadly prescient as one child was killed and another injured three weeks later when a landmine detonated near where they were playing (All Africa). 

 

South Sudan

Violence in South Sudan, especially in Unity and Jonglei States have interrupted efforts at mine clearance, while also adding to the existing problem through new use of mines.  Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the United Nations and national and international mine action operators have been working to clear landmines and many South Sudanese states are now free of mines, but mine risk education and victim assistance programs must remain a priority (All Africa).  For those states where the mines have been cleared, refugees have been able to return to their homes, although the clashes in states along the border with Sudan have kept some away (All Africa). 

 

Morocco and Western Sahara

The release of a video describing conditions in the Sahrawi refugee camps on the Guardian’s website served as a reminder of “Africa’s Last Colony.”  Coincidentally released on April 4th, the video shows footage of the 2,700 kilometer-long berm that splits Western Sahara between the western region controlled by Morocco and the eastern region governed by the internationally-recognized Polisario Front.  The berm is composed of a dirt wall and is protected by millions of landmines, preventing any crossing from one side to the other (All Africa). 

 

Egypt

According to one report, the Egyptian navy seized a vessel in the Red Sea that was carrying 45 tons of military hardware including landmines.  The potential destination of the arms was not mentioned, but American and British crewmen were taken into custody to try and determine the origin and purpose of the shipment (All Africa). 

On the subject of getting landmines out of Egypt, rather than into the country, Egyptian authorities announced the purchase of a second demining vehicle to help with the clearance of some 20 million (yes, million) landmines from the western deserts around the World War II battlefields of El Alamein.  With a 2016 target for completion, the mine clearance will open up an area equivalent to a fifth of Egypt’s total territory.  The vehicle, an Armtrack 400 was bought from a British firm with the support of grants from a number of sources.  Egypt estimates that another US $23 million dollars in assistance is needed to complete the demining and there are plans to purchase two more Armtrack 400 machines bringing the total number to four.  In addition to the development opportunities that demining will allow – including agriculture, city planning, natural gas and oil exploration – there is the humanitarian imperative to clear the mines.  Over the last thirty years, 800 people have been killed by landmines in Egypt and another 7,500 have been injured (Xinhua; Ahram; All Africa; Cambridge News). 

 

Zimbabwe

“Zimbabwe is one of the most mine-impacted countries in the world in terms of area affected and density of mines” (Nehanda Radio).   Says it all really. 

335 kilometers of Zimbabwe’s borders with Mozambique and Zambia are contaminated with landmines which are present in a density of 5,500 mines per square kilometer for a total of some 2 million mines.  $100 million in support is required for Zimbabwe to clear all of the minefields, but at present, the area and depth of contamination is only estimated.  Over the next two years, Zimbabwe and mine action operators will conduct surveys to determine the actual scope of the problem.  The presence of landmines has effectively sealed the borders to trade and prevented the development of many fertile fields (The Africa Report).  In addition to organized demining, residents of the mine-affected regions engage in community demining, described as “daredevil landmine-clearing.”  The process starts by setting controlled fires and then sifting through the ashes for mines.  Several people detonated landmines during these actions, the result of which they describe as follows: “In the event that one steps and denotes a landmine, that person is shredded to pieces. We do not bury those that would have been blown by landmines since there will be no bones or skeletons to bury” (The Sunday Mail).

In other news of landmine tampering, the victims of the Chitungwiza landmine blast that resulted from the attempts to extract mythical red mercury from a landmine continue to be homeless.  The blast killed six people and destroyed a dozen houses.  The residents of those houses have been living in temporary tents but with winter approaching, they need more permanent accommodations (All Africa).  One person who has received support since his landmine injury is Blessing Makwera, a young Zimbabwean man who suffered severe facial injuries from tampering with a landmine six years ago.  Operation of Hope, a not-for-profit organization in Portland, Oregon that donates surgical expertise, has sponsored Blessing to come to the United States and undergo several surgeries to reconstruct his jaw and face and enable him to return to normal life.  At present, Blessing is working as a teaching assistant at a Portland-area school whose students had raised some of the funds necessary to pay for his surgeries and travel as he awaits the final round of operations (ABC News). 

 

Somalia

On April 15th, Somalia’s President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, condemned the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15th, making specific reference to the 8 year-old victim (RBC Radio).  He made those comments barely 24 hours after bombings in Mogadishu killed 29 people and injured 58 others (Voice of America).  On a day when his focus should have been on his own people, Somalia’s President took some time to recognize the shared threat of terrorism that people around the world face.  I wonder how many Americans recognized the same.  Back to the landmines…

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in Mogadishu clearing landmines at former government military bases that were abandoned when the Siad Barre regime collapsed (All Africa).  In addition to old mines, Al Shabaab appears to have launched a new offensive, beginning with the large blast in Mogadishu and used landmines to attack vehicles and individuals.  In Mogadishu, a district commissioner’s car was targeted by a landmine as he left an anti-Al Shabaab demonstration (RBC Radio).  In the Shabelle and Hiraan regions of the country, African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) vehicles were targeted in separate attacks (All Africa; All Africa).  After the attack in Shabelle region, AMISOM troops “opened fire” to disperse crowds that gathered.  Kenyan forces battled Al Shabaab militias after landmines were used to ambush convoys in the Juba region (All Africa) and in Garissa (Sabahi).  The battle in Juba was accompanied by airstrikes while the actions in Garissa led to a security crackdown and the arrest of over 100 individuals. 

