The conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) has resulted in extensive landmine, cluster munition and other explosive remnant of war (ERW) contamination. Mines and ERW caused 864 casualties in Syria in 2015 while cluster munition strikes caused another 231 casualties. The contamination will continue to kill and maim people for decades.
At a time when global landmine contamination is dropping, MAC has been very concerned about increasing Syrian contamination.
Today we have some good news though, the Government of Canada announced a $4.5 million CDN contribution to Mayday Rescue to support the Syrian Civil Defence aka the White Helmets. In addition to the post-bombing search and rescue they are famous for, the White Helmets carry out risk education and explosive ordinance disposal/clearance operations in some of the most contaminated areas.
We hope that this support, following the September announcement of $12.5 Canadian over five years to mine clearance in Colombia, is the start of Canada's return to being a top-five donor to mine action. It is time that Canada reasserts its leadership on the Ottawa Treaty and on global efforts to eliminate the suffering caused by landmines, cluster munitions and other ERW.
Our colleague and Youth LEAP grad Soksai Sengvongkham has excellent things to say about Minister Stéphane Dion's visit to COPE Laos.
Great to see someone trained by our previous Global Affairs Canada funded youth program have the opportunity to show the Minister of Foreign Affairs what Canadian funding can do!
On December 8th 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 4th the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on mine action and remind the population of the danger that landmines pose all over the world. It is also an opportunity to highlight all the exceptional work that mine action personnel and advocacy groups do around the world; and to point out that dealing with explosive hazards are only one aspect of mine action work. It is also a moment for the United Nation to reaffirm its partnership with states, non-states actors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) to eradicate all anti-personnel landmines across the globe. This year the ICBL is using the slogan: “Finish the Job 2025” and the United Nations official theme of International Mine Action Day is “Mine action is humanitarian action”. Let’s look at both of those themes.
Finish the Job 2025
In 2014, capitalizing on the momentum provided by the Third Review Conference of the Ottawa Treaty in Maputo, the ICBL challenged the international community to fulfill the promises of the Treaty and to realize a mine free world by 2025. The states present at the Review Conference adopted the Maputo Declaration which set the same goal.
The Ottawa Treaty or as it is often called, the Mine Ban Treaty, was signed in Ottawa in 1997 and entered into law in 1999. It is one of the world's most endorsed treaties. Over 80% of world's countries have committed to it. This universalization of the treaty helps reinforce the stigma now associated with the use of landmines; and this tactic is obviously working. To see the success in action we looked at Landmine Monitor 2005 which identified 6,521 new landmine/UXO casualties in calendar year 2004. The Landmine Monitor 2015 identified 3,678 new casualties in calendar year 2014, the second lowest number of casualties since 1999. The drop in casualties alone between 2005 and 2015 is worth celebrating but there are more successes that show it is possible to Finish the Job by 2025.
In the year the Ottawa Treaty became binding international law, there were 45 states parties. Fifteen years later, we have 162 states parties and Sri Lanka has announced they will soon be #163.
Finish the Job 2025 calls for complete worldwide mine clearance by 2025. An ambitious objective, even by NGO standards, but the ICBL strongly believe that with political determination and commitment from the mine ban community, the States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty are more than capable of fulfilling their obligations within the next decade. As you noted above, the Ottawa Treaty has made excellent progress over the past ten years and we hope to see similar progress over the next ten. The International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action provides an excellent opportunity for the international community to stress to decisions makers the important of fulfilling that objective. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: "Eliminating the threat of mines and explosive remnants of war is a crucially important endeavour that advances peace, enables development, supports nations in transition and saves lives.”
Mine action is humanitarian action
Mine action is not only about the danger of dealing with explosives, more importantly it is about providing hope and a chance at a better life to thousands of civilians. As the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon affirmed:
“...mine action programmes make an invaluable contribution to post-conflict recovery, humanitarian relief efforts, peace operations and development initiatives. They prevent landmines and other explosive ordnance from causing further indiscriminate harm long after conflicts have ended, and help to transform danger zones into productive land. Mine action sets communities on course toward lasting stability.”
Contamination by landmines and explosive remnants of war prevent civilians from accessing basic necessities such as drinking water. Contaminated lands and farms cripple development of agriculture exacerbating poverty. Thanks to landmine clearance and the hard work of mine action personnel, now communities in the Battambang province in Cambodia can grow produce on their farms and sell them to local markets; while the city of Bentiu in South Sudan now have access to safe drinking water since the local borehole has been cleared of explosive remnants of war.
