Humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance
Humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance in Cambodia
Landmines and unexploded ordnance kill thousands of people worldwide each year. Locating and clearing mines and unexploded ordnance is a dangerous, expensive and time-consuming process. The Federal Foreign Office is actively working for the prohibition of anti personnel mines and cluster munitions, and supports numerous projects in the field of humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance.
Thanks to tremendous efforts, the international community has made considerable headway in tackling the landmine problem around the world. Along with the entry into force on 1 August 2010 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, these efforts have brought us closer to a world free of anti personnel mines and cluster munitions.
The experience of the past twenty years has shown that the total contaminated area is smaller than originally estimated. According to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), the problem can be solved in years rather than in decades. The concerted efforts of recent years have made a big difference and there is now light at the end of the tunnel. The vision of a world where nobody falls victim to landmines or cluster munitions may actually become reality in the foreseeable future.
Mission possible – the battle against landmines is winnable
Albania, Kosovo and Croatia serve as encouraging examples. Contrary to expectations, the number of victims has fallen steeply in these countries within a relatively short period. This unexpectedly positive development is due not only to more reliable analysis and more efficient clearing techniques but also to years of tireless effort by a host of NGOs as well as the Parties to the Ottawa Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
In many countries, however, explosive remnants of war (landmines, unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions) continue to cause great suffering. Landmines and cluster munitions, which have in some cases lain buried for decades, are a particular problem in many fragile post conflict societies with non existent or inadequate health care systems. Good orthopaedic and psycho social treatment for the victims is the exception rather than the rule. In severely contaminated areas, simply stepping off hard surfaced roads is a risk to life and limb. The fear of landmines, unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions – justified in some cases and unjustified in others – also adversely affects the life of whole communities, making people too afraid to use roads or till and harvest their fields.
Most landmines, unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions have been laid or deployed indiscriminately and without reliable documentation. Since the precise location and extent of the contaminated areas are usually unknown, it is unfortunately often only when accidents happen that the hidden danger is revealed.
In many countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, Laos and Viet Nam, unexploded or abandoned ordnance and cluster munitions today cause more casualties than landmines. The clearance programmes funded by the Federal Foreign Office take this fact into account. These programmes aim to create a safe environment for the local population by tackling all three threats – landmines, unexploded ordnance and cluster munitions – at once.
Efforts of the German Government
The MineWolf is a state-of-the-art landmine clearance machine.
Germany is a party to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (United Nations Convention on certain Conventional Weapons), the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Convention) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and is campaigning strongly for these Conventions to be implemented and become universal in scope. In line with its legally binding commitments, the German Government supports mine and ordnance clearance activities around the world.
Well into the 1990s, anti-personnel mines were seen by many armed forces, including those in democratic countries, as indispensable. Up till then such weapons were found in practically every country’s arsenal and during the Cold War neither the public at large nor the politicians had any doubts about their legality. There were virtually no restrictions on global trade in mines, which were deployed mostly in internal conflicts by many state and non state actors without any scruples or thought for the long term humanitarian consequences.
Together with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, from the mid 1990s onwards the German Government pushed hard for a ban on anti personnel mines and played a leading role in the drafting and implementation of the Ottawa Convention. The unilateral announcement in 1996 that Germany would no longer deploy anti personnel mines gave a further boost to the international negotiation process.
Following the deployment of cluster munitions in the Middle East in summer 2006, there were calls for a ban on these munitions. The German Government was aware early on that the deployment of cluster munitions particularly puts the civilian population at risk, in part because certain types are known to have a high dud rate; we therefore supported the negotiating process on cluster munitions from the start. The aim was to ensure better protection for the civilian population from the hazards associated with these weapons and thereby contribute to the further development of international humanitarian law.
The Oslo Process on Cluster Munitions initiated by Norway outside the UN context in February 2007 drafted the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was signed by 94 countries (including Germany) in Oslo on 3 December 2008 and entered into force on 1 August 2010.
As well as participating in these campaigns, the German Government has for many years now made large sums available for humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance. Since 1992 it has provided some 217 million euros for such projects in 42 different countries. In 2012 alone the Federal Foreign Office has spent 18.3 million euros on clearance projects in 24 countries, making a major contribution to eliminating the problem.
The Ottawa Convention – a success story
Anti personnel mines are banned by the Ottawa Convention (Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, in force since 1 March 1999). With its comprehensive ban and binding provisions on the production and transfer of anti personnel mines, mine clearance and the destruction of stockpiles, as well as victim assistance, the Convention sets new standards in terms of both disarmament and international humanitarian law.
By July 2012, 160 countries had ratified the Ottawa Convention. Finland became the 159th country to ratify the Convention on 11 January 2012, and Somalia followed suit on 22 May 2012. Although a number of key countries – including the US, China and Russia – still feel unable to accede, the Convention’s positive impact is apparent throughout the world:
- The number of new victims is declining steadily; according to the 2010 Landmine Monitor Report, there were 1275 that year, compared to 3078 in 2009.