The news out of Somalia is not all bad, though.  The Medina Hospital in Mogadishu, the largest emergency facility in a city that has seen decades of continuous fighting, reports a drop in the number of battle injuries.  “Medina you can use as a thermometer. It has the temperature of the security of the city. Every person that gets injured by bullet, shelling, hand bomb or land mine, usually they transport them to this hospital,” but in recent months, only 70 to 80 percent of the hospital’s 300 beds have been taken up by war injuries; down from 95%.  The high figure still shows the level of violence in Mogadishu, but the fact that the doctors are noticing a drop is a positive sign and hopefully, that percentage will continue to decline (Voice of America).

 

Mali

At the beginning of the month, the United Nations Secretary General described the security and humanitarian issues facing Mali, including usage of landmines by Islamist forces, as a means of lobbying for a United Nations led mission to replace the African Union mission that had been launched last September (All Africa).  Later in the month, under a Chapter VII peace-making, not peace-keeping, mandate, the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) was re-hatted and augmented with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) which will take effect on July 1, 2013.  Part of the rationale for the MINUSMA mission was the continuing threat of landmines and so part of the MINUSMA Charter is “To assist the transitional authorities of Mali, through training and other support, in mine action and weapons and ammunition management” (All Africa). 

 

Tunisia

Tunisia declared itself free of anti-personnel landmines as of March 2009 (The Monitor) so the reports of several landmine blasts at the end of the month came as a bit of a surprise.  In the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolts, some terrorist groups have taken refuge in the area of Jebel Chaambi in the mountainous region of Kasserine along the border with Algeria.  It is possible that terrorist cells have long operated in this region, but under the Ben-Ali dictatorship that was overthrown in 2011, information about these groups was limited.  At least three landmines were triggered by Tunisian National Guardsmen who were pursuing members of the terrorist group, a group that had been prepared for an assault and established perimeter defenses using landmines.  The event has received extensive coverage in African and Arabic media outlets suggesting that any restrictions on journalism under the old regime have been well and truly lifted, a positive sign from the cradle of the Arab Spring (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; World Bulletin; Maghrebia).  The acting Prime Minister of Tunisia declared “the state will fulfill its national duty towards security units who face risks in the accomplishment of their tasks of maintaining order in the country” and promised social security coverage for the injured men to assist in their recovery (All Africa). 

 

Senegal

With two new demining firms, South Africa’s Mechem and Norwegian People’s Aid, on the ground in Senegal, the prospects for meeting the country’s 2016 mine clearance deadline are looking up.  Half of the known mined land in the Casamance region has already been cleared, with almost half of that area cleared in the last year.  There are lingering fears that the separatist movement in Casamance is still using landmines and until a permanent peace is in place, the areas controlled by the separatists cannot be cleared of mines, but the general movement appears positive.  New injuries were reported in March, but whether those were due to new or old mines is not known.  In addition to the demining progress, the US State Department is making positive noises about the potential for a peace settlement which would ensure that the long term threat of landmines in Senegal is eliminated (IRIN News).

 

Uganda

Have you heard of the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony?  Of course you have; they were the subject of a viral internet video made by Invisible Children whose director had a complete mental breakdown after the backlash against his simplistic and self-indulgent description of the conflict.  But have you heard of the Allied Democratic Force (ADF) or any of the other 20, yes twenty, rebel movements that have tried to overthrow the Museveni regime in Uganda?  No?  Well, the ADF was one of the better resourced and more successful of these insurgencies, launched in 1996 they attacked several army outposts along the Ugandan border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing and capturing hundreds of people.  Supported by the government of Sudan in Khartoum, the ADF used landmines throughout western Uganda and in recent months appears to have been resurrected by one of its founders and is now training rebels in DRC, taking advantage of the chaos there.  Armed with landmines and heavy weapons, the ADF has almost 1,000 fighters ready to attack Uganda – that’s triple the number Joseph Kony had at last count (All Africa).

 

Angola

The US Ambassador to Angola, Christopher McMullen, used a speech at the Agostinho Neto University to lay out the US’s strategic interests in Angola.  While acknowledging the primacy of petroleum in those strategic interests, Ambassador McMullen tried to make the case for why the US would be interested in Angola beyond just oil. The US has provides millions of dollars annually in support of mine action in Angola to clear minefields for agricultural use as part of the strategic objective to “promote opportunity and development” (All Africa).  Part of the result of that investment has been the clearance of over 100,000 kilometers of roads, 1.1 billion square meters of land and thousands of kilometers of rights of way for railroads and fiber optic lines (All Africa). 

 

Ethiopia

Ethiopia Satellite News, a diaspora-based news organization that does not have friendly feelings for the current regime, accused officers of the Ethiopian military of looting the Ethiopian Demining Organization (EDO).  Supported by the United States and Europe, the EDO was shut down suddenly and its 700 employees were terminated.  Ethiopian officers then took possession of EDO’s heavy vehicles used for transport.  Investigations into the matter by the anti-corruption agency were “stopped due to undisclosed reasons” (Ethiopia Satellite News).  As a country, Ethiopia has made good progress towards becoming mine-free and if this story is true, it would represent a true shame.

 

Observance of the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action

(hold on friends, we’re almost there)

The International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action offered the opportunity for many in the international community to re-affirm their vision of a mine-free world.  Ms. Agnès Marcaillou, the new director of UNMAS, said simply “[anti-personnel landmines] have no place in the 21st Century” while the International Campaign to Ban Landmines stated “This weapon does not distinguish the foot of a child from the foot of a soldier” and the representative of the Mine Ban Treaty’s Implementation Support Unit said “Communities continue to suffer because the socio-economic impact is enormous” (United Nations).  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon highlighted the United Nations’s new mine action strategy saying that mine action “that advances peace, enables development, supports nations in transition and saves lives” (All Africa).   The Vatican’s spokesman described the “moral imperative to stop the use or production of these banned weapons” (Vatican Radio), while in the US, the international Lend Your Leg campaign tried to pressure the Obama Administration to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty (Huffington Post). 

