Friday, February 03, 2012

Landmines: Getting Rid of the Explosive Remnants of War

Source: ISS

Getting Rid of the Explosive Remnants of War

Gugu Dube, Researcher, Transnational Threats and International Crime, ISS Pretoria

Explosive remnants of war (ERW) consist of abandoned explosive ordnance and unexploded ordnance as a result of armed conflicts that pose significant threats to the survival and development of civilian populations. All too frequently they kill and maim the most vulnerable members of society and impede the reconstruction of a war-torn country or region.

In response to the effects of ERW, States adopted a landmark agreement in 2003 – Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, an additional protocol to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)– which provides an international legal basis for reducing the risks from these explosive devices, for the first time. The CCW is also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention. The purpose of the CCW is to ban or restrict the use of specific types of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or affect civilians indiscriminately.

Explosive remnants of war exist in many shapes and sizes, from small fuze detonators to large free-fall bombs or missiles, weighing up to hundreds of kilograms. According to Protocol V, the term ‘explosive remnants of war’ refers to unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance, both linked to armed conflict. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) refers to munitions (bombs, shells, mortars and grenades) whether delivered from the air, the ground or, if the munitions end up on land or sea) that have been used but which have failed to detonate as intended.

Abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO) refers to munitions that have been left behind by a party to an armed conflict, whether deliberately or because they have been dumped or forgotten. AXO may be individual items on the battlefield, such as a hand-grenade, larger weapons caches or ammunition depots. It does not matter whether or not the munitions have been fused or armed, they are still considered AXO if they have not been used/exploded.

The Protocol, which is the first multilaterally negotiated instrument to deal with the problem of unexploded and abandoned ordnance, is intended to eradicate the daily threat that such legacies of war pose to populations in need of development and to humanitarian aid workers operating in the field The Protocol’s entry into force on 12 November 2006 provided a great opportunity to further strengthen international efforts to tackle the consequences of ERW. One of the key provisions of Protocol V is that “Parties shall, to the maximum extent possible, record and retain information on the use of explosive remnants of war, and make available such information to the party in control of the affected areas. Parties shall take all feasible precautions to protect civilian population from the risks and effects of explosive remnants of war”. Landmines and explosive remnants of war are not only a danger to people’s lives but they continue to prevent farmers from accessing land and this impacts on livelihoods, food security, and rural development in affected countries.

South Africa is party to the CCW and has actively participated in CCW deliberations in recent years. The National Assembly approved ratification of CCW Protocol V on 10 November 2010 and deposited the ratification instrument on 24 January 2012. The Protocol will enter into force for South Africa on 24 July 2012. By depositing it’s instrument of ratification, South Africa continues to support progress on reducing the social, economic and environmental impact of mines and ERW on the multilateral disarmament agenda. In so doing, this will strengthen the multilateral system of governance aimed at enhancing international peace and security and therefore boost universal application of the provisions of the CCW.

To date, there are 77 states parties to Protocol V of which only a few are African states (Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Sierra leone, South Africa and Tunisia). According to statistics released by the Landmine Monitor during 2010, African states/territories that experienced high ERW causalities included - Angola, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mozambique, Somalia,Somaliland, Uganda, Western Sahara and Zambia. The estimated number of recorded casualties for this period was 858 but due to incomplete data collection, it is most likely that the actual casualty figure is higher. Despite this, there has been a significant global reduction of recorded mine/ERW casualties over the past decade.