Mine action also plays a crucial role in relief efforts. For example, in 2014, the World Food Program initiated a project to build a road in South Sudan so that humanitarian assistance could be delivered by road to villages affected by the ongoing conflict. It is estimated that approximately 2.5 millions of South Sudanese were in need of food assistance at that time. However, during the first few days of the project, a bulldozer hit a anti-tank mine. The project had to be suspended while the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) cleared the area of remaining explosive hazards. The team cleared close to 27,000 km of road, allowing vital humanitarian assistance to reach those in need; saving countless lives.
The work that mine action staff do has a concrete and direct impact on the lives of millions of civilians affected by conflict. Every day, countless lives are saved and changed for the better by mine action whether is clearance of land, risk education, assistance to victims or advocacy. One can only hope that in the near future the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action be a day of remembrance of what used to be.
Jean-Philippe Lambert Ste Marie is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa and a Mines Action Canada research assistant.
Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, as declared by the UN General Assembly in December 2005.
The theme chosen this year is “Mine action is humanitarian action.”
Significant progress has been made since this day was first established, with multiple organisations and governments showing an increased effort to deal with this problem quickly and efficiently.
In fact, today, 162 states are now party to the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines and in 2014 international support for mine action reached $416.8 million (US).
However, while this is a considerable achievement, there remains a significant amount of work to be done. Every day an estimated 10 people are killed or injured by landmines or explosive remnants of war.
Further, there remain 35 countries outside of the Ottawa Teaty and 60 states and areas which are still contaminated by landmines or explosive remnants of war. This means that in 60 areas around the world parents are frightened to send their children to school, people put themselves at risk daily simply by leaving their homes and many people struggle to rebuild their lives after surviving a landmine incident. Just yesterday, three Syrian boys were killed by a landmine they thought was a toy.
In light of this, the issue of landmine and explosive weapons contamination must be addressed through a humanitarian lens, because it is individual people who must face the very real danger of having their lives, or the life of a family member cut tragically short as a result of wars and conflict that they themselves had nothing to do with. With April 4th fast approaching, we have another opportunity to recommit ourselves to ending the suffering caused by landmines and to remind the international community that mine action is humanitarian action.
Claudia Pearson is an undergraduate student at the University of Leeds currently on exchange at the University of Ottawa.
Guest post by MAC Research Associate, Andrew Luth
On September 1, 2015, Canada will become legally bound by the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). This international treaty bans the use, production, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. These deadly weapons scatter explosives over areas several football fields in size, killing indiscriminately. Current data suggests that as many as 94% of the victims of cluster munitions are civilians. Once conflict ends, unexploded cluster munitions continue taking victims, contaminating cities, fields, and forests as lethal reminders of the past. Cluster munitions often resemble toys, balls or soft drink cans, and thereby disproportionately affect children, who are often unaware of the danger.
Canada’s ratification of the CCM in March was encouraging news. With the passage of Bill C-6, Canadian law now forbids aiding or abetting the use or production of cluster munitions. Canadian Members of Parliament, Senators and officials have stated that investment is included under this prohibition, but the legislation does not explicitly mention investment. This omission has led to confusion among Canadian financial institutions, and uncertainty about legal obligations. In its November 2014 report, Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions, Dutch peace organization PAX called out two major Canadian financial institutions for investing in cluster munition producers, and if you are one of the millions of clients of either of these firms, your investment might be supporting the production of cluster munitions. Despite the passage of Bill C-6, it is difficult to know if these investments have continued.
This problem partly stems from a lack of clarity and consistency within the banking industry. While many Canadian financial institutions are good corporate citizens in most of their business practices, their policies on socially responsible investing do not extend to all their activities. Large financial institutions often have independent governance structures for each part of their business. Consequently, even a good faith statement by a bank to refrain from supporting or financing transactions related to cluster munitions might not apply to practices such as investment banking or asset management. These corporate governance structures often leave sizable gaps in responsible investment policies, thereby failing to fully eliminate suspect investments. When these inconsistencies are noted, firms should promise to review their weapons investment policies in a prompt and transparent manner. These promises should use clear timelines and corporate oversight to ensure that firms can both keep themselves accountable and publicly demonstrate their progress.