Two pieces especially stood out for me among the Mine Awareness Day stories.  Ken Rutherford, himself a landmine survivor and the Director of the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery at James Madison University said:

This must not be another day marked by another spate of press releases — this day calls for action. The global community has the opportunity and responsibility to assist all victims of conflict. The United States, along with Burma and Syria, is not yet a State Party to the Ottawa Convention. Although the current US policy is being actively reviewed, we cannot wait for policy to drive progress. As Burma and Syria evolve, we must anticipate a day when the idea of a just and prosperous future is available not only to the abled but also the differently abled (Huffington Post).

With this call for action over statements, Rutherford pushes us all to realize that mine action is first and foremost, action and needs to be more than words and demonstration, subtly rebuking most of the other Mine Awareness Day events. 

The second piece was an announcement by South Africa’s Denel Mechem which makes mine-resistant vehicles for militaries.  In the report, Mechem announced that they wanted to sell their vehicles to civilian clients who “transported life-saving medicines, food, tents and fuel but were ‘vulnerable to the scourge of land mines and roadside bombs’” in Africa (Business Day Live).  This worries me that at least one company recognizes that the threat of landmines and improvised explosive devices is so great these days that humanitarian workers, who were not targets in the past, need mine-resistant vehicles to do their job.  We are either militarizing the humanitarian sphere by accepting this vehicle or late in recognizing that humanitarian workers have become legitimate targets in some groups’ eyes.

Michael P. Moore

May 4, 2013


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


Uganda’s Violation of Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty

At the most recent intersessional meetings of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) highlighted “serious concerns that states are not living up to their obligations under the Treaty.”  Specifically, the ICBL mentioned recent accusations of use of anti-personnel landmines by Sudan, Turkey and Yemen, all Parties to the Treaty, as well as use by the non-State Parties, Israel, Libya, Myanmar and Syria.  If the accusations against Sudan, Turkey and Yemen prove true, they would constitute major violations of the Treaty.  Other documented violations of the Treaty include the failure of Belarus, Greece and Ukraine to destroy their stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines within four years of the Treaty’s entry into force for each country, as required by Article 4 of the Treaty.  Lastly, the ICBL expressed its concern about delays in landmine clearance in States Parties; to date 27 countries had requested and extension to the Treaty-mandated ten-year period and more countries were expected to request extensions to their Article 5 obligation to clear all known landmines (ICBL). 

One of the countries that had requested and received an extension to its Article 5 deadline is Uganda.  The majority of landmines in Uganda were laid in the northern districts affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) rebellion.  Landmines were first used in this area in 1994 (supplied to the LRA by Sudan) and continued to be used until the LRA left Uganda in 2006.  Therefore, even though Uganda was one of the first signatories and ratifiers of the Mine Ban Treaty, due to the continuing violence in Northern Uganda, mine clearance could not begin until 2006.  However, once the LRA had left Northern Uganda, demining began in earnest with several survey operations and a gradual build-up of technical capacity with the intent of meeting the original Article 5 deadline of August 1, 2009 (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). In their 2009 review of Uganda’s request, the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty expressed several concerns about the work plan, but perhaps most significantly, the States Parties said “Uganda found itself in a situation wherein less than two months before its deadline it was still unclear whether it would be able to complete implementation of Article 5, paragraph 1 of the Convention by its deadline.”  This suggests that Uganda’s mine action authority had no idea about the extent of contamination in the country nor of the demining progress some three years after demining had supposedly begun (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).  Despite this concern, the States Parties granted the extension request of three years to August 1, 2012.

At the May 2012 intersessional meetings, Uganda reiterates its commitment to meeting to meeting the revised deadline.  Uganda also recognized that they would need to increase the speed at which they were clearing landmines and even with the assistance of MineWolf machines provided by Norwegian Peoples Aid (reducing the clearance capacity of South Sudan where the machines had been intended for use), many explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tasks were put on hold to focus on landmines.  Uganda envisioned requiring three more years of work to complete those EOD tasks after the completion of the landmine clearance.  However, in the update, Uganda admitted that “we predict completion of not less than 80% of the remaining clearance work on schedule.”  In other words, in May Uganda knew it would not meet the August 1, 2012 deadline, despite its “commitment” (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf).

Just this week, as the deadline passed, Uganda tried to spin the story as one of success.  Declaring the conclusion of “first phase of demining and disarmament in northern Uganda” the Uganda Peoples Defence Force declared that the army “shall continue to demine and ensure that all guns that are in illegal hands are collected and destroyed to enable peace return to the region.”  The army had intended to complete the demining in December 2011, but, in a wonderfully absurd manner, “officials said the exercise was still on course” despite failing to meet the Mine Ban Treaty’s deadline and its own self-imposed deadline.  A senior army official said “de-mining in the region achieved its intended purpose, but added more still needs to be done” (The Daily Monitor).  A revised deadline for mine clearance has been set for “later this year” (Al Jazeera). 

Uganda has categorically failed to meets its Article 5 demining deadline as required by the Mine Ban Treaty.  There is no mechanism in the Treaty to punish such a violation other than “naming and shaming” which I hope will be something of a spectator sport at the next Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in December.  Even if Uganda has completed all demining by the start of that Meeting, the States Parties need to take Uganda to task, if only to serve as a warning to other states who are falling behind schedule for mine clearance.  All injuries due to anti-personnel landmines are tragedies; because of its failure to clear those mines in a timely manner, any such injury in Uganda should be a crime. 

