Recently, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, issued his bi-annual report on the United Nations’ mine action work in the period August 1, 2013 to July 31, 2015. The report consolidates activities of an alphabet soup of UN agencies including UNMAS, UNDP, UNICEF and the UNOHCHR which are coordinated through the Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action. This Group is one of the largest and most important actors in mine action so the report from the Secretary General covers a lot of ground and all of the pillars of mine action.
The UN estimates that 7.9 million people live in areas polluted by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). Another 4.7 million pass through mine affected areas as a result of seasonal or annual migration. That’s a total of 12.6 million people affected by mines, or more than the population of London, Paris or Rio de Janeiro. The UN does not estimate the number of refugees or internally displaced persons who, by the nature of their displacement, are threatened by mines as they seek safety. The dangers from mines and ERW are changing with landmines becoming, generally, less of a threat and ERW presenting more risk, but several conflicts, including those in Libya and Somalia are resulting in additional affected areas and populations.
During the reporting period 6 million people in 18 countries or territories received mine risk education messages from UN agencies. Mine risk education is incorporated into school curricula in many mine-affected countries, but research is also showing that poverty and conflict are driving persons to knowingly take risks including passing through minefields or tampering with devices for scrap-metal. In the disputed regions of Abyei and Western Sahara, UN agencies and partners have engaged in clearance and survey to increase the known safe areas for cultivation and water access.
UN agencies are also active in war zones, providing emergency clearance and risk education to South Sudan enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Victim assistance is an evolving area of support for the United Nations. The UN is in the final stages of developing and releasing its policy on victim assistance to best reflect recent developments including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. As the policy is being developed, the UN has continued to provide victim assistance support through the creation of a mine victims database in Egypt, provision of prosthetic and assistive devices to survivors in Mali and economic reintegration programs in Sudan and South Sudan.
Lastly, the UN works to strengthen the capacity of national mine action authorities to address their own mine action problems. In Somalia, the UN fostered the creation of the Somali Explosives Management Agency, and in Mali and South Sudan the UN helped the national governments to draft the annual transparency reports required by conventions related landmines.
The full report is here: Assistance in Mine Action
Michael P. Moore
September 24, 2015
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
As part of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly’s First Committee (covering “Peace and Security”), the member states voted on a resolution, “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction” (the Mine Ban Treaty) which was sponsored by Algeria, Mozambique and Belgium (the past, present and incoming Presidents of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, respectively). The vote, on November 3, 2014, reflects the overwhelming support the Treaty has in the international community with 160 states voting for the Treaty and none against. However, 17 states abstained from the vote, including one African state, Egypt, and the United States which had previously indicated its interest in eventually acceding to the treaty. Libya, which is not a party to the Treaty, voted for the resolution in a show of its support for the humanitarian aims, a stance which the United States could have followed. Instead, by abstaining, the United States allowed other states, notably North Korea, to also abstain.
Enough about the “United” Nations…
In Angola, the government has identified demining as a key step in national development. In 2015 US $20 million will be spent on landmine clearance from the European Union and the funds will be used by national and international organizations. Along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norwegian Peoples Aid will clear some 490,000 square meters (All Africa). Elsewhere, 46,000 square meters of the central Huambo province were cleared by a national organization between September and November and the land turned over to the community for agriculture (All Africa). The focus on demining for development has allowed the construction of dams and power stations, right-of-ways for roads and fiber-optic cables, and some 185 million square meters of agricultural land to date (All Africa). However, because all land in Angola is owned by the state, land reform must accompany demining. Otherwise, some fear that heavily mined areas will be turned over to extraction industries and agricultural land will be made available to foreign corporations and not Angolan subsistence farmers. In Cuito Cuanavale, the most mined area in Angola (and that’s really saying something), the HALO Trust estimates that after a decade of work, yet another decade will be needed to clear the minefields and in the meantime, the local residents will not have access to farms. The result is food insecurity in what should be a breadbasket but the food insecurity will not be solved when then mines are cleared if the land reform issues is not also addressed (The Guardian).
Two stories show the limitations of landmine survivor assistance services in Zimbabwe. The HALO Trust has recently provided eight prosthetic limbs to landmine survivors living along the northwestern border of the country. One of the survivors was forced to fashion his own prosthetic, essentially a peg leg, because professionally-produced limbs were not available. In the rainy season, the survivor could not tend his fields as the home-made prosthetic would get stuck in the mud. Now, with a new limb made by a prosthetic center in Bulawayo, hundreds of kilometers away, the survivors will be able to plow their lands year round (HALO Trust).
The other story featured a survivor who suffered severe facial injuries as a child. After the injury, the survivor’s mother abandoned the family out of fear of stigma. The survivor persevered and met with doctors from an international organization, Operation of Hope, which provides reconstructive surgeries for cleft palates and lips. The doctors were not able to immediately help the survivor, but they raised the funds and secured the donation of services for a series of surgeries in San Diego, California. The reconstruction of the survivor’s face and jaw has taken more than two years and now the survivor is living and studying in Idaho (All Africa). For both survivors, interventions were needed on their behalf to provide the necessary services and care for the survivors to reintegrate into society after their injuries.
Kismayo, the main city in southern Somalia, saw at least one landmine explosion that was targeting local security forces. No casualties were report (Radio Goobjoog; Garowe Online). Security forces in Kismayo also arrested five suspected Al Shabaab members as they tried to plant additional landmines in the roads (All Africa; All Africa).
On November 6th, Mozambique’s National Demining Institute declared Inhambane province in the south of the country as landmine-free. Some 6.5 million square meters of land were cleared by Handicap International and commercial operators. With the announcement, seven of Mozambique’s ten provinces and 120 out 128 districts are now landmine free. Clearing Inhambane was complicated by the floods of 2000 and 2001 and in fact some 230,000 square meters of suspected minefields could not be cleared because these areas remain submerged and any landmines are at the bottom of lakes and swamps. Local police will be trained to address any landmines should the need arise (or the waters recede). The Institute is now moving clearance capacity to the remaining districts to clear the last few remaining landmines (All Africa; UNDP).
A few months ago the head of a Greek demining organization was under scrutiny for embezzling money that had been granted for landmine clearance projects in Bosnia, Lebanon and Iraq. In Sudan, the director of the Sudanese Association for Combating Mines (JASMAR), which we have profiled on this site, was accused of embezzlement and giving Land Cruisers as gifts to people “who have nothing to do with the association.” The accusations were brought by recently dismissed employees who have demanded an investigation. According to the accusers, JASMAR has not been audited in almost a decade (All Africa).
In Windsor, Canada, a former volunteer with the Advocacy Project is using a quilt to raise awareness about the plight of persons with disabilities in northern Uganda, including landmine survivors. Noting that there are only two accessible toilets serving a community of 300,000 people, Dane Macri is trying to raise awareness and funds to build more such toilets in and around Gulu, a town heavily impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion in the 1990s and early 2000s (Windsor Star).
Human Rights Watch published a report showing evidence that one or more of the militias that fought over the Tripoli airport in July and August 2014 used anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines. Libya is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, but has indicated its support for the Treaty and the National Transitional Council, the coalition of militias and political groups that overthrew the Gaddafi regime in 2011, pledged not to use landmines in April of that year, a pledge that General Khalifa Hiftar signed. Hiftar commands the Libya Dignity militia which was in control of the Tripoli airport until Misrata-based militias under the name, Libya Dawn, ousted them in August; Libya Dawn has accused Libya Dignity of placing the mines at the airport which would be a violation of Hiftar’s pledge. Libya Dawn engineers have cleared some 600 landmines since taking control of the airport on August 24th (Human Rights Watch).
Mali remains an epicenter for new landmine use on the continent. Ansar al Dine, a branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb under Iyad Ag Ghaly, has established a specialized unit within the group to place landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the roads around towns and United Nations peacekeeper bases in northern Mali. Ansar al Dine members, typically young men between 17 and 20, will spot a UN vehicle traveling on a road and then the members will ride on motorbikes to a place further along the road which they expect the UN vehicles will pass. They will then bury a landmine in the roadway and ride away on their motorbikes before the UN vehicle arrives. To date, at least 21 soldiers have been killed and 97 others injured by landmines and IEDs, many of which have been placed by Ansar al Dine using these methods (Sahelien).
In November, there were at least four landmine incidents in Mali, three involving UN peacekeepers. The first, near the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) camp in Kidal, destroyed the peacekeepers’ vehicle but did not result in any injuries (MaliWeb). The second, a few days later, injured three peacekeepers near Gao. The injured soldiers were evacuated for treatment. Following up the attack, demining teams found another mine nearby (MINUSMA). At the end of the month, two peacekeepers were killed and another nine injured, four seriously, when the government minister’s convoy they were protected struck a mine near Gao. That same day, a water truck carrying two civilians struck a mine near Kidal, injuring two people (Reuters).
