Friday, November 30, 2012

Landmines: Landmine casualty rate dropping

Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN. HALO Trust deminers briefed before starting work on minefields close to Mozambique's Cahora Bassa dam (2009) 

Source: IRIN

JOHANNESBURG, 29 November 2012 (IRIN) - Amid the odd relapse, progress towards a world free of antipersonnel mines is inching forward. A decade ago, the weapon was responsible for at least 32 casualties daily; by 2011, the casualty rate had dropped to about 12 per day, the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (LCMM) said in its 2012 report, published on the 29 November.

The report was launched ahead of the 12th Meeting of State Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), which will take place on 3 December in Geneva.

The report announced that mines and explosive remnants of war had caused 4,286 casualties worldwide in 2011, the year under review. In 2011, three states - Israel, Libya and Myanmar, none of them party to the MBT - used antipersonnel mines. The use of the weapon by armed groups and militias was seen in six countries in 2011 - Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen - an increase over the previous year, in which the landmines use by armed groups was recorded in only four countries.

Thus far in 2012, the only state known to use antipersonnel mines has been Syria, another non-MBT signatory.

Fewer are factory-made 

Mark Hiznay, a senior researcher in the arms division at Human Rights Watch, told IRIN, “It is of course a concern that non-state armed groups (NSAG) continue to use the weapon as well as victim-activated improvised explosive devices, which function in the same way. 

“This last point is subtle, but important, wherein we are seeing many, many fewer factory-produced mines in circulation and more and more improvised or craft mines in use,” he said.

The LCMM said in a statement, “Active production of antipersonnel mines may be ongoing in as few as four countries: India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea,” although there has been no recorded export of these weapons in recent years.

Eight countries - China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Singapore, the US and Vietnam - reserve the right to produce antipersonnel mines.

Hiznay said the “continued naming and shaming is the primary vehicle where the stigma can be applied. India, Pakistan and South Korea each have some form of export moratorium on antipersonnel mines, so at least the proliferation aspect of their continued production is contained. It would be good to get Myanmar to start taking steps in this direction.”

Non-state actors

Armed groups are excluded from the MBT. But Swiss-based NGO Geneva Call, which engages armed groups to abide by humanitarian law during conflicts, works to get non-state actors to sign “Deeds of Commitment”, such as abandoning the use of antipersonnel mines.

Since 2000, Geneva Call has reached agreements with 42 armed groups banning antipersonnel mine use. Katherine Kramer, Geneva Call’s programme director for landmines and other explosive devices, told IRIN that no armed-groups signatories to the Deed of Commitment were known to have reverted back to using the weapons.

Kramer said that armed groups see antipersonnel mines as cheap and effective weapons, which they believed to compliment the effectiveness of their smaller forces. The argument can be difficult to counter, so instead the NGO uses humanitarian reasons to convince armed groups to sign the Deed of Commitment. This tends to be more effective on armed groups working closer with affected populations during conflicts.

There is an element of volatility to working with armed groups. Some may splinter while others might become governments, in which case they become eligible to sign the MBT.

“There are currently 24 [Deed of Commitment armed group signatories] still active – [in] Burma/Myanmar, India, Iran, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, Western Sahara - although seven of the signatories from Somalia are in the process of integrating into the Federal State of Somalia,” she said.

Mine contamination and clearance

The LCMM said, “Some 59 states and six other areas were confirmed to be affected by landmines. A further 13 states have either suspected or residual mine contamination.”

It noted that “steady decreases in annual casualty rates continued in some of the most mine-affected countries, such as Afghanistan and Cambodia, but these were offset by increases in countries with new or intensified conflicts, such as Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria.”

About 190sqkm of mined areas was cleared last year, and more than 325,000 antipersonnel mines and nearly 30,000 anti-vehicle mines were destroyed. “The largest total clearance of mined areas was achieved by programs in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Croatia and Sri Lanka, which together accounted for more than 80 percent of recorded clearance,” the LCMM statement said.

“An additional 233sqkm of former battle area was reportedly cleared in 2011, destroying in the process more than 830,000 items of unexploded or abandoned ordnance, as well as 55sqkm of cluster munition-contaminated areas, with the destruction of more than 52,000 unexploded submunitions,” the statement said.

The mine action budget in 2011 was about US$662 million, the largest annual total to date. Hiznay said, “Much of the increase in support is coming from mine-affected states themselves - countries dedicating national resources to deal with their problem - which now accounts for about 30 percent of global funding. Croatia is good example of this.”

The dirty thirty

However, there were setbacks for victim assistance, the LCMM said. “Direct international support for victim assistance programmes through international mine action funding declined by $13.6 million, an almost 30 percent decrease from 2010.”

But the “dirty thirty”, the moniker used for 36 states resisting membership of the mine ban club - including three permanent members of the UN Security Council; China, Russia and US - is gradually being eroded. The Marshall Islands and Poland have recently signed, but have yet to ratify, the treaty. 

But the power of global consensus has had an influence on those left out in the cold. States “outside the ban treaty have taken intermediate steps that are in line with the norm set by the treaty, be it through policy reviews, like the US, extension of export moratoria, like Israel, destruction of stockpiles, like Vietnam and Russia, and the apparent cessation of use by Myanmar,” Hiznay said.

“Some long term hold-outs have joined, namely Finland, and hopefully Poland will, too, by the end of this year. It is clear that the stigma against the use [of mines] is as strong as ever,” he said.