Written by Carmen-Cristina Cîrlig
Fifteen years after its entry into force, the States Parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban (APMB) Convention met again in Maputo, Mozambique, to review the Convention’s implementation and assess the remaining challenges in eradicating mines from the world.
Anti-personnel mines: addressing the humanitarian costs
In the mid-1990s, landmines killed or injured between 20 000 and 30 000 people yearly, and an estimated 2.5 million were laid each year. Despite that, international regulation of anti-personnel (AP) mines was shunned by some states which continued to invoke the need for their military use in defending borders, delaying/channelling enemy forces, denying use of terrain, protecting anti-tank mines or for psychological pressure. Today opinions have converged on the limited military utility of anti-personnel mines – including their modest tactical utility and effectiveness, and risks of losses among friendly forces – compared to their humanitarian costs. AP mines have an indiscriminate effect and continue to kill and injure civilians (75% of victims) long after a conflict ends, while use by armed non-state groups is a major threat. AP mines have a physical impact on victims, and also psychological and economic consequences on entire communities (impossibility to use mined land, medical care and reintegration costs for survivors etc.).
Towards a global ban on anti-personnel mines
The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was the first international instrument to address AP mines. Nevertheless, the CCW, including its 1996 Amended Protocol II (the Landmine Protocol), was criticised for calling only for the end of ‘indiscriminate use’ of landmines and not for a total ban. The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APBM Convention) emerged from a separate process, outside the United Nations (UN) consensus-based Conference on Disarmament. The Ottawa process resulted from strong cooperation among interested states and non-governmental organisations forming the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997 Nobel Peace Prize winner) and the International Committee of the Red Cross, calling for a worldwide total ban on AP mines. The APMB Convention was opened for signature in December 1997 and entered into force in March 1999; it is considered the first disarmament treaty with explicit humanitarian goals, imposing obligations for assisting victims, including social and economic reintegration of mine victims. There are 162 States Parties, with Oman the latest, joining in August 2014.
Key provisions of the APMB Convention
States Parties commit ‘never under any circumstances’ a) to use AP mines; b) to develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer them; and c) to assist, encourage or induce in any way anyone to engage in any activity prohibited by the Convention.
According to the APMB Convention, ‘”anti-personnel mine” means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons (…)’.
States Parties are obliged to destroy all stockpiles of AP mines within four years, and clear mined areas under their jurisdiction or control within 10 years. Nevertheless, States Parties are allowed to maintain a ‘minimum number absolutely necessary’ of AP mines for permitted purposes, such as training in mine detection, clearance and destruction techniques. They also undertake to provide international assistance to other States Parties for implementing their obligations (e.g. mine clearance, victim assistance programmes etc.). Other articles cover transparency measures and reporting by states, and ensuring compliance.
The APBM Treaty is considered one of the most widely accepted international treaties (over 80% of all states) and one widely implemented. Overwhelming compliance by States Parties and others has meant almost universal acceptance of the AP mine ban. The annual UN General Assembly resolution on the APMB Convention is also systematically gathering support among non-signatories.
So far 87 States Parties have completed destruction of their stockpiles – more than 47 million mines since 1999, while other states have also reported destruction of some stockpiles. From around 50 in 1999, 12 states are currently identified as producers, of which only four may be engaged in active production (India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea), the rest reserving their right to produce. Since 2009, new use has been recorded only in Israel, Libya, Russia, Syria and Myanmar (the only government to use AP mines continuously since 1999). A de facto global ban on transfers has been in place since the mid-1990s, with many states not party to the Convention having decreed export moratoria. However, these positive developments are tarnished by evidence or allegations of use by some States Parties (e.g. Yemen, Sudan, Turkey), as well as use and new laying by armed non-state groups, and the persistence of some illicit trade.
Mine clearance operations and decline in new use of AP mines have led to a constant decrease in casualties between 1999 and 2013, including in the three States Parties with the highest number of annual casualties since 1999 (Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia – home to 38% of all global casualties). Since 1999, 27 states and one area have declared themselves cleared of mines, while 56 states and four areas still present mine contamination. Since 2009, around 200 km2 have been cleared yearly and 1.48 million AP mines destroyed. On the rise until 2012, international assistance for mine action decreased in 2013 by 7%, with Afghanistan the top recipient of assistance for the tenth year in a row. Progress was made in better understanding the needs of mine victims and in improving legal frameworks to promote their rights. Finally, 48 armed non-state groups pledged to ban AP mines by signing the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment.
Despite the enormous progress, challenges remain, in particular as regards:
- Universalisation: the US (although a major donor for mine action), Russia and China are not parties. Recently, the US announced a revised policy on AP mines, respecting the Convention except ‘as required for the defence of the Republic of Korea’. Russia has not used AP mines since 2010 and expressed support for the Convention’s humanitarian objectives. China also endorses these objectives and, since 2005, votes in favour of the UNGA resolution, but invokes national defence needs for not joining the treaty.
- Stockpiles and mine clearance: Belarus, Greece and Ukraine are currently non-compliant, having failed to destroy their stockpiles within the four-year deadline; up to 31 states not party are believed to have stockpiles. Around 30 States Parties are in the process of meeting their deadlines on mine clearance.
- Victim assistance: challenges remain regarding discrimination and the integration of mine victims into wider national policies and legal frameworks related to the rights of persons with disabilities.
Finally, differing interpretations on some articles of the Convention remain of concern, such as on the assistance ban, in the context of joint military operations with states not parties; foreign stockpiling and transit of AP mines; the treaty’s applicability to anti-vehicle mines with sensitive fuses/anti-handling devices; and the retention of mines for training purposes beyond the minimum required.
In June 2014, the Third Review Conference, building on the Nairobi (2005-09) and Cartagena (2010-14) Action Plans, agreed the Maputo Action Plan for 2014 to 2019, whereby States Parties commit to promote universalisation of the Convention and to implement remaining obligations on mine clearance, stockpile destruction, victim assistance, international cooperation, transparency and information exchange.
European Union action in support of the APMB Convention
All 28 Member States are States Parties. Since 2009, the EU and Member States have contributed more than €500 million. The Council Decision (2012/700/CFSP) supporting the implementation of the Cartagena Action Plan enabled the EU to fund projects on universalisation, mine clearance and victim assistance. The EU also recently financed stockpile destruction, in Belarus (€4 million) and Ukraine (€1.8 million). In 2013, the EU pledged €29.8 million, and Member States €88.5 million, for mine action. In June 2014, the Council reaffirmed EU support for the Convention and its commitment to ‘support States Parties in their implementation of the Convention.’
The European Parliament has adopted several resolutions in the past 15 years on AP mines. The most recent, on progress on mine action, in 2011, reiterated the objective of ending the threat of AP mines and called for effective funding, as well as for improved international coordination on the part of donors.