It’s not all bad news though. Many Canadian financial institutions are making significant efforts to fully account for the social and humanitarian impacts of their investments. Canada’s second annual Responsible Investment Week starts today and runs to June 5th. It is dedicated to increasing education and awareness about responsible investment. Some financial institutions have already responded decisively to concerns about cluster munitions investing. NEI Investments and Desjardins Investments have been particularly proactive, leading the way in socially responsible investing on many fronts. In February, they announced a joint ban on investment in cluster munitions producers that extends to all their products and should be considered a model for all Canadian financial institutions.
Actions such as these make it clear that corporate social responsibility should extend beyond community involvement, governance and environmental sustainability. Making the world a safe place for all to live, work and play will pay immediate social dividends. It is important that these hidden dividends are not overlooked. Instead of merely conforming to the lowest legal denominator, financial institutions can and should be on the leading edge of social change both at home and around the world.
If you’d like to get involved, please contact your financial institutions and ask them to clearly state their policy on cluster munitions investment. For more information on disinvestment from cluster munitions, please contact Mines Action Canada at [email protected] or visit www.stopexplosiveinvestments.org.
After graduating from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Andrew Luth spent two years living and working in China. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Canada. His academic interests include disarmament, conflict analysis and resolution, and the Asia-Pacific region.
The Syrian government continues to use cluster munitions against its own people with catastrophic results – over 1,000 casualties were reported in 2013 and the casualties continued throughout 2014 and into this year. While Canada’s ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions will not put an immediate end to the Syrian government’s use of this horrific weapon; Canada now has obligations to help lessen the suffering of Syrians injured by cluster munitions and to contribute to the prevention of future casualties.
Under Article 21 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Canada has an obligation to discourage our allies in efforts against ISIL to not use cluster munitions. Article 21 is known as the universalization clause because it requires states parties like Canada to encourage allies to join the treaty and to discourage any use of cluster munitions by anyone. The Canadian government should do everything it can to ensure that none of the states in the anti-ISIL coalition use cluster munitions to prevent further casualties amongst the civilian population in Syria or Iraq.
Canada also has obligations under the treaty to provide assistance to the victims of cluster munitions and to support risk education and the clearance of unexploded submunitions. The Government of Canada can immediately begin to support Syrians who have been injured by these horrific weapons. Support to trauma and medical services in Syria, to medical and rehabilitation services for refugees in neighbouring countries and to disability programs in the region will have an immediate impact on the lives of cluster munition survivors, their families and their communities. All of these actions will help Canada meet the victim assistance obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions and will improve the lives of Syrians.
The government can also support risk education operations in displaced communities to help prevent casualties when people return home to areas now contaminated by unexploded submunitions. The ongoing conflict means that clearance of unexploded submunitions cannot yet start but it is possible to educate people about the risks and to begin to gather information about dangerous areas to allow for a quick response as soon as it is safe to enter the country. Canada can begin to plan for such life-saving actions by creating a rapid response fund and by supporting organizations that are doing surveys on the situation in Syria in preparation for clearance operations. Over 98% of cluster munition casualties in Syria have been civilians and countless more civilians will be at risk when they return home to areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants. Canada can act now to prevent future casualties through education and preparation for rapid response clearance.
Parliament will continue to discuss the mission in Iraq and Syria as it unfolds and pundits will analyze and criticise that we are risking too much or not doing enough. Regardless of the extension and expansion of the military mission against ISIL, Canada has the opportunity to create meaningful change in the lives of the people who suffer the painful consequences of the Syrian government’s use of cluster munitions by fulfilling our obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It is time for Canada to be a leader on ending the suffering caused by cluster munitions and let us start by helping the people of Syria.
By Erin Hunt, Programme Coordinator, Mines Action Canada. Originally published in Embassy News on 8 April 2015
Mines Action Canada Welcomes Canada’s Ratification of Cluster Bomb Ban Despite Lingering Concerns about Legislation
(Ottawa – 17 March 2015) Canada has finally ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions and totally banned these inhumane weapons. After signing the Convention on Cluster Munitions in December 2008, Canada ratified the Convention today and will be fully bound by the provisions of the Convention on September 1, 2015. As a full state party, Canada will join 89 other states in a total ban on cluster munitions due to the unacceptable humanitarian harm they cause. The Convention bans the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions as well as assistance with any of those acts.
Mines Action Canada remains concerned about the national legislation used to implement the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The two and a half year long process to pass this legislation is indicative of the importance of the Convention and the widespread concern about loopholes in the legislation known as Bill C-6. During the legislative process, Bill C-6 received intense national and international attention including commentary from the International Committee of the Red Cross, from diplomats, from international organizations, from humanitarian experts and from civil society organizations. Mines Action Canada was pleased to see the House of Commons make an amendment to the legislation in 2013.
