In-depth: The landmine hangover

CONFLICT: Campaigners target landmine use by "non-state actors"

A home-made landmine, known as a balloon bomb. A syringe, attached to a 9 volt battery is used to detonate the device
Johannesburg, 19 March 2010 (IRIN) - The steep decline in anti-personnel landmine use in the past decade by governments is being mirrored by a similar trend among armed non-state actors (NSAs).

According to the 2009 Landmine Monitor, a civil society network monitoring compliance with the decade-old Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), at least 59 NSAs in 13 countries have committed themselves to halt the use of anti-personnel land mines. A total of 156 states - or more than three quarters of the world's nations - are signatories to the MBT.

"Only two states have used antipersonnel mines in 2008-2009: Myanmar and Russia. NSAs used antipersonnel mines in at least seven countries, two fewer than the previous year," the 2009 Landmine Monitor said.

The constriction of the international trade, the destruction of stockpiles, and almost complete cessation of manufacturing - only India, Pakistan and Myanmar were thought to have produced anti-personnel landmines in 2008 - does not mean these weapons are unavailable to NSAs.

Anti-personnel landmines can be crude, "home-made" devices, which are just as devastating on civilian populations as their commercial equivalents.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP), a guerrilla organization embroiled in a four-decade civil war, uses child soldiers as well as home-made landmines as part of its armoury.

The "balloon bomb" is a simple but effective weapon. Spherical in shape - with bits of metal, such as nuts, bolts and screws taped onto it, and with a detonator constructed from a plastic medical syringe - it is placed in the ground and covered with foliage.

Carl Case, director of the Organization of American States mine action, told IRIN "it [the balloon bomb] looks like a football, so it's attractive for children," and was often utilized to protect FARC-EP's coca plantations - the raw ingredient for cocaine - against pilfering from the local community.

Deed of Commitment

Geneva Call, established in March 2000 as a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization dedicated to getting NSAs to comply with international law, has launched a Deed of Commitment for NSAs - to try to get them to stop using anti-personnel landmines altogether.


Photo: Guy Oliver/IRIN
A Colombian army helicopter door gunner surveys the ground below
Thirty-nine NSAs have signed the Deed of Commitment, and five others have renounced their use without signing the Deed. Self-declared Somaliland (not internationally recognized) has banned the use of anti-personnel landmines.

NSAs, even before Geneva Call's efforts, were voluntarily abandoning the use of antipersonnel landmines. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) began clearing landmines in areas under its control in 1996.

Nicolas Florquin, a Geneva Call programme officer, told IRIN: "Many signatory NSA have realized that the military utility of antipersonnel mines is limited, especially when weighed against their costs.

"Even from a military point of view, antipersonnel mines are double-edged weapons that create many disadvantages. They can trap your own people, they can restrict the movements of your combatants, which is problematic in guerilla warfare, and they never determined the final outcome of any war," he said.

Florquin said NSAs might be motivated to sign the Deed "as they could present themselves as taking the moral high ground and place pressure on [non-MBT] governments to reciprocate".

Geneva Call has implemented a three tier compliance monitoring and verification process to ensure NSAs adhere to their commitments.

"As with [MBT signatory] states, challenges concerning effective monitoring remain: For example, a lack of responsiveness and/or transparency from some signatory NSAs; the inherent limitations of third-party monitoring; lack of access due to insecurity; and government imposed travel restrictions," Florquin said.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippines-based rebel movement and signatory to the Deed of Commitment, is being investigated for reneging on its pledge to end its use of antipersonnel mines.

The MILF signed the Deed of Commitment in 2000 and reaffirmed its commitment in 2002. However, reports that they had begun using antipersonnel mines between August 2008 and May 2009 are being investigated. The Philippines is also a signatory to the MBT.

A Geneva Call team - including law professor Eric David of Brussels University and Mines Advisory Group technical specialist Phil Halford - undertook an investigation between 17 and 26 November 2009.

Its findings have not yet been published, but David said in a statement: "As far as I am aware, this is the first time in the history of international relations that such a fact-finding mission has been carried out with the agreement of, and facilitation by, both parties to an armed conflict.”

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