Michael P. Moore, August 8, 2012.


The Month in Mines: May 2012, by Landmines in Africa

This month saw the hosting of the Mine Ban Treaty intersessional meetings – the mid-year meeting of parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in advance of the annual Meeting of States Parties – with many countries giving updates on their progress towards achieving their Treaty obligations.  Also in the headlines was the release of four deminers who had been seized by Sudan and accused of providing military assistance to South Sudan.  There were also reports of landmine accidents and injuries in several countries and landmine clearance continues in Angola, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

News from the Intersessional Meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty

The biggest piece of positive news to come out of the Intersessional Meetings was the announcement of Somalia’s accession to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).  Somalia had been the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa outside of the Mine Ban Treaty, but now, with Somalia becoming the 160th party to the Treaty, all of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the Treaty regime.  On the continent as a whole, only Egypt, Libya and Morocco have not ratified or acceded to the Treaty.  Somalia now has four years in which it must destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel mines (should be easy, Somalia is not believed to possess any such stockpiles, but some may be held by non-state actors like Al Shabab) and ten years in which it must clear all anti-personnel mines (a much larger task since the UN-recognized government of Somalia does not control all of the country and the 20-plus years of conflict in the country means that there are very few places uncontaminated by explosive remnants of war of one kind or another; although most are believed to be items other than anti-personnel landmines).  An even greater ask for Somalia will be the provision of adequate victim assistance services to its citizens. With the constant risk of famine, Somalia will focus on providing basic human needs before tackling its health care system; most likely leaving victim assistance to the international community and international NGOs.

In a good news, bad news offering at the meetings, Mauritania announced improved efficiency in its mine clearance and land release programs, while Burundi reported that mined areas still existed in the country despite its earlier claims to being mine-free (US Campaign to Ban Landmines, pdf).  Mauritania had requested and received a five-year extension to its mine clearance deadline and is now dedicating adequate resources and using the latest techniques to be sure it meets that deadline.  Burundi announced completion of demining with three years left until its original ten-year deadline expired and in retrospect, was too hasty in making that declaration.  The ten-year deadline for landmine clearance is not an arbitrary deadline; it was based on the best estimate of the Mine Ban Treaty’s drafters about how long landmine clearance could be expected to take.  Burundi’s desire to beat the deadline, while admirable, makes any future declaration of mine-free status, suspect.

 

The Sudans

Four United Nations deminers who had been arrested by Sudanese armed forces while providing assistance and clearance expertise in South Sudan were released by Sudan.  Thabo Mbeki, former South African President, negotiated the release of the four, a Norwegian, a Briton, a South Sudanese and a South African, three of whom had been working for the South African demining company, Mechem.  The arrests, termed abductions by Mechem, occurred within a period of heightened hostilities, if not outright war, between South Sudan and Sudan over the oil fields that lie along the border between the two countries.  The four men were unharmed, but there has been no word about the impact the abductions will have on future demining operations near the Sudan – South Sudan border (UK Press Association; Agence France Presse; Zoutnet).

One of the largest hindrances to landmine clearance in the Sudans has been the constant presence of Sudanese soldiers in and around the disputed Abyei province.  With the announcement by Khartoum this month that its army will withdraw from Abyei, landmine clearance can proceed and tensions over the status of Abyei can subside (BBC News).

 

Angola

Angola has submitted an extension request for its Article 5 demining requirements, but continues to work on clearing the country.  The Health Ministry will host a “Health Hall” later this year to help landmine victims and other persons with disabilities access rehabilitation and reintegration services (All Africa). In Cunene province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) destroyed anti-tank mines and conducted mine risk awareness (All Africa).  The Social Minister, Joao Baptista Kussuma, travelled to Huambo Province to check on the demining progress there and received a report that 3.7 million square meters of land and 47 kilometers of road were cleared, destroying dozens of mines in the process, with the help of the HALO Trust (All Africa; All Africa). 

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The US Army, in the form of the 184th Ordnance Battalion from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, travelled to Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo in April to provide in-person training in explosive ordnance disposal techniques.  In a bit of a puff piece from the Army’s blog, the participants were able to provide some context into the challenges of working in DRC, referring to the fact that the training site had no electricity and so the trainers relied on a blackboard to present their information.  The DRC deminers also related their lack of knowledge about types of ordnance, despite living and working in a former battle site (US Army Africa Command).  Kisangani had be the site of a pitched battle between Ugandan and Rwandan forces during the Congolese civil wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s with accusations levelled against the Ugandans of use of anti-personnel mines. 

South of Kisangani, in the Marungu highlands along Lake Tanganyika and the Zambian border, reptile specialists reported the discovery of a previously-unknown-to-science lizard.  Remarkable for surviving in a landmine-contaminated area that had also been the site of fighting in the 1990s and 2000s, the lizard, Cordylus marunguensi , was described in the African Journal of Herpetology.  The discovering scientists did not know if the lizard was endangered, but it’s possible that the presence of landmines and other unexploded ordnance had helped preserve the habitat by preventing encroachment from agriculture and herding (Mongabay).

 

Egypt

A very brief mention (in an Azeribaijani news site) was made of a 22 year-old Egyptian soldier dying in a landmine accident in the Sinai Peninsula.  Millions of mines were laid in Sinai during the 1967 war between Egypt and Israel and these mines will not be cleared until a permanent peace is established in the Middle East (DPA).

