International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action
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.
Mine Action is Humanitarian Action
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.
Sri Lanka Decides to Ban Landmines
On 3 March 2016, the Sri Lankan government finally approved accession to the Ottawa Treaty, which bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. Sri Lanka will soon be the 163rd state party to the Mine Ban Treaty, as it is also known.
Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva stated, “We decided to sign the Ottawa Convention because we have no intention of going to war again.”
Sri Lanka’s ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty is a significant step that should greatly accelerate the process of mine clearance. Now, neither the government, nor any non-state actors, can exacerbate the problem any further.
Ambassador Aryasinha, the Sri Lankan representative to the United Nations speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on March 2, announced that the government wishes Sri Lanka to be a mine free country by the year 2020, and that a strategic plan is currently in the making to achieve this goal.
The Extent of Contamination in Sri Lanka
Three decades of armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers left behind extensive mine and ERW contamination. The conflict came to an end in 2009, by which time it is estimated that approximately 300,000 people had been displaced.
Following the war, almost 2,064 acres of land had been contaminated and were in urgent need of clearance before displaced persons could return to their homes.
While the government decided only days ago to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty, work has been underway for some time to combat the issue of contamination. For example, in July 2010, a National Mine Action Centre was created. It has become the government's lead agency in national demining efforts.
Furthermore, it was reported that in 2014, a number of NGOs conducted demining activities in Sri Lanka. This included a Sri Lankan non-profit, Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH), as well as two international NGOs – the Halo Trust, and Mines Advisory Group (MAG).
The work of these various organisations has had a significant impact, and as of December 2015, 2,000 acres of land had been cleared.
With the combination of the Sri Lankan government’s acceptance of the Mine Ban Treaty, and the significant progress that has already been made in terms of clearance, it seems extremely likely that by 2020, Sri Lanka will achieve its goal of being a mine free country.
Mines Action Canada welcomes this decision by the Sri Lankan government and thanks our colleagues in the Sri Lankan Campaign to Ban Landmines for their years of hard work to make this a reality.
This post is the first in a series by MAC student interns.
Claudia Pearson is an undergraduate student at University of Leeds currently on exchange in Ottawa.
Canada Recommits to a Mine-Free World while Sri Lanka approves accession to Ottawa Treaty
Mines Action Canada welcomes today’s statement by the Honourable Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs that recommitted Canada to achieving a mine-free world by 2025 and expressed support for the universalization of the treaty banning landmines. Minister Dion called on states to summon the same courage that landmine survivors demonstrate daily in order to achieve the goal of a world without landmines by 2025. Minister Dion made the statement in Geneva at the First International Pledging Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Commonly known as the Ottawa Treaty it bans the use, transfer, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines.
“More than 80% of the world’s states belong to the Ottawa Treaty and more than 49 million mines have been destroyed by landmines because of the treaty” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada. “This life-saving treaty is working, but much work remains. We are pleased to see the Government engaged again at such a high level. Canada’s leadership is very important”
The Pledging Conference was organized by Chile which currently holds the Presidency of the treaty. Minister Dion appeared on a high-level panel with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross; the Foreign Ministers of Chile and Colombia; as well as, Ms. Tammy Hall, a Canadian who is Head of Demining of the Danish Demining Group and Mr. Firoz Alizada, Campaigns and Communications Manager of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
This statement comes one day after the 17th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty becoming international law. Over the past 17 years, the Ottawa Treaty has resulted in a dramatic drop in number of new casualties, nearly 30 affected countries have become free from the scourge of landmines, and the stigma on landmines continues to hold strong. With this statement, Minister Dion reaffirms Canada’s dedication and leadership in implementing the steps necessary to realize a mine-free world by 2025.
The Minister’s statement was not the only big news of the Pledging Conference. The Sri Lankan Ambassador announced that Sri Lanka’s cabinet approved accession to the Ottawa Treaty this morning meaning that Sri Lanka will be to acceding to the treaty before the end of the year. With this exciting announcement, Sri Lanka will soon be the 163rd State Party to the Ottawa Treaty.
“Mines Action Canada looks forward to welcoming Sri Lanka to the Mine Ban Treaty. As a mine-affected country, Sri Lanka knows all too well the humanitarian harm caused by these horrific weapons,” said Erin Hunt, Program Coordinator. “Sri Lanka’s announcement is another step towards a mine-free world and should serve as a call to neighbouring states that it is time to ban landmines.”
The Pledging Conference also saw strong statements and funding announcements by Australia, Cambodia, Finland, Jordan, Thailand, and more than 25 other states. Mines Action Canada looks forward to working with the Government of Canada and partners around the world in achieving a world without landmines.
Croatian minefields threaten refugees
After Hungary closed its border to refugees, there have been reports that refugees are starting to seek a new route to safety through Croatia.
After escaping cluster munitions, barrel bombs, shelling, suicide bombings and long term conflict, minefields left over from the 1990s threaten the refugees.
Before we talk more about this issue, some landmine safety notes for anyone travelling through Croatia (Google translated into Arabic).
- Stay on roads (البقاء على الطرق)
- The UN has a mine risk education app (وللامم المتحدة التطبيق للتوعية بمخاطر الألغام)
- Apple (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id720063438)
- Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=uk.co.eigo.unmas)
- Pay attention to warning signs (إيلاء الاهتمام لعلامات التحذير)
- Visit the Croatian Mine Action Centre map website to see where minefields could be located (زيارة الموقع مركز للأعمال المتعلقة بالألغام الكرواتي لنرى أين يمكن أن تقع حقول الألغام): https://misportal.hcr.hr/HCRweb/faces/simple/Map.jspx.
- Learn more about the landmine situation in Croatia (تعلم المزيد عن حالة الألغام الأرضية في كرواتيا): http://www.hcr.hr/en/minSituac.asp and the Landmine Monitor.
- The Croatian Mine Action Centre appeals to all citizens and travellers (مركز مكافحة الألغام الكرواتية تناشد جميع المواطنين والمسافرين):
- DO NOT ENTER MINE SUSPECTED AREAS
- ADHERE TO MINE WARNING SIGNS
- DO NOT REMOVE MINE WARNING SIGNS – BE RESPONSIBLE TOWARDS OTHER PEOPLE
- DO NOT TOUCH UNKNOWN OBJECTS AND EXPLOSIVE REMNANTS OF WAR
- MARK THE LOCATION OF MINE AND UXO DETECTION AND INFORM THE POLICE; CALL 192
- INFORM THE URGENT ASSISTANCE SYSTEM AT 112
- AVOID RISKY BEHAVIOUR – CALL FOR HELP
- LEAVE DEMINING TO EXPERTS!
- لا تدخل لغم أرضي المناطق المشتبه
- تلتزم شركتى علامات التحذير
- لا تزيل الألغام الأرضية علامات التحذير - يكون مسؤولا تجاه الآخرين
- لا تمس أجسام مجهولة والمتفجرات من مخلفات الحرب
- تشير إلى موقع الألغام الأرضية والذخائر غير المنفجرة الكشف وإبلاغ الشرطة. استدعاء 192
- إعلام النظام إلى مساعدة عاجلة في 112
- تجنب السلوك المحفوف بالمخاطر - طلب المساعدة
- اترك إزالة الألغام للخبراء!)
Croatia is not the only place where landmines threaten refugees as they attempt to find safety. To make things easier, we will focus on the impact of landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) on Syrian refugees but the Landmine Monitor has a factsheet on landmines/ERW, refugees and displacement that covers the issue globally.
The border between Turkey and Syria has large minefields which have caused numerous casualties among those fleeing Syria. There are reports of displaced persons living in the minefield between Turkey and Syria. Refugees in Iraq and Lebanon face threats from landmine and ERW as well. Recently, we have heard reports of Syrian refugees being killed and injured by cluster munitions in Lebanon.
While solving some of the conflicts that are driving the current refugee crisis may be slow and incredibly difficult, we can make the road to safety much more secure. A priority must be to fund mine clearance along borders and near refugee camps and settlements. Today Croatia started moving mine clearance teams to the borders to help prevent casualties. Funding this sort of emergency clearance operations is something Canada should be doing - it is an effective way of saving lives and helping live up to our obligations under the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. No one should risk death or disability as they seek safety. In addition, emergency risk education is ongoing among refugee communities but it could be scaled up dramatically with increased funding.
There is no debate that clearing minefields can save the lives of refugees now and into the future. It must be a priority.
Map from the Croatian Mine Action Centre of mine fields near the Serbian border.
New music video highlights landmine impact on children
The Smashing Pumpkins music video for "Drum+Fife" is visually stunning and powerful. It brings light to the fact that wars don't end just because the guns fall silent and a peace agreement is signed.
Landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war continue to kill and maim years or decades after conflict while those who fought often return home with visible and invisible injuries only to be forgotten.
Since the video focuses on children passing through a mine field, let's look at the most recent statistics about landmine casualties. The Landmine Monitor 2014 has the most up to date information about the global landmine situation.
- In 2013, the Monitor reported 3,308 mine/ERW casualties of which 1,065 people were killed and another 2,218 people were injured.
- On average nine people are killed or injured by a landmine or other explosive remnants of war every day.
- Landmine casualties were reported in 55 states and other areas in 2013.
- Afghanistan reported the most casualties in 2013 (with 1,050 people killed or injured) and Colombia had the second highest number of casualties (368 people killed or injured)
- There were 1,112 child casualties in 2013 or 46% of all casualties.
- The majority of child casualties were from three countries - Afghanistan, Colombia and Syria.
- Globally women made up 12% of all landmine casualties.
- 79% of casualties in 2013 were civilians while security forces made up 18% and 3% were deminers.
While these figures are distressing they demonstrate a marked improvement compared to the situation before the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines. The Ottawa Treaty has led to an incredible decrease in the number of landmine casualties globally since it became international law in 1999 but there is still a long way to go. We need all states to join the Ottawa Treaty and commit to a mine free world. Learn more by visiting our website or www.the-monitor.org and support our work by donating online.
Erin Hunt, Programme Coordinator, Mines Action Canada.