By Colonel H R Naidu Gade – Indian Army Veteran
Long after conflicts have ended, abandoned mines (AM), explosive remnants of war (ERW), and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) continue to kill, injure and impact the daily life of affected communities. Today, over 60 countries and territories are contaminated by AMs, cluster munitions (CMs), unexploded and abandoned explosive ordnance. Despite significant efforts over the past three decades to limit the impact of explosive ordnance, recent armed conflicts have caused a sharp rise in the number of casualties, although many accidents go unreported, especially in conflict areas. Over eighty percent of mine victims are civilians, of which nearly half are children.
UNDERSTANDING HUMANITARIAN DEMINING
Humanitarian demining is the physical removal or deactivation of AMs, ERW, and IEDs to protect civilians from their indiscriminate effect, facilitate a return to ordinary civilian life and, where needed, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian demining differs from military demining because it: aims for complete mine clearance to make an area safe for civilians; does not accept deminer casualties as an operational reality and therefore must adhere to strict safety standards at all times; and must have a distinctly humanitarian, non-military purpose.
PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY HUMANITARIAN DEMINING
Due to the fact that AMs and ERW indiscriminately affect the civilian population and prevent the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies during armed conflict, under international humanitarian law (IHL), parties to the conflict have an obligation to meet the essential needs of the civilian population and to facilitate humanitarian demining. Also, under international human rights law (IHRL), States also have a primary obligation to ensure the essential rights of the civilian population under their effective control. Given the impact that explosive ordnance has on the realisation of human rights, including the rights to life, health, water, adequate housing and the child rights, this obligation includes facilitation of humanitarian demining. Where warring parties are unable to fulfil these obligations themselves, they are required to cooperate with neutral third States and impartial humanitarian organisations.
WHO COULD OFFER HUMANITARIAN DEMINING ASSISTANCE
Under IHL, impartial humanitarian organisations are entitled to offer humanitarian assistance in situations where the civilian population is inadequately supplied. Impartial humanitarian