With the support of the United Nations Development Program, the local organization, Mine Victims Association for Development, based in the western Egyptian city of Matrouh, provided micro-loans to 58 women survivors of landmines and wives of landmine survivors. The loans, for up to 3,000 Egyptian Pounds or about US $400, are paid back in monthly installments and could be used to by “sheep, poultry, goats or sewing machines.” For most of the recipients, these were the first loans ever taken out and project is “turning jobless victims to real agents of change in our community.” The recipients have been empowered and are able to be the breadwinners for their families (UNDP).
Democratic Republic of Congo
Over the course of two decades, the army of then-Zaire dumped more than 60 tons of explosive materials on the banks of the Congo River, some 200 kilometers downstream from Kinshasa. By failing to dispose of the ordnance properly, the Zairean army allowed the explosives to spread along the river, leaving long stretches of riverbank uninhabitable. A car ferry was forced to close and fishing activities could not continue. Over the last two years, a team from Norwegian Peoples Aid has destroyed over 70,000 separate pieces of ordnance from nine different dump sites, some pieces dating back to pre-World War II colonial occupation. Soon, the local hospital will be able to re-open, the ferry will renew service and fishing will resume (The Guardian).
Another month, another 3,600 landmines cleared in Algeria. Algerian army forces have destroyed over three-quarters of a million landmines to date, including over 3,100 anti-personnel mines and 500 anti-tank mines in October 2014 (All Africa).
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs releases a weekly status report on a number of issues in South Sudan, including mine action. In a report this month, the following statement caught our eye:
The ongoing conflict has created new risks of explosive hazards particularly in the three conflict-affected states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei, including anti-tank land mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). Elsewhere in the country the risks of UXOs from previous conflicts remain. These remained a direct threat to the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and to the safety of civilians and need to be cleared.
The ongoing conflict in South Sudan, one-year old as of this writing, will leave a long shadow on the country, not least from the new use of landmines by the warring parties. The people of South Sudan are owed a permanent peace and their leaders are complicit in the tragedy by not finding a resolution.
Michael P. Moore
December 12, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Article 8.2(b)(iii) of the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) identified the act of “Intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians or civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict” as a war crime for which the ICC would have jurisdiction (Rome Statute, pdf; German Law Journal). On this, the week we observe the annual International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance (United Nations), it is important to recognize the fact that deminers not only face the very real risk of an accident in the line of their work, but deminers have also become a target of those who would wish to prevent peace and development. Too many deminers have been abducted, attacked, injured and killed in the line of duty. This must stop.
Last week, Afghan extremists targeted the guest house of the demining and development organization, Roots of Peace, and with bombs and guns, sought to end their commitment to turn “mines into vines.” In defiance, Roots of Peace “remains resolved to helping Afghan farmers nationwide to improve their incomes and create a stable economy” (Roots of Peace; Washington Post). We should follow the example of Roots of Peace and recommit to landmine clearance and mine risk education and call upon the international community to prosecute those who would hinder this important work.
What follows is a brief and by no means comprehensive list of attacks upon deminers over the last decade:
- 14-Mar-14 Afghanistan 1 adult, 1 child killed in attack on Roots of Peace guesthouse in Kabul.
- 21-Jan-14 Afghanistan 54 deminers from the HALO Trust abducted by Taliban near Herat; freed without injury by “police operation”
- 1-Nov-13 Mozambique Two deminers with Handical International shot by RENAMO members in attack on convoy traveling through Sofala Province.
- 2-Jul-13 Afghanistan Deminer working for Mine Clearance Planning Agency killed in Kandahar by NATO airstrike.
- 19-Jun-13 Somalia Two South Africans from Denel Mechem, contracted to do mine action in Somalia, were killed in an Al Shabaab attach on a United Nations compound in Mogadishu.
- 18-Jun-13 Yemen Six deminers and three soldiers were kidnapped by armed tribesmen in the southern province of Abyan.
- 9-May-13 Afghanistan 11 deminers with Mine Detection Center abducted in Nangarhar, local warlord “Sherwali” accused of crime.
- 3-May-13 Senegal Twelve deminers from South Africa’s Denel were abducted by MFDC rebels from the Cesar Badiate faction. All demining halted for six months. Three women were released after a couple of weeks; the nine men were released after two months.
- 23-Apr-13 Afghanistan In Meiwand, 9 deminers kidnapped by Taliban, held for one week and then released unharmed.
- 28-Apr-12 Sudan Two employees of the United Nations Mine Action Service and two employees of Denel Mechem were arrested by the Sudanese Army and accused of supporting the South Sudanese army. They were released, unharmed, six weeks later after negotiations involving former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
- 2-Apr-12 Afghanistan Three Deminers from HALO Trust kidnapped in Herat.
- 25-Oct-11 Somalia Three employees of the Danish Demining Group, a Dane, an American and a Somali, were abducted by “pirates” in northern Somalia while conducting mine risk education. The Somali was released almost immediately, but the Dane and American were held for three months for ransom. Both were freed by a US Special Forces operation that received White House attention.
- 9-Jul-11 Afghanistan 31 employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan abducted from Farah province. 4 deminers were killed (beheaded) before the other 27 were released after four or five days.
- 7-Jun-11 Afghanistan Deminer from the Mine Dog Detection Center killed in Logar province.
- 9-Dec-10 Afghanistan 18 employees from the Mine Detection Centre abducted from Khost province.
- 2-Dec-10 Afghanistan Seven deminers from the Organisation for Mine Clearance and Afghan Rehabilitation kidnapped from Nangarhar province and taken to Pakistan’s Khyber region.
- 10-Apr-10 Afghanistan Five employees of the Demining Agency for Afghanistan killed and another 13 injured in Kandahar province by a roadside bomb.
- 5-Jul-09 Afghanistan 16 deminers abducted as they traveled between Paktia and Khost provinces
- 19-Aug-08 Afghanistan In Gardez province, 11 demines and two drivers from the Mine Detection Centre abducted; seven released within 48 hours.
- 28-Jun-08 Somalia A Dane, a Swede and a Somali were kidnapped from the International Medical Corps compound in Hodur. The Dane and Swede were conducting a mine action training assignment on the United Nations behalf.
- 24-Mar-08 Afghanistan Five deminers from Afghan Technical Consulting killed, seven others injured in convoy ambush in Jawzjan province.
- 6-Sep-07 Afghanistan Thirteen deminers from Afghan Technical Consultants abducted; all released one week later with no reported casualties.
- 12-Jan-06 Sri Lanka Two deminers from the Danish Demining Group kidnapped by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Jaffna Province.
- 11-Jan-05 Sudan Two deminers from the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action were killed by suspected members of the Lord’s Resistance Army
To absent friends.
Michael P. Moore
March 31, 2014
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), on behalf of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action, released in March a six-year strategy for United Nations actions within the realm of mine action (UNMAS, pdf). Released with seemingly little fanfare (although UNMAS’s website, www.mineaction.org, has received a snazzy update), the strategy lays out how the United Nations will work with member states affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). I would like to highlight a few items from the strategy.
The strategy starts, as all good strategies do, with a vision:
The vision of the United Nations is a world free of the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment conducive to development and where the human rights and the needs of mine and ERW victims are met and survivors are fully integrated as equal members of their societies.
I am not sure if the phrase “free of the threat of mines” is a deliberate departure from a “mine-free world” but otherwise, I think the vision is an admirable one and, hopefully, an achievable one.
The United Nations acknowledges the tremendous progress that has been made in mine action since discussions were first held about banning anti-personnel landmines two decades ago. The strategy intends to build on that progress, while also learning the lessons of the last twenty years. In doing so, the strategy recognizes that the UN works within the context of its member states and provides for UN assistance to be delivered “in a manner that is consistent with the specific needs, requests and legal regimes of each context.” The strategy also recognizes that it must complement other global frameworks, specifically mentioning whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
The strategy re-affirms the fact that mine action is “an essential component of the work of the United Nations” and that “Mine action is relevant across the areas of peace and security, human rights, humanitarian and development. In each, the need for immediate post conflict and emergency responses remains as critical as longer-term capacity building support.”
To implement the strategy, the United Nations lists four strategic objectives related to 1) demining and mine risk education, 2) victim assistance, 3) capacity building of national mine action authorities and 4) policy and advocacy. Each objective is accompanied by a series of indicators and the activities that are intended to achieve the objectives. I imagine these indicators will be used during the mid-term review to assess the efficacy of the strategy and determine if any adjustments are needed.