- Trade in anti personnel mines has come to a virtual standstill.
- The use of anti personnel mines by states now carries a stigma.
- Only four countries (Israel, Myanmar, Libya and Syria) are reported to have deployed anti personnel mines in 2011. In seven other countries anti personnel mines were deployed by non state actors. The interim government of Libya has unilaterally renounced the use of these weapons and recognized the rules of the Ottawa Convention.
- A number of major countries that are not parties to the Convention (Russia, China, the United States) have announced a moratorium on exports.
- Roughly 44.5 million stockpiled anti personnel mines have been destroyed under the Convention to date.
- Some 2.6 million anti personnel mines have been cleared to date, while approximately 277,000 anti vehicle mines and around 18.2 million pieces of unexploded ordnance have been destroyed.
- Eighteen formerly contaminated countries have cleared all known mine-clearance areas, and are now considered mine-free (Albania, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Djibouti, France, Gambia, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Macedonia, Malawi, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Suriname, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zambia).
- Seventy-two countries and seven territories remain contaminated by landmines; 44 of these are parties to the Ottawa Convention.
2009 saw the 10th anniversary of the Ottawa Convention’s entry into force. To mark the occasion, the Second Review Conference of the Convention was held from 30 November to 4 December 2009 in Cartagena, Colombia (First Review Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2004).
The Conference brought together representatives of all States Parties, countries with observer status and the United Nations to reflect on progress achieved, to take stock and to discuss and agree on systematic efforts to realize the goal of a mine-free world.
Convention on Cluster Munitions
The Convention on Cluster Munitions has now been signed by 111 countries and ratified by 72 (including Germany on 8 July 2009). The Convention prohibits not only the use but also the development, production, stockpiling, importation and exportation of all types of cluster munitions. Known contaminated areas must be cleared by the relevant party within ten years. Stockpiled cluster munitions must be destroyed within eight years; in special cases this deadline may be twice extended by a period of four years. Germany’s armed forces have never deployed cluster munitions. As early as 2001 the Bundeswehr began destroying its cluster munitions stockpiles. The Convention provides for victim assistance to be improved and for affected countries to be given greater support. Many of the Convention’s provisions are partially or fully identical with or build on corresponding provisions of the 1997 Ottawa Convention. A total of 28 countries and three territories are afflicted by cluster munitions. Since the Second World War, cluster munitions have been deployed in armed conflicts in 36 countries and four territories. Cluster munitions have been deployed twice since the Convention’s entry into force: by Thailand in a February 2011 border conflict with Cambodia, and by Gaddafi’s troops in the Libyan city of Misrata in April 2011.
The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
The aim of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is, as its full name makes clear, to prohibit or restrict the use, either in declared wars or in other cross border or internal armed conflicts, of certain conventional weapons which may have excessively injurious or indiscriminate effects. To date 112 countries have ratified the Convention and five have signed it. The following Protocols to the Convention are of particular relevance to humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance:
- Amended Protocol II on mines, booby-traps and other devices (ratified by 93 countries)
- Protocol V on explosive remnants of war (ratified by 67 countries). The Protocol provides for remedial measures of a generic nature designed to minimize the risks posed by explosive remnants of war in future post conflict situations.
Federal Foreign Office aid projects
In partnership with experienced organizations on the ground, the German Government assists countries with clearing mines, cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance mainly when such contamination causes social and economic problems for local communities. The aim of the assistance is not just to help reduce poverty and promote development but also and most importantly to ensure people’s physical safety and alleviate suffering. The assistance is also intended to help the countries concerned fulfil their obligations under the Ottawa, Cluster Munitions and UN Conventional Weapons Conventions.
Against the backdrop of decreasing global funds for humanitarian demining and budget constraints, our project funding is geared to the following parameters:
- making clearance operations more efficient and effective;
- creating sustainable local clearance and management capacities.
For the German Government it remains a major priority to see the Ottawa, Cluster Munitions and UN Conventional Weapons Conventions be implemented worldwide and become universal in scope. This can help reliably prevent any future deployment of anti personnel mines and cluster munitions and thereby ensure these weapons can no longer pose any threat.
Although much has been achieved in the battle against anti personnel mines since the 1990s and much will be achieved in the battle against cluster munitions over the years to come, many countries are unlikely to be able to fulfil the obligations they have assumed under these Conventions on schedule, especially as regards the clearance of suspected contaminated areas. Over the years ahead these countries will therefore still need appropriate international support.
In addition to funding bilateral projects, the Federal Foreign Office will continue to work with all relevant international organizations concerned with humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance. Its main partners here are the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in New York, which has been given a coordinating role within the United Nations; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL); the Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC); and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).
1 cf. International Campaign To Ban Landmines: Landmine Monitor 2011, Canada 2011
2 cf. Cluster Munition Coalition: Cluster Munition Monitor 2011, Canada 2011
Last updated 03.07.2012