 

Namibia

The Namibian Red Cross celebrated its 20th anniversary and took advantage of the festivities to outline the continuing danger posed by landmines to Namibians, especially those living in the Kavango region near the Angolan border.  Bandits operating in the Kavango region during the Angolan civil war used landmines to shield their activities resulting in more than 200 casualties.  The Namibian Red Cross continues to offer mine risk education to avoid additional injuries (All Africa).

 

Mali

The crisis in northern Mali, precipitated by the Toureg rebellion, the presence of Al Qaeda in the African Maghreb, and the coup that toppled the democratically-elected government, has caused mass displacement in the country.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that more than 300,000 Malians, half of whom are children, have fled the violence, violence which has been exacerbated by the impending threat of drought and famine.  Children’s rights are being violated by the armed forces as children are forced into soldiering and girls are abducted.  Landmines injuries and fatalities have also been reported, but with the food and health crisis, care and support are unavailable (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

Twenty-two officers from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) completed a training of trainers course for deminers facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as part of the capacity building efforts by the ICRC.  The trained officers will be able to work with deminers and ZNA members in the mine-affected regions of the country, mostly along the borders, to train others in demining techniques.  The ICRC official present at the graduation ceremony for the course reiterated the ICRC’s commitment to helping rid Zimbabwe of landmine (All Africa).

 

Somalia (and Kenya)

Somalia was mentioned at the top of this post as the newest country to join the Mine Ban Treaty.  Somalia is also wracked by conflict as the Al Shabab militia uses guerrilla and asymmetric warfare tactics to resist the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces supporting the TFG and the armies of Kenya and Ethiopia which are occupying large sections of the country.  Al Shabab is using mines and improvised explosive devices in Somalia and around the refugee camps set up for Somalis in Kenya. 

In May, several blasts rocked the capitol of Mogadishu, targeting both military and civilians targets, killing and injuring more than 20 people (All Africa; All Africa).  Ethiopian troops were targeted by a landmine in central Beledweyne (All Africa).  Another four persons were killed and seven injured in a landmine blast in Galkyo, part of the autonomous region of Puntland, when security forces tried to defuse the mine which had been placed the night before (Mareeg).  In addition, three Al Shabab members were killed when the mine they were trying to plant blew up in El Bur (All Africa).

In Kenya, a landmine outside of Dadaab refugee camp, near a firewood distribution center run by the German group, GTZ, killed a Kenyan policeman and injured three others who were airlifted for treatment (All Africa).  Another four soldiers were injured by a landmine near Madera town along the Kenya-Somalia border (All Africa).

While terrible, the aftermath of these blasts is very troubling.  Human Rights Watch is monitoring accusations of abuse by Kenyan security forces in Dadaab refugee camp and produced a long report detailed arbitrary detention, torture and other violations of human rights (All Africa). Kenyan soldiers were accused of looting businesses in Dadaab camp and shooting indiscriminately after the explosion there (All Africa).  In Somalia, the body of an Al Shabab member who had been caught and killed carrying a landmine was “put on display” by security forces as a warning to other Al Shabab members (All Africa).  Ethiopian troops shot and killed two civilians after the Beledweyne blast (All Africa).

 

Michael P. Moore, June 6, 2012


Somalia signs on to the Mine Ban Treaty

At this past week’s intersessional meetings for the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva, Somalia announced its accession to the Treaty.  Despite the limited control exerted by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) over the physical dimensions of the country, the recent military gains by the TFG, with significant assistance from the Ethiopian and Kenyan military forces occupying large swathes of territory and the Burundian, Ugandan and Sierra Leonean forces that comprise the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), has enabled the TFG to establish its presence sufficiently to foresee a future Somalia with the Al Shabab militia.  The anticipated defeat of Al Shabab (and various pirate factions still active in Somalia) will mean no further use of landmines and improved explosive devices (IEDs) in the country.  No further landmine use is the minimum requirement for complliance with the Treaty.  The TFG’s gains also suggest that the Somalian government will be able to make good on the promise of clearing all anti-personnel landmines from the country within ten years.

Somalia has already made significant progress towards landmine clearance thanks to the efforts underway in the semi-automous regions of Puntland and Somaliland where mine action operators have been active for many years.  A Landmine Impact Survey has been completed in Somaliland so the extent of contamination there is understood.  In the southern areas (those currently under the nominal control of the TFG), the extent of contamination is unknown but assumed to be composed more of unexploded ordnance than anti-personnel landmines.

The concern with the absence of an understanding of the extent of landmine contamination in Somalia will be what happens to the refugees and internally displaced persons who would likely return to their homes once the conflict in the country ends.  Returning refugees and displaced persons are at particular risk from landmines and unexploded ordnance because they are not aware of minefields or battle areas that formed while they were elsewhere.  If the battle areas and minefields are not cleared before the refugees return to their home lands, we can expect to see a significant number of new injuries among this population.

A second concern would be the availability of vicitm assistance services in the country.  Somalia has recently experienced famine and the continuing food insecurity will mean that the donor community will focus on this immediate need.  Medical and rehabilitation services are almost non-existent in Somalia and as the health infrastructure is re-built in the country, the needs of landmine survivors should not be forgotten.

But, before I let too much cynicism out, let us applaud the fact that all of Sub-Saharan Africa is now under the Mine Ban Treaty regime.  On the continent, only Egypt (which will not join the treaty until Israel does and Germany and the United Kingdom offer assistance for clearing World War II minefields), Morocco (which will not join the treaty until the Western Sahara issue is resolved) and Libya (which may be a candidate for accession) remain outside the Treaty.  Somalia’s accession means that 160 Nations around the world have joined the Mine Ban Treaty. In the last year, the pace of accession has rapidly quickened and the efforts of the Treaty’s formal and informal ambassadors need to be thanked for their efforts.

Michael P. Moore, May 27, 2012

 

For More Information on Somalia’s accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and the landmine situation in the country, please see:

International Campaign to Ban Landmines

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor

Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention Implementation Support Unit, pdf


The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa, April 2012

April 4th is the annual International Day for Mine Action and Awareness and as a result, we often a number of new programs and partnerships announced, as well as missives and statements from a variety of actors.  The only other time of year that generates as much activity is the annual meeting of States Parties and the coincident publication of the annual edition of the Landmine Monitor in late November / early December.  This April did not disappoint with announcements coming from Zimbabwe and the Vatican.  In addition, at the end of the month, the continuing danger to deminers in Africa was highlighted as four men working under contract to the United Nations were arrested by Sudan.

 

International Day of Mine Action and Awareness

Many organizations repeated their support for the Mine Ban Treaty or urged compliance and adoption of the Treaty by non-States Parties as part of celebrations for the International Day of Mine Action.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) launched the “Lend Your Leg” campaign to raise awareness about the suffering of landmine victims, gaining support and demonstrations from government officials and celebrities around the world (Voice of America).  The campaign was accompanied by a website (www.lendyourleg.org) where anyone could pledge their support for landmine survivors and a video (YouTube) with celebrity and official endorsements (and demonstrations).  At the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, an exhibition of photographs of landmine victims was opened and United Nations missions around the world participated in celebrations and awareness-raising events (Afrique Ligne).

In Liberia, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation declared that the suffering caused by landmines could be greatly reduced if all states would join and implement the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).

In Algeria, the mine clearance officials of the Algerian army gave an update on clearance work, pointing out that three million landmines remain in the ground, remnants from French responses to the Algerian war for independence in the 1950s and 1960s.  The Algerian official re-iterated the country’s intent to meet its revised 2017 deadline to complete all demining (Defence Web).

At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI praised mine action actors during his address to pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square (AKI).  Later in the month, Catholic Bishops in the United States revealed that they had signed a letter along with 75 other organizations urging President Obama to sign and submit the Mine Ban Treaty for ratification by the Senate (Catholic News Agency).

In Mozambique, the Deputy Foreign Minister called for continued vigilance on the part of his countrymen on landmines and encouraged persons who discover mines to report them to the appropriate authorities rather than tamper or touch the mines.  The number of mine victims in Mozambique has dropped dramatically to a low of only three people in 2011 (although that is still three too many) and Handicap International continues to clear minefields despite financial constraints (All Africa).

In Virginia, on the campus of James Madison University, the Marshall Legacy Institute and the Center for International Stability and Recovery (formerly the Mine Action Information Center) hosted a mine-detection dog demonstration (The Breeze).

In Moammar Gaddhafi’s hometown of Sirte, Libya, more than 700 perople came out to celebrate the day and receive mine risk education materials from the mine action organizations active in the country (JMACT Libya).

In Great Britain, the charity, Find a Better Way, founded by football legend (I’m believe that’s his official title) Sir Bobby Charlton launched its website, www.findabetterway.org.uk, to support fundraising and research into better means of detecting landmines (Knutsford Guardian).

And in South Sudan, a mine-detection dog training facility was opened in Juba by the Mine Actions Coordination Center and the South African demining company, MECHEM.  To date, MECHEM has used dogs to clear over 400 kilometers of roads in Unity State, along the border with Sudan, and the facility will enable more dogs to be deployed in the country (UNMISS).

That was the good news…

 

Zimbabwe

At the end of March, Zimbabwe submitted a third request for an extension of its Article 5 demining obligations (AP Mine Ban Convention), and that request seems to have sparked some renewed interest in the landmine situation in Zimbabwe.  On the positive side, the HALO Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Zimbabwe to assist in the clearance of landmines along the borders of the country, mines that were placed by the government of Rhodesia in the 1970s and earlier.  The partnership with HALO Trust, announced on the International Day of Mine Action and building on an already announced partnership with the ICRC, will update and augment the antiquated equipment currently being used by the Zimbabwe Army’s Corp of Engineers (All Africa).  In addition to assisting the Army, the HALO Trust will hire local Zimbabweans from mine-affected areas and train them to be deminers.  Many of the locals have engaged in “community demining,” the dangerous practice of mine clearance without proper training or equipment, so the willingness is there to conduct demining and now the skills and techniques will be available to ensure safety and comprehensiveness (All Africa).

To reinforce the need for improved equipment and techniques for demining in Zimbabwe, the Corp of Engineers announced that five deminers had been seriously injured in the course of their work over the last six years.  Despite the fact that the mines were laid in a regular pattern by the Rhodesian army in the 1970s, three decades of erosion, vegetation, weather and animal activities have contrived to disrupt the pattern and render the landmine placement unpredictable.  That unpredictability has contributed to the high number of injuries along with the poor quality of equipment and remoteness of the minefields (All Africa).

The continuing threat of landmines along the border areas of Zimbabwe have left those regions economically depressed and isolated.  Teachers are unwilling to move to the region and couriers and transport companies refuse to travel through the space out of fear of landmines.  For the people living in the area, the threat of injury or death from mines is very real, but flooding means that an area free of landmines one year may not be the next.  Once the region is demined, the local residents feel that economic opportunities will come to the border areas, but until then, poverty will be rife (All Africa).

