Landmines in Mali, New Use and the Response

Earlier this month, the States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) met for their annual meeting and covered many topics, including anti-vehicle mines or mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) in Convention-speak.  Since the early 2000s, a number of groups and countries have advocated for the regulation of anti-vehicle mines for humanitarian reasons, similar to the bans on anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions.  However, some countries continue to insist that anti-vehicle mines have a military utility that outweighs their humanitarian impact.  In response to the military utility argument, we present the case of Mali and the impact of anti-vehicle mine contamination.

In January 2012, the Tuareg people of northern Mali rebelled against the government, provoking a coup by military members who were tired of putting down Tuareg rebellions.  Intervention by the French army restored civilian rule, but the damage had been done: in the wake of the rebellion and the coup Islamist groups, including Ansar Dine and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seized control and briefly declared independence.  The French army ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to stabilize the region as the Malian government sought peace with the various factions.  That peace has not been forthcoming and Northern Mali has seen waves of violence and the MINUSMA mission has been the deadliest in years for peacekeepers.

One of the features of the conflict has been the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Mali had previously not been a mine-affected country – before 2006, no landmine casualties were reported in the country and only 33 casualties were identified between 2006 and 2011 (The Monitor). The January 2012 rebellion introduced significant numbers of landmines to Mali and the Islamists, using mines possibly looted from stores in Libya, began extensive use of anti-vehicle mines.  Reports indicate that a common tactic is for Islamists to monitor the peacekeepers’ movements and race ahead of convoys on motorbikes and place landmines immediately in the path of the convoys.  Roads that had been clear of mines only the day before would be mined in advance of peacekeepers’ vehicles.  The United Nations was slow to provide mine-resistant vehicles to the mission, but now peacekeepers have armored vehicles for protection.

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

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

How significant is the landmine problem now in Mali?  More than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). The above map shows the extent of known landmine and ERW contamination, but data is also coming from a dedicated effort to track anti-vehicle mine casualties. The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) have teamed up to document the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines.  From 1999 – 2013, less than 10 casualties from anti-vehicle mines were reported in Mali (GICHD – SIPRI).  However, from January to September 2015, 17 anti-vehicle mine incidents have been reported in Mali causing 71 casualties, the second highest number in the world (trailing only Ukraine which reported 73 casualties from 14 events) (GICHD – SIPRI).  Prior to the 2012 coup, most of the mine casualties in Mali were from anti-personnel mines or other ERW.  Since the coup, nearly all mine casualties have been from anti-vehicle mines.

Victims by Month

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

As the chart above shows, landmine casualties have come in waves.  The first was in 2012 after the initial coup and then more waves in January 2013, June – July 2013 and August 2014.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has been a frequent target of landmine attacks.  Mali has also been one of the deadliest missions for UN peacekeepers with 68 killed since the start of the mission (United Nations) and at least 109 injured (War is Boring).  There were seven attacks on MINUSMA convoys between June and September 2015 alone.  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been busy with weekly call-outs to respond to landmines and other explosive remnants of war while also training Mission staff on mine awareness.  UNMAS has also provided victim assistance in the form of rehabilitation assistance, mobility devices and socio-economic support for landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities (Report of the UNSG on the situation in Mali, S/2015/732).

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

Landmine victims in Mali by Gender, by Age

According to UNMAS, there were 144 victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war from January 2012 through June 2015 (note: this differs from MINUSMA’s records).  Mali’s landmine victims are overwhelmingly male (5 out of every 6 victims are male), but more than half (83 out of 144) are children (see charts above). Also, Mali was the site of the single worst anti-vehicle mine incident in 2015 when a bus struck a mine on the way to the weekly market in Gao in April killing four people and injuring another 28 (Global Post).  The bus and the civilians riding in the bus had been deliberately targeted by two men who had planted the mine in the road and then fled the scene by motorcycle.

A significant majority of the landmine victims in Mali over the last three years have been non-combatants and civilians.  Of military personnel killed by landmines, many have been United Nations peacekeepers and not active combatants.  Prior to 2006, no landmine victims were known in Mali and in a single incident in April of this year, almost as many people were killed or injured by an anti-vehicle mine (32) as had been killed or injured by mines and ERW in the years 2006 to 2011 (33) and of those, less than 10 had been victims of anti-vehicle mines.  Anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured 71 people in 17 events the first nine months of 2015. In October 2015, four more incidents resulted in at least three more persons killed and five injured (Press TV,  Agence France Presse, Reuters).

Landmines and especially anti-vehicle mines have killed or injured Malians far out of proportion to any military utility.  Market routes have been disrupted and humanitarian aid has been stalled due to unsafe roads in northern Mali.  Anti-vehicle mines are inhumane weapons and should be banned just as anti-personnel mines are.  Had anti-vehicle mines been banned, the suffering in Mali might have been lessened considerably.

Michael P. Moore

November 17, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Imperative to Ban Anti-Vehicle Landmines

Anti-personnel landmines are specifically banned by the Mine Ban Treaty, which 162 countries have agreed to be bound by, and regulated by Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which key Mine Ban Treaty hold-outs China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the United States are party to. The dramatic reduction in casualties from anti-personnel landmines is largely due to these two treaties which were negotiated and came into force in the late 1990s.  However, both treaties specifically avoided regulation or restriction on the production, transfer and use of anti-vehicle (or anti-tank) landmines.  As a result, anti-vehicle landmines probably present a greater humanitarian threat than anti-personnel landmines.