“Although Bill C-6 contained numerous loopholes when it was passed; it is clear that Canadians will not use cluster munitions. The debate about the legislation has ensured that the small number of Canadian allies who remain outside the Convention will not likely be putting Canadian personnel in the difficult position of assisting with the use of this banned and internationally condemned weapon,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director. “Senator Fortin-Duplessis’ statement that ‘Canadian commanders will never have the right to order the use of cluster munitions’ even during joint military operations is a positive step and we look forward to clear directives from the Chief of Defense Staff.”
The thorough review of the legislation included clarification from the government that Bill C-6 and Canada’s ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the investment in cluster munition production. Department of Justice officials stated that Canadian investment in cluster munition producers is in fact considered aiding in their production and is illegal - “[i]f there's investment in Canada in a company offshore that amounts to aiding and abetting, then it will be subject to the Canadian criminal law under the bill.”
Canada has been complying with some of obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions prior to ratification. In June 2014, all of Canada’s remaining cluster munition stockpiles were destroyed well in advance of the 8 years after ratification deadline contained in the Convention. Canada has also been submitting voluntary reports to the States Parties annually.
As a full State Party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Government of Canada is obligated to help clear contaminated land and assist the victims of this horrific weapon. Mines Action Canada is calling on the government to resume its position of a top five donor to mine action by contributing at least $1 per Canadian per year. Canadian funding can save lives and ensure that Canadian tourists, businesspeople and aid workers can walk without fear everywhere.
Amidst reports of cluster munition use in Syria, Ukraine and Libya, Canada’s ratification strengthens the stigma against these inhuman weapons. Mr. Hannon further said “We expect Canada to discourage our allies from using cluster munitions and to encourage all countries to join the treaty.”
For more information or to schedule an interview, contact:
Erin Hunt, Program Coordinator, Mines Action Canada, mob.: 613 302-3088 email: [email protected]
Notes to Editors
About cluster munitions:
A cluster munition (or cluster bomb) is a weapon containing multiple - often hundreds - of small explosive submunitions or bomblets. Cluster munitions are dropped from the air or fired from the ground and designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions over an area that can be the size of several football fields. They cannot discriminate between civilians and soldiers. Many of the submunitions fail to explode on impact and remain a threat to lives and livelihoods for decades after a conflict.
116 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions (89 full States Parties - in bold):
Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, DR Congo, Republic of Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, The Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Madagascar , Malawi, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Republic of Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Palestine, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Rwanda, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tomé and Principe, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Zambia. See http://stopclustermunitions.org/en-gb/the-treaty/treaty-status.aspx for details.
About Mines Action Canada (MAC)
Formed in 1994 Mines Action Canada (MAC) is a coalition of Canadian non-governmental organizations concerned with the human and socio-economic impacts of landmines, cluster munitions and other weapons causing similar humanitarian impacts. It is the Canadian partner of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the 1997 co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and is a founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. www.minesactioncanada.org
As Bill C-6 implementing the global ban on cluster munitions is being studied by the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee, campaigners from around the world are seriously concerned because the legislation allows Canadians to help use and request that other countries use a banned weapon. They have a message for Canada - #fixthebill!
A video message from Lynn in the USA:
Nora from the USA:
Leila from London:
Lucy from the UK and Umedjon from Tajikistan:
A video message from Thoummy in Laos:
Moaffak from Iraq:
Mutebar from Turkey:
Nicola from Geneva:
Serena from Taiwan Province of China:
Shushira from Thailand and Seevue from Laos:
Sylvie from France:
Umedjon from Tajikistan:
Vidya from Sri Lanka:
Boibat from Western Sahara:
Atle from Norway:
Ayman from Egypt:
Eva from Germany:
Lucy from London and Geoffrey from South Sudan:
Jeff from the USA:
Ken from the USA:
A video message from Richard in the UK:
Ban Advocates and cluster bomb survivors in Vietnam:
Ana-Maria from Peru:
Tamar from the United States:
Gus in Vietnam:
A video message from Susan from the United States:
Kasia, Tamar and Firoz in Geneva:
Olivia from Canada:
The Landmine Survivors Initiative in Bosnia:
Merel, Lucy and Amy in London:
Chuck, a Vietnam vet who clears cluster bombs in Vietnam:
Morgan, Arthur, Amelie and Jared in Geneva:
Firoz from Afghanistan has a video message for Canada:
Mr. Thi and friends in Vietnam: