Arab Spring and the need to ban landmines

The use of landmines by armed groups since the start of the Arab Spring is alarming.  In 2010, only one government in the world, Myanmar, used landmines and armed groups in six countries used mines, only one of which, Yemen, was affected by the Arab Spring (The Monitor).  Over the course of the last three years, we have seen the governments of Yemen, Syria and Libya use anti-personnel landmines against their own citizenry (Yemen is a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, Syria and Libya are not) and Israel placed new mines along its border with Syria (Israel is also not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty).  Armed groups in Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Somalia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria have all been accused (with varying levels of evidence) of using landmines as well.

Armies and soldiers, whether the formal armed forces of a recognized government or the members of militias and rebel groups aligned against a government, use the weapons at hand to fight.  Clausewitzian notions aside, once an armed group engages in a fight, it will use the tactics and tools available to conduct that fight until it defeats its opponent or is defeated.  Despite the norms of international humanitarian law, many armed groups will use whatever tactics they think will help them win, e.g., child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, human shields and indiscriminate weapons, or to finance their wars, including conflict minerals, kidnapping for ransom and drug smuggling.  We may believe that we live in a world of decency and humanity, but all too often: once the shooting starts, the rulebook becomes irrelevant.

National armies and rebel groups used landmines because they were available to them.  The failure of states to join the Mine Ban Treaty (Israel, Libya and Syria) and the failure of States Parties to completely destroy their stockpiles (Yemen) meant that the armies of those countries could still use landmines.  Had these countries joined the Treaty and destroyed their stockpiles, the over 500 landmine casualties reported in Yemen and Libya in the last couple of years would have been prevented.  In Syria the number of casualties from new mine usage is unknown but more than 50; no casualties from new mine usage have been reported in Israel.

Among rebel groups, the use of landmines has spread across the Sahel and the Middle East.  Adopting asymmetrical warfare tactics, rebels are using mines, both factory made and homemade, to terrorize local populations, close roads to military and humanitarian traffic, and defend hideouts.  Many of the factory-made mines were looted from Libyan stockpiles in 2011, which, if Libya had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and destroyed its stockpiles, would not have existed.  As for the homemade mines, those might have escaped regulation by the Mine Ban Treaty but their indiscriminate use, especially the victim-activated booby traps, constitute war crimes.  And thanks to the efforts of Geneva Call and its Deed of Commitment, non-state actors can agree not to use anti-personnel landmines (or booby traps that operate like mines).

In August, circumstances in two countries showed that conflicts need not be accompanied by landmines. Oman became the latest country to ban landmines by acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty and two rebel groups from the Darfur region of Sudan signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment.  Oman did not escape the turmoil of Arab Spring, but through a combination of social spending and government reforms (and the violence that accompanied Arab Spring and its responses elsewhere), the protests and responses did not become violent (The National).  By banning landmines, Oman ensures that any potential conflict in the future will not be marked by the use of these indiscriminate weapons.  The conflict in Darfur has lasted more than a decade and both of the rebel groups that signed the Deed of Commitment have been involved in the fight since the beginning. However, despite the years of conflict, Darfur has largely avoided the scourge of landmines thanks to the fact that Sudan has signed the Mine Ban Treaty and now all of the rebel groups active there have signed the Deed of Commitment (Geneva Call).  The fight continues and may do so for some time, but it will continue without landmines.

Michael P. Moore

September 9, 2014

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Unacceptable Risk: The deliberate targeting of deminers

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