Over the last decade or so, a group of countries, led in large part by the United States, has pushed for a new protocol for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that would specifically address the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines, or “mines other than anti-personnel mines” (MOTAPM) as they are referred to in the CCW. Recently, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published a report on the humanitarian and development impact of anti-vehicle mines.  The report compiled existing research conducted by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and added in three country case studies to demonstrate the findings reported by the ICBL and the ICRC.  The report showed that the impact of anti-vehicle mines may actually be increasing as post conflict countries like Cambodia develop as well as the fact that new mine usage in South Sudan appears to be entirely anti-vehicle mines.  The report recommended regulating the use of anti-vehicle mines to reduce their humanitarian impact and regulating the production of the mines to ensure detectability.

As of today, the only restriction on the production of anti-vehicle is that they cannot be designed so as to detonate in the presence of a metal detector or similar mine detection equipment. The only regulations on their use is they cannot be used “indiscriminately” or to deliberately target civilians.  There are no regulations on their transfer, except those imposed by individual nations (e.g., the US will not export any “persistent” anti-vehicle mines).  Since 1997, anti-personnel mines have been required to contain a certain amount of metal to ensure detectability by metal detectors or similar devices; anti-vehicle mines have no such requirement.  The Arms Trade Treaty, when it comes into force later this year, will restrict transfer of anti-vehicle mines (and a host of other military equipment and items) to countries in conflict or where gross violations of human rights, including gender-based violence, are occurring.  That’s a good start, but the damage has been done.

When the Gaddhafi regime in Libya fell, hundreds of thousands of stockpiled anti-vehicle mines were looted by various militias.  Other countries, like the Central African Republic, which had eliminated their stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines in accordance with the Mine Ban Treaty have been revealed to have stockpiles of anti-vehicle mines.  In South Sudan and Mali, humanitarian relief is hampered by the presence of newly laid anti-vehicle mines in roadways. But it’s the old anti-vehicle mines that really demonstrate the horror of these weapons. Earlier this year, in Guinea-Bissau which has cleared all of its anti-personnel landmines, a minibus struck an anti-vehicle mine that had been laid three or four decades earlier killing 22 people.  In Egypt, the western desert is polluted with millions on anti-vehicle mines left over from the tank battles of World War II; less than a week ago, eight Egyptians were injured by one such mine.  In Cambodia, as the country develops and tractors are introduced to improve agricultural output, farmers are finding anti-vehicle mines in areas that were known to be free of anti-personnel mines, often with tragic consequences.

The success of the Mine Ban Treaty has meant that the number of people injured and killed by anti-personnel landmines.  But as we see in places like Angola, where deminers find one anti-vehicle mine for every 15 to 20 anti-personnel landmines, the number of incidents involving death or injury from anti-vehicle mines (196) is almost as high as the number from anti-personnel mines (247).  A ban on the use of anti-vehicles mines would complete the promise of the Mine Ban Treaty.

Next month, the parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will convene for their annual meeting.  One of the major points on the agenda for the CCW is the continued discussion about lethal autonomous weapons (or “killer robots”), but another issue will be the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines.  The governments of the United States and Ireland previously supported attempts to address the dangers poses by anti-vehicle mines and reduce their negative humanitarian impact. The government of Russia has been one of the strongest opponents to any new protocol to the CCW that would limit anti-vehicle mines saying that such weapons have military utility and any protocol would not prevent the “irresponsible use” of anti-vehicle mines by “terrorists” and non-state actors, which are the cause of any civilian injuries.  The Russian government also feels continued discussion about anti-vehicle mines to be “hopeless” because the “humanitarian concerns regarding these mines have not been substantiated.”  The difference in opinions is simple: the Irish have stated that anti-vehicle mines “have clear indiscriminate effects and that these are not adequately addressed in existing IHL [international humanitarian law]” and the regulations imposed by Amended Protocol II of the CCW are insufficient.  The Russians state that “full compliance with the IHL norms” and Amended Protocol II are sufficient to prevent any “’specific’ humanitarian threat” from anti-vehicle mines.

The GICHD-SIPRI report clearly demonstrates that the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines to civilian populations is significant and persists for decades after the conclusion of conflict.  This report can serve as a basis for new discussions about anti-vehicle mines and the need for their regulation.  It is my sincere hope that the US, Ireland and their partners will push for a new protocol that would ban these weapons as the Mine Ban Treaty banned anti-personnel mines.  I would hope that any regulation of anti-vehicle mines would at the very least require the following:

  1. Change production standards of anti-vehicle mines to ensure they are detectable by the same means as anti-personnel mines;
  2. Require the destruction of any anti-vehicle mines, in the ground or in stockpiles that do not meet this detectability standard;
  3. Restrict the trade, transfer and export of anti-vehicle mines to the same standards as described under the Arms Trade Treaty;
  4. Recognize the humanitarian impact outweighs any military utility;
  5. Requires states and deminers to differentiate between anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines in clearance reporting.

Michael P. Moore

November 3, 2014

Interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Walter Givhan

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

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

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

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

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


Background Materials

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

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

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


Statements made by the United States

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a.      Assess the needs of cluster munition victims;

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

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

d.      Take steps to mobilise national and international resources;

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

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

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

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

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

Michael P. Moore, April 13, 2012