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

11.04.2019 - Article

Landmines and unexploded ordnance 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

Until well into the 1990s, many state and non‑state actors employed landmines, mainly in national conflicts, without any scruples or thought for the long‑term humanitarian consequences. More recently, cluster munitions have also been used. This has been strongly criticised, in particular due to their high dud rate.

Explosive remnants of war continue to cause great suffering to people in 60 countries and regions. In severely contaminated areas, simply stepping off hard-surfaced roads is a risk to life and limb. The mere fear of landmines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance adversely affects the life of entire communities. Since the precise location and extent of contaminated areas are often unknown, it is unfortunately only when accidents happen that the hidden danger is revealed.

Increased threat posed by improvised explosive devices

In recent years, the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has risen dramatically. The areas that have been liberated from ISIS in Syria and Iraq are highly contaminated with IEDs. These pose a deadly danger to life and limb for returnees. 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.

Most IEDs are home-made or “improvised” landmines. Such devices have been used for decades by actors in civil wars around the world. What is new, however, is the increased scale of this threat and the targeted use of such devices in residential areas, i.e. their use against civilians, especially in the Middle East. This perfidious strategy is leading to a large number of civilian victims, as well as preventing humanitarian assistance from getting to where it is urgently needed. Clearance of mines and IEDs is therefore an important prerequisite for the delivery of further humanitarian assistance.

International legislation against landmines and cluster munitions

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

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. In 1999, it was followed by the Ottawa Convention, which explicitly prohibits anti-personnel mines and regulates their destruction. The Convention on Cluster Munitions (also known as the Oslo Convention) regulates the munitions ban process and has been in force since 2010. These international agreements mean that the world has come closer to achieving freedom from these brutal agents of warfare.

Germany is not merely a signatory State to all of these conventions – it also played an active role in drafting them. Germany banned the use of landmines in 1996, i.e. at an early stage, thus lending further impetus to the global prohibition of anti-personnel mines. Germany also played a pioneering role in the Oslo Process on banning cluster munitions. In November 2015, Germany destroyed the last of its stockpiled cluster munitions. The German Government is working as a matter of priority to ensure that these conventions are implemented globally and apply universally. The increased use of improvised explosive devices and booby-traps in armed conflicts is also tied to the fact that, due to successful implementation of these agreements, industrially produced anti-personnel mines are much less readily available.

The German Government’s commitment

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

Already since 1992, the German Government’s commitment at the political level has been accompanied by funds for humanitarian mine action. Our objective is simple. Through mine clearance and by raising public awareness, we want to ensure people’s physical safety and alleviate suffering, especially via projects to assist victims.

 The aid is also intended to help the countries concerned fulfil their obligations under the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines, the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions and the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Federal Foreign Office aid projects

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

The countries prioritised include Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Somalia and Ukraine. In 2018, the Federal Foreign Office provided funds totalling some 30 million euros for humanitarian mine action, including victim assistance, in 12 countries. An additional 7 million euros were spent on mine and IED clearance and capacity building in Iraq, as part of stabilisation measures. With total expenditure of 37 million euros, Germany is one of the largest donors in this domain.

Assisting landmine victims by providing prosthetic limbs in Myanmar
Assisting landmine victims by providing prosthetic limbs in Myanmar© DanChurchAid

The German Government’s mine-action cooperation partners 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. These include the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).

Find out more:

Federal Foreign Office - Humanitarian Mine Action Strategy within the Framework of Federal Government humanitarian assistance PDF / 2 MB

UN arms convention

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction

The Convention on Cluster Munitions

ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines)

GICHD (Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining)

UN Mine Action Service E-MINE

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