International Unitarian Universalism: Disarmament
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Remembering Landmines

By Joanne Dufour

This blog is dedicated to the upcoming 21st anniversary on September 18th of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. In practice this has meant the saving of lives and limbs and reducing civilian suffering caused by landmines.  Here, we pay tribute to the Canadian Government and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ successful efforts to implement this treaty.  Lest we forget this weapon is not finished when a conflict is over. Its danger persists and can kill or maim for an unlimited time period - the only protection against it is its ultimate removal.

Why bring this up now? Not only are we celebrating their anniversary, but there is also renewed hope for the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula. One of the densest areas in the world when it comes to landmines is the DMZ – the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. And while 164 countries (80%) have signed onto and implemented this convention, three significant non-signatory nations are South Korea, North Korea, and the United States. Although talk of demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula is welcome news, the elimination of the estimated million or so landmines in that area must be an essential part of that goal. As a reminder, the DMZ is the de facto barrier that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly in half. It was created by agreement between North Korea, China and the United Nations in 1953 and is 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. Much of the area is strewn with landmines and laced with barbed wire.  

The three nations mentioned are part of a group of 32 which have not yet signed the treaty - yet efforts have been underway to obtain unanimous compliance with the convention. In the 1980s, the use of anti-personnel landmines was regulated under the Convention on Conventional Weapons Treaty, Protocol II. But many countries wanted a complete ban. The ensuing Mine Ban Convention was taken up by Canada and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in the 1990s.In December of 1997 Ottawa hosted the event when countries could and did sign the Convention: it has since been called the Ottawa Convention. While the US has not signed this Convention, it has been a financial supporter of landmine removal in affected areas since the Clinton Administration. It is noteworthy to recall that landmines have caused over 100,000 US Army casualties since 1942: accounting for 33% of U.S. casualties in Vietnam, 14% in the Persian Gulf War, and US injuries in Peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Kosovo as well as in action in Afghanistan and South Korea (Deller, Makhijani, Burroughs, Editors: Rule of Power, Rule of Law?, p 94).

Tape warning of landmines surrounds a dangerous zone of land in Sri Lanka.

Demarcation for a dangerous mine-strewn area in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka recently acceded to both the Mine Ban Treaty (December 2017) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (March 2018).

Consider the progress which has occurred since 1997 when Jody Williams and the ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work towards banning the use of landmines and ensuring the safe clearance of existing minefields. Since then:

  • New use of anti-personnel mines by States is rare, even those not yet party to the convention
  • The international trade in AP mines has virtually ceased
  • More than 53 million stockpiled AP mines have been destroyed
  • The annual rate of new mine casualties has declined dramatically over the last two decades
  • Each year, humanitarian mine-clearance operations are clearing several hundred square kilometers of land, destroying several hundred thousand mines in the process and creating sustainable productive use and development of these areas
  • Children and their communities have learned how to prevent physical harm through mine risk education campaigns
  • Rights-based approaches provide victims and survivors with a renewed opportunity for a life with dignity.
  • The UN’s Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) notes that “Other welcome trends include: increases in national capacity to manage complex mine action programs; the great progress in framing victim assistance in the wider context of disability; and the development of improved risk-reduction tools. The Mine Ban Convention has been a central framework for States in conducting mine action activities that led to all these remarkable achievements.”

As impressive as these results might be, there is still more work to do to reach the goal of a mine-free world by 2025. “Well over 10 million stockpiled mines await destruction. Massive tracts of land are still infested and thus too dangerous for productive use. Tens of thousands of victims and their families have not yet received adequate support. The presence of mines continues to impede social and economic development” (UNODA). In addition to those states which still maintain landmines – some in large stockpiles, there is the continued use of AP mines, particularly improvised mines, by some non-State armed groups. These devices are reportedly taking a heavy toll on civilians in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Online interactive maps from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor contains intricate data about each country's casualties suffered from landmines and cluster munitions as well as stockpile levels, contamination, and the country's status vis-a-vis the Mine Ban Treaty.

View the Maps

At a meeting in Maputo, Mozambique in 2014 an action plan was developed by the signatory nations promoting deliberate outreach by them to non-signatory nations to encourage their commitment not to use, produce, or transfer AP mines, and to destroy stockpiles and reach out to non-state actors to do the same. The response by the US government following that meeting was to announce its compliance with all terms of the Ottawa Convention in all areas of the world except the DMZ for “the unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our anti-personnel landmine policy there at this time.”   Other non-signatory nations are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, North Korea, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Libya, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Syria, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

What is unusual and unique about this treaty is its direct impact on ordinary citizens. The majority of victims in those areas mentioned above where landmines are being used are civilians, with children accounting for 42% of all civilian casualties. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in whose hospitals landmine victims are frequently treated has been conducting the Mine Risk Education programs in an attempt to reach the children who are exposed to mined fields and teach them they are not toys.

In a December 2017 meeting of the States Parties to the Ban in Vienna, Peter Maurer of the ICRC noted the significance of this Convention:

  1. It was the first time that a weapon in widespread use had been prohibited due to its appalling human, economic and social costs
  2. It was the first treaty of international humanitarian law to prohibit not only the use of a weapon, but also its production, stockpiling and transfer… and to require its elimination; and
  3. It was also the first treaty banning a weapon that require States to provide assistance for victims of that weapon.

The Secretary-General has called on all countries to also regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Such weapons continue to cause many casualties, often civilian when vehicles such as ambulances are impacted. These weapons were originally designed to destroy military equipment such as tanks or trucks and are larger than those designed for personnel. They are part of what is known as cluster munitions which disseminate both kinds of mines. They restrict not only military operations but also the movement of people and humanitarian aid, make land unsuitable for cultivation, and deny citizens access to water, food, care, and trade. Progress in these efforts such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be addressed in future blogs.

We can see that conventions like the ones for chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons had this Mine Ban Treaty as a commendable model to follow. The elimination of landmines in the DMZ and around the world merits our attention at this time as we move bit by bit towards disarming our planet.