 

Angola

Government  and non-government organizations working in mine action reported on clearance activities.  In Bié province, as many as 20 unexploded anti-personnel mines were destroyed by the HALO Trust (All Africa) and in Lunda Sul province, four landmines along with other pieces of unexploded ordnance were destroyed by the National Demining Institute (INAD).  Unlike the HALO Trust which sets its own demining priorities, INAD’s program of work is determined by the government’s developmental needs (All Africa).  Also in Bié, police seized illegal firearms from apparent moonshiners, one of whom possessed an anti-tank landmine (All Africa).

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the demining in Angola has lead to successes.  More than 1,000 deminers have been trained in recent years and several infrastructure projects, including an airport, a rail-line and fibre optic cables, have been completed.  There is still much to be done, especially for the 80,000 landmine victims living in the country (Defence Web).

 

Ethiopia

The German government donated 405 protective aprons for use by Ethiopian deminers from the Ethiopia Mine Action Office (EMAO).  This grant of equipment is part of the larger commitment of the Germans to demining and mine action in Ethiopia, a commitment worth 2.2 million euros to date (All Africa).

 

Somalia

While events in Mali, Guinea-Bissau and the Sudans (more on this in a moment) have grabbed the headlines on conflict in Africa, the war in Somalia continues on.  Al Shabaab relies on insurgency tactics, especially improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and landmines for ambushes, as it harasses the armies of Kenya and Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Al Shabaab killed three Ethiopians in a landmine attack on a convoy passing through central Somalia (All Africa).  In the market in Al Shabaab’s former stronghold of Baidoa, twelve people, civilians and government soldiers, were killed and seven others wounded by a landmine targeting the nearby police station (RBC Radio).

Al Shabaab’s landmines and IEDs are in addition to the thousands of landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered throughout the country as a result of the twenty-year civil war in the country.  Continuing displacement of Somalis puts people at risk as they travel through unfamiliar, mine-affected regions in search of food and security.  Somalia’s security forces have asked the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Danish Demining Group (DDG) to focus on mine risk education for civilians in an attempt to minimize casualties (Press TV).

 

Libya

In Libya the cleanup continues with the Joint Mine Action Coordinating Team (JMACT) Libya managing the demining and risk education processes.  The main focus in Libya seems to be on small arms and unexploded ordnance, but the discovery of anti-tank mines by the Mines Advisory Group points to the continuing hazard of landmines in the country.  Interestingly, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) has had to close down several of its projects in Libya (a grant from the Canadian government is enabling FSD to remain operational and active in Sirte) due to the fact that FSD’s grants came to an end in March of this year.  It is important that as the headlines move to other countries that funding for mine action continues in Libya because the problem is so large and will require vast resources to make the nation safe for the nascent regime (JMACT Libya).

 

The Sudans

Sudan and South Sudan are at the precipice of war.  Sudanese air forces have been bombing sites in South Sudan while South Sudan has mobilized to seize the contested town of Heglig, near the also-contested region of Abyei.  South Sudan has existed for less than a year as a nation, but already appears to be willing to go to war against Sudan over the oil that lies underneath South Sudan but must pass through Sudan for refining.  Negotiators are frantically trying to avoid outright hostilities, but the first shots were fired long ago with both sides supporting proxy armies operating in the other country (BBC News).  Those proxy armies have been responsible for extensive mine-laying in South Sudan and fighting in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

There are no innocent parties in this conflict, but the international community needs to be careful of a repeat of what happened in the former Yugoslavia.  In Bosnia, sanctions and arms embargoes were levied against all parties and the conflict was often referred to as a “civil war” with centuries of ethnic tension fueling it.  That was wrong.  Serbians in Bosnia were the aggressors in a war of invasion and killed and raped thousands while receiving assistance and cover from Belgrade.  Bosnian Muslims and Sarajevans were isolated by the sanctions and embargoes and lacked an international partner to protect them.  By calling the conflict a civil war, the international community was able to absolve itself of responsibility and the guilt over that inaction is what led to NATO’s eagerness to protect Kosovo some years later.

In the Sudans, the international community has condemned all parties, but Sudan has been the greater aggressor: interfering with the referendum on Abyei’s status (BBC News), bombing civilians and refugee camps, and appointing a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur as governor of South Khordofan (BBC News).  The United Nations and the United States have threatened both sides with sanctions in a mis-guided attempt to be fair, but the simple fact is that Sudan does not deserve to be treated equally to South Sudan.  So far, Sudan and the Khartoum regime have attempted to undermine and thwart South Sudan at every opportunity and it was only when South Sudan mobilized and seized Heglig that the international community responded.  The new nation deserved better treatment and protection from the international community.  Instead, the international community is repeating the mistakes of Bosnia, calling this an equal fight; it’s not.  Sudan has a history of war crimes but also a history of impunity; no one has been brought to justice for Darfur and no one will be brought to justice over South Khordofan, Nuba or Abyei as long as the international community is so weak and timid as to abdicate its role to protect South Sudan against Sudan.

At the end of April, four deminers working for the United Nations in South Sudan were arrested by Sudanese forces.  Sudan claims that the deminers, a Briton, Norwegian, South African and South Sudanese, were captured in Heglig shortly after the Sudanese army had retaken the town from South Sudan.  Sudan claims that because the men have some military training (many deminers do), they were foreign military advisors supporting South Sudan.  The United Nations said the deminers were in South Sudan at the time of their arrest traveling between two United Nations bases and working strictly on humanitarian programs (All Africa).  In the aftermath of the seizure of Danish Demining Group employees in Somalia, the arrest of the four deminers in South Sudan shows the danger that deminers put themselves in to conduct mine action work in ongoing conflict zones.  It also demonstrates that Sudan is unafraid of provoking the United Nations or European nations and creating a diplomatic furor.

