Humanitarian mine action

Humanitarian mine clearance on a mountain path in Parwan Province, Afghanistan

Humanitarian mine clearance on a mountain path in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, © The HALO Trust

28.03.2023 - Article

Landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) kill or maim countless people around the world each year. That is why Germany actively campaigns against the use, storage, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, and why it supports humanitarian mine action projects.

Leaving the road means risking your life

Mine clearance workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mine clearance workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina© Federal Foreign Office

Despite the global ban on anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, there are many conflicts in which landmines and improvised explosive devices are still used – without any thought for the long-term humanitarian impact. Recently the use of cluster munitions has again increased, creating a lethal danger to the civilian population that often persists for many years after a conflict has ended. Explosive remnants of past or current armed conflicts continue to cause great suffering to people in some 60 countries around the world.

In severely contaminated regions, a single step out of a secure area is a risk to life and limb. The fear of landmines, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war has a long-lasting impact on the lives of entire communities. Often there is hardly any reliable information about where exactly danger may lurk. It is thus unfortunately only when accidents happen that the hidden danger is revealed, rendering it almost impossible to use land for agricultural purposes but also to engage in reconstruction and enable those who have fled to return.

Increased threat posed by improvised explosive devices

A mine clearance worker in Cambodia
A mine clearance worker in Cambodia© James Hayes/Handicap International

In recent years, the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has risen dramatically. In particular, the areas that have been liberated from ISIS in Syria and Iraq, as well as large areas of Afghanistan, are highly contaminated with IEDs. They may be hidden in a refrigerator, under rugs and chairs – or even in children’s toys. What appear to be harmless everyday items have in fact been turned into deadly booby traps.

The increasing use of mines, cluster munitions and IEDs in residential areas and targeting the civilian population is a particularly perfidious strategy. This does not just result in a large number of civilian victims but also poses a threat to humanitarian workers, often preventing humanitarian assistance from getting to where it is urgently needed. Clearance of mines, ERW and IEDs is therefore an important prerequisite for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

International law against landmines and cluster munitions

The international community has drawn up agreements under international law to come closer to finally ridding the planet of these brutal agents of warfare:

The United Nations 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, also referred to as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, entered into force in 1983. It aims, inter alia, to restrict the use of mines, booby-traps and other devices (see the Amended Protocol II), as well as to minimise the occurrence of explosive remnants of war (Protocol V). 1999 saw the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (known as the Ottawa Convention), which explicitly prohibits anti-personnel mines, regulates how they are destroyed and renders the clearance of existing minefields as well as assistance for victims obligatory.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions (known as the Oslo Convention) has been in force since 2010 and regulates the ban on cluster munitions and obligations to destroy stocks and clear ordnance.

Germany’s efforts

Germany is a signatory to these conventions and has long campaigned for anti-personnel mines to be prohibited worldwide and for the conventions to be implemented globally and to apply universally. The country banned the use of landmines at an early stage, in 1996, thus lending further impetus to the global prohibition of anti-personnel mines. In November 2015, it destroyed the last of its stockpiled cluster munitions.

In November 2022, Germany assumed the Presidency of the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines for one year.

Concrete support for mine action

Mine clearance on grassland in Takhar Province, Afghanistan
Mine clearance on grassland in Takhar Province, Afghanistan© The HALO Trust

Since 1992, the German Government’s commitment at the political level to outlaw these weapons which have indiscriminate effects has been accompanied by funds for humanitarian mine action and victim assistance. Through clearance efforts and public awareness-raising, it supports the survival of those affected.

Germany also offers support to the states affected to help them meet their obligations, particularly the clearing of contaminated areas, under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (Ottawa Convention), the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions and the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Working with partner organisations and governments, the Federal Foreign Office has already assisted 56 mine-affected countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and South America.

Germany’s engagement currently focuses on the following priority countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria and Ukraine. In 2022, the Federal Foreign Office provided funds totalling over 42.8 million euro for humanitarian mine and ERW clearance, including victim assistance, in 11 countries and regions as well as transnationally. As part of stabilisation, consultancy and support measures, projects have been implemented in other countries to promote implementation of the conventions. With total expenditure of some 56.6 million euro, Germany is one of the largest donors in this domain.

In Ukraine, for example, there has been an enormous increase in mine and ERW contamination as a result of the Russian war of aggression. The Federal Foreign Office is supporting projects there that work on humanitarian mine action, awareness-raising and victim assistance; it provided around 7.1 million euro to this end in 2022.

The German Government’s cooperation partners for humanitarian mine action include NGOs, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and a number of organisations of the United Nations – in particular, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), which coordinates the relevant UN activities. In addition to supporting bilateral projects to clear mines, raise public awareness and provide assistance to victims, the Federal Foreign Office also cooperates with relevant international stakeholders to strengthen advocacy in the sphere of humanitarian mine action. Among the most important of these partners are the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).

Mine clearance workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mine clearance workers in Bosnia and Herzegovina© Federal Foreign Office

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