To complete the logical framework (vision, mission, objectives, outputs and activities), the strategy lists its “Principles of Partnership in Mine Action” and the “Enabling Factors” which constitutes the assumptions that the United Nations is making. While the principles are supposed to guide how the UN will work, I can also read them as the expectations the United Nations will have for member states that it provides assistance to. The principles – clarity of objectives, information exchange, mutual accountability and transparency – are not controversial, but essential to any successful partnership.
The “Enabling Factors” are the contributions required of partners. Again, these are non-controversial, but very important to achieving the goals of the strategy. Factors include national ownership on the part of affected states of the problem and actively addressing the problem; political and financial support states and the international community; recognition of mine action’s place within broader contexts of development, human rights, post conflict reconstruction and disarmament; and participation of civil society and the private sector in supporting the strategy. Long term financial support may be the biggest stumbling block in these assumptions and the language used related to financial support – “predictable,” “necessary,” “sustainable,” “critical,” “effective” and “commitments” – suggests the level of concern that the United Nations has for the availability of funding for the strategy.
One last point I want to raise is the commitments that the United Nations makes to strengthen its own capacity. Of the seven specific initiatives, the fourth, “Update the UN Policy on victim assistance, taking into account the new and stronger normative environment for victim assistance and persons with disability and focusing on the integration of victim assistance into broader disability programs and frameworks at the country and global levels” is near and dear to my heart and I sincerely hope the revised policy provides for a robust victim assistance framework that enables survivors to become “equal members of their societies” as described in the vision.
Michael P. Moore
April 18, 2013
Every year, the First Committee of the United Nations meets to discuss disarmament issues. Among the topics covered this year were nuclear disarmament, the Conference on Disarmament and universalization of existing disarmament treaties including the Mine Ban Treaty. As part of the proceedings, the First Committee approved a draft resolution (document A/C. 1/67/L/8) entitled “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction” by a vote of 152 states in favor, none against and 19 abstaining. The draft resolution supports the universalization of the Mine Ban and “call upon all States and other relevant parties to work together to promote, support and advance the care, rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of mine victims, mine risk education programmes and the removal and destruction of anti-personnel mines placed or stockpiled throughout the world.”
To date, three African countries, Egypt, Libya and Morocco have refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty and all three made statements during the discussions of the draft resolution that provides insight into their positions and why they have remained outside the treaty regime.
From a press release issued by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs on November 5, 2012 (UNODA).
Morocco voted in favor of the draft resolution to support the humanitarian goals of the Treaty. Morocco supports the concepts of the Treaty and provides funds for victim assistance domestically and funds to neighboring states to support mine action. Morocco also participates in meetings of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.
Sounds nice, right? But no mention of the extensive minefields maintained by Morocco in Western Sahara which would need to be dismantled if Morocco acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty. In this way, Morocco is like Iran which argued that “landmines remained an effective means for certain countries to ensure their security and to protect civilians.” Only a political solution to the Western Sahara question would eliminate Morocco’s perception that it needs to use landmines for national protection.
Egypt was one of the 19 countries that abstained from the vote on the draft resolution. Egypt said that the Mine Ban Treaty does not enjoy international consensus and was negotiated outside of the United Nations framework; only the latter of which is true as demonstrated by the fact that no country voted against the draft resolution. Egypt also argued that “countries with long borders” have a legitimate military use for landmines to protect national security and those national security interests outweigh the humanitarian concerns, which Egypt feels are over-emphasized in the Treaty. Egypt also argued that the Treaty does not require states which lay landmines to clear those landmines, instead the state in possession of the territory on which the mines are found is responsible for mine clearance. Egypt argues that Germany and the United Kingdom which laid millions of mines on Egyptian soil during World War II should be responsible for clearing those mines and as long as the Treaty does not force them to do so, Egypt will not accede.
Libya also abstained from the vote on the draft resolution, reiterating Egypt’s position that the Treaty does not force states that lay landmines to clear them and noting that German and British forces also used landmines in Libya in World War II. Libyan representatives did say that they were “keen” to participate as an observer in meetings of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and recognized the “human suffering” caused by landmines. Interestingly, no mention was made of the recent use of landmines by Gaddhafi’s forces during the 2011 rebellion in Libya, but Libya did report it had co-hosted a workshop on landmines with the Canadian government.
Lastly, and almost completely unrelated to the draft resolution, Tanzania mentioned its partnership with APOPO which uses Giant Pouched Rats to find landmines. The representative “expressed hope that all people of good will would take a look at that method, which was worthy of consideration.”
Michael P. Moore, November 10, 2012