Michael P. Moore, May 3, 2012


A Conversation with Landmine Advocate Dr. James Cobey

I recently had the opportunity to have a long and free-form conversation with Dr. James Cobey, one of the architects of the Mine Ban Treaty.  As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Cobey has worked with landmine victims and amputees in Cambodia, Thailand, the Gaza Strip, Haiti and elsewhere in a long career with the American Red Cross, the United Nations and in private practice.  Dr. Cobey was part of the three-person research team that produced Coward’s War: Landmines in Cambodia, written by Eric Stover of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) (Physicians for Human Rights).  Coward’s War served as a seminal document in the founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.  Later, Dr. Cobey (with Adam Kushner) wrote Measuring Landmine Incidents and Injuries and the Capacity to Provide Care, the authoritative guide for conducting landmine injury surveillance to assist governments and NGOs to understand the victim assistance needs in their countries (Physicians for Human Rights).  When the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize along with its coordinator, Jody Williams, Dr. Cobey was among those selected to represent ICBL at the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway.  Dr. Cobey is also a founding board member of Health Volunteers Overseas and remains active with Physicians for Human Rights, including participating in demonstrations against indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay.

Dr. Cobey is a raconteur in the finest tradition and it was my pleasure to listen to him tell his stories and try to keep up. In the course of our chat we covered a range of topics including Guantanamo Bay, the Republican candidates for United States President, social media and its uses, the evolution of the mine ban movement from landmines to cluster munitions to small arms, parenting, and the best way to cook duck (Dr. Cobey is an avid hunter and brought, as a gift, two ducks he had shot and a bottle of Alsatian white wine that my wife and I should drink with the ducks).  Two parts of the conversation stand out and I will let Dr. Cobey’s words speak for themselves.

 

“I was always taught to use the words, not ‘anti-personnel mines’, but ‘anti-people mines.’ Just as a PR thing, ‘anti-people mines,’ not ‘anti-personnel mines;’ the same word, ‘APM.’ A guy from Colombia came up with that term.”

Anti-personnel mine is a very specific term, defined in the Mine Ban Treaty, which loses some of the flavor for what it really does.  An “anti-personnel mine” is a legal construct that lives in international law; an “anti-people mine” is an evil weapon that destroys lives.  In this context we also discussed Claymore mines and the Spider Networked Munition System, tossing about the terms “command-activated” versus “victim-activated;” “ant-personnel mine” versus “anti-tank mines.”  These specific terms lose a little something in their repetition which is why “anti-people mine” resonates: it’s human-focused and reminds us of what these things really do and all landmines are ultimately “anti-people mines.”

 

“A lot of people in the Army, in the Defense Department, I’ve noticed, are very pro what we’ve done with landmines. I lobbied the Undersecretary of Defense back before the lame-duck session [in 2010].  The State Department are all behind the [Mine Ban] Treaty. I went over to the Pentagon with Physicians for Human Rights with [PHR’s Washington Director, John] Bradshaw, a lawyer on the staff, who has the contacts. I had to send over my CV first; I sat down next to this Undersecretary or Assistant Secretary of Defense; he had worked with Human Rights First, on the board for a long time [possibly Frank Kendall, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics].  [The Department of Defense official said to Dr. Cobey], ‘This is a different kind of Defense Department, isn’t it?’  He said, ‘Dr. Cobey, I read your CV, I’m very impressed with what you’ve done.’ And he was all behind us [on the Treaty]. And I made the discussion to him, that the reason for doing [signing the Mine Ban Treaty], is no other country will change unless we change.  I was in Georgia, eight or nine years ago, and we discussed with all these generals from Armenia and Georgia, and their response was, ‘If the United States needs [landmines], the best military in the world, we do too.’  They are all copying us as a model, that’s their excuse. And he said, ‘We’ve got to do something. We’ll get Gates involved and things will happen.’ But then you had the 67 votes in the Senate and we thought we’d made it. But then you also had to get the arms control treaty [New START]. And that came up to the lame duck session and that had to get through and Obama had to give a lot away on [New START] just to get that through.  Now I don’t know how many votes in the Senate we’ve got.  But the Administration is behind it, Samantha Power [White House advisor on Multilateral Organizations] is behind and most of the Defense Department are behind it now. But we’ve got this problem; you don’t want to submit it to the Senate until you get 67 votes.  You want to get your votes lined up first.  You don’t want to be voted down… I don’t think Obama dare take a very soft stand on any issues right now. At least until the election’s over.”

Dr. Cobey has remained active in lobbying the US government to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, but despite the efforts of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) who drafted a letter to President Obama co-signed by 68 Senators (USCBL, pdf), the Administration has not made signing the Mine Ban Treaty a priority.  The US participated in the most recent Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Phnom Penh as an observer, but the Administration has yet to complete its review of the country’s landmine policy (USCBL, pdf).  The current US government policy on landmines is the one released under the Bush Administration in 2004 (State Department).  But Dr. Cobey’s words are re-assuring: senior leadership at the Pentagon are supportive of the Mine Ban Treaty, a stance that past Defense Departments had not shared, but the Obama Administration is not willing to submit the Mine Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification until after the 2012 elections and only if the necessary votes are there.  Once the Administration’s review of the US landmine policy is completed, we’ll have a better sense of exactly how the Pentagon views landmines and the Mine Ban Treaty, but the continued pursuit of the Spider Networked Munition System and recent large-volume orders of M18A1 Claymore mines suggests that the Pentagon isn’t completely ready to renounce landmines.

Michael P. Moore, January 13, 2012