In-depth: Laying Landmines to Rest? Humanitarian Mine Action

AFRICA-ASIA: The demonisation of mines and the Ottawa Treaty: International Campaign to Ban Landmines

A current esimated 300,000 mine victims struggle to survive with minimal assistance from their communities,governments and the international community. A boy in Angola.
NAIROBI, 1 November 2005 (IRIN) - Described by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "a landmark step in the history of disarmament," the Ottawa Treaty has marked the turning of the tide against landmines. Many like Martin Barber, Chief of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), see the widespread implementation of the treaty as "consigning landmines to the dustbin of history."

The Nairobi Summit for a Mine Free World, 29 November to 3 December 2004, is the first review conference of the treaty and is considered an important platform for the states party to the treaty to renew commitments to the convention, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty. "We are really on the way altogether to ban and eliminate one kind of vicious weapon from the earth," president-designate of the Nairobi summit, Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch told IRIN.

In the history of disarmament campaigns and civil society movements, the meteoric speed at which the movement to ban landmines has affected international law is unprecedented. Studies, doctorate dissertations and books are being written to explain the phenomenon.

For Ambassador Petritsch the treaty is "a success story with immediate humanitarian and disarmament aspects combined." He told IRIN that the movement led by the International Committee to Ban Landmines (ICBL) "signifies a new kind of diplomacy" - a unique partnership of civil society and governments driven by a single desire to rid the world of these weapons. In the early 1990s, however, this partnership was not so apparent as a small group of idealists forged new ground and fought to create and enact landmine legislation.

The path towards new international law

"In the early- to mid-nineties the consequences of the widespread use of anti-personnel mines had become horrifyingly apparent," according to Barber. A small number of individuals and agencies started to publicise the issue and in 1991 Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights published the first detailed study of how landmines were actually being used in "The Coward's War: Landmines in Cambodia."

ICBL was founded in 1992 by a half dozen concerned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with the hope to ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of landmines. Within 4 years the movement had swelled to over 1,400 religious, humanitarian and development NGOs and organisations. Now it enjoys the support and endorsement of senior world statesmen, numerous senior military commanders and religious leaders worldwide.

Mines and Unexploded Ordnance are littered together in dozens of post-conflict countries: both a lethal hazard to thousands of communities: North Iraq.
Credit: MAG/Sean Sutton
The six NGOs that formed the initial steering committee of the ICBL were Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Medico International, Mines Advisory Group, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. A decade later these agencies remain the leaders in the fight against landmines and their effects.

They organised fast and used public meetings and the media creatively and extensively to publicise the horrors of mines while petitioning politicians and governments to take action to ban landmines. Hundreds of civil society groups flooded to join the movement including major international agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and different UN agencies.

Martin Barber described the campaign as extremely effective, "including the use of people as Princess Diana to bring the matter into people's living rooms and on their TV screen - to such an extent that governments began to think: 'yes, why don't we ban landmines'."

To the surprise of the campaign, in March 1995, Belgium suddenly announced that it was the first country to pass domestic laws banning the use or production of landmines as well as their export. But without direct governmental support, the movement found it difficult to elevate the issue to the international legislative level. This was to come from Canada.

In what became known as the "Ottawa Process," the Canadian government took the initiative in October 1996 by holding a conference where 50 governments signed a declaration recognising the urgent need to ban anti-personnel landmines. "One last element was perhaps the commitment of the Canadian government and Lloyd Axworthy [the former Canadian Foreign Minister] to push this through. This was very influential. He basically challenged himself and everyone else to come back a year later with an agreed international convention, and he did," Barber explained to IRIN in a recent interview.

Arriving at the Mine Ban Treaty

The speed and momentum of the movement was unprecedented, culminating in December 1997 with the Ottawa Convention where 122 nations signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and On their Destruction. The ICBL, as well as key individuals were rewarded with the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. This Ottawa Convention was the first ever to prohibit, under international humanitarian law, a weapon in widespread use.

As of October 2004, 143 states had acceded to the treaty while 9 additional states continue to be signatories and follow the treaty without ratifying it. Ethiopia is one of the nine signatories that the ICBL hopes will use the Nairobi summit to fully ratify the treaty.

A strong characteristic of the ICBL has been its pro-active approach to all aspects of mine action. "By providing an action-oriented, scheduled, legal framework for international co-operation on mine action, the Mine Ban Treaty represents a breakthrough in the struggle against landmines," said the 1999 Landmine Monitor publication.

The ICBL told IRIN the Landmine Monitor is a "unique civil society monitoring mechanism" to police the adherence and implementation of the treaty. Considered the bible of the mine action community, the first report was published in 1998 and continues to be a comprehensive country-by-country analysis on all mine action issues, specific statistical data, and legal issues pertaining of the treaty.

Cousins Altin, aged 9, and Adem, 13, were playing in a field when one of them tripped a trip-wire activated fragmentation mine. They each lost both of their legs. Kosovo, July 1999.
Credit: MAG/Sean Sutton
The campaign pressed hard for the convention to legally bind signatories to act in positive ways in not only ending the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of mines but also to remove mines, promote mine awareness and assist victims of landmines. The ICBL told IRIN it considers its campaign has a continuing challenge to monitor and extend the number of party states joining the treaty.

The challenge of universalisation

The United States is the only industrialised democracy that has not signed or acceded to the treaty. But other countries such as China, Pakistan, Russia, and India - all producers, and in some cases users of landmines - continue to refuse to join the treaty. Organisers of the Nairobi summit do not want to overstate the importance of the treaty's widespread success, but Rae McGrath, a co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, feels the absence of the US in particular is a considerable weakness. "The problem with major countries such as the US not participating in the treaty is that it allows other non-signatories to point to the US and justify their own non-participation," he told IRIN.

Instead of joining the Mine Ban Treaty, the US is promoting the Convention on Conventional Weapons, a competing process of international legislation dealing with landmines. For McGrath this is, "potentially much more damaging [to final success of the Ban Mine Treaty] and ... in the case of the US they are merely looking for a way to avoid the stricter definitions and restrictions contained in the Ottawa Treaty."

The ICBL agrees that getting all countries on board is a continuing goal but Sue Wixley, spokesperson for the ICBL, told IRIN its approach was more characterised by a "policy of seduction" rather than confrontation in relation to those countries outside the process. Most mine action experts and organisers of the summit point to the considerable achievements of the treaty in reducing the production, transfer and use of mines in the last five years.

In terms of the treaty causing a significant turning of the tide, the facts speak for themselves. According to analyses of mine action experts worldwide, as well as documentation from successive Landmine Monitor reports, the number of anti-personnel mines being cleared and destroyed outweighs the number of those in global use.

The global production of anti-personnel mines has also plummeted since the cold war era. The number of anti-personnel mine producers has fallen from 54 countries to 15, and of the 15 with production capability most have not manufactured mines for years. The nations that are most affected by mines are normally non-producers, the global export and transfer of mines has been identified as a key issue. Evidence shows now that the global trade in anti-personnel mines has also massively fallen since 1997.

The campaign has benefited from important patronage by initially Princess Diana and now Queen Noor. Here she is shown a mine demonstration in Dushanbe, 2004.
Credit: GICHD
Finally, global stockpiles of anti-personnel mines have been reduced by 20 percent since 1997 and the remaining non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty hold all 200 million stockpiled landmines.

Outstanding concerns

The growing global outrage against the use of mines and the emerging international anti-mine opinion following the treaty has successfully turned the tide against mines. McGrath agrees these considerable changes have occurred but told IRIN he cautions against triumphalism as long as "the campaign has not addressed the needs of thousands of affected communities".

The failure of the mine action community to fully address the needs of the mine-affected communities is a major concern for the ICBL and mine action organisations and will dominate discussions at the Nairobi summit. The proposed action plan at the conference contains motions for states party to the treaty to redouble their energies and efforts to clear landmines and support mine victims.

All over the world there are thousands of mine-affected communities that are still waiting for mine clearance teams to assist them. Despite the amount of work achieved by clearance agencies, the speed of clearance is notoriously slow.

Of the estimated 300,000 mine victims worldwide very few have any sustainable medical or rehabilitation support and their numbers are boosted annually by the continued toll of 15,000 to 20,000 mine casualties. Sue Wixley of the ICBL told IRIN they were "worried that some of the countries were watering down their commitments to the treaty". She said the area of mine victim assistance in particular had "huge gaps" and needed a far "broader and deeper commitment" if mine victims were to receive realistic support.

The evolution and development of the global movement to ban mines is still unfolding and the Nairobi summit is a crucial platform to re-energise the treaty and ensure affected communities are assisted. "De-mining needs to be pushed forward both financially and politically. Also victim assistance and stockpile destruction of mines as an important preventative measure needed to save future lives," said the summit's President, Ambassador Petritsch.

Commenting on the success of the campaign in the last decade and the death of the landmine as a weapon, key activist Rae McGrath told IRIN that, "The greatest victory was to 'demonise' landmines but they are not yet consigned to the dustbin of history."
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A special thanks to the Mines Advisory Group and Sean Sutton for generous use of their excellent photos used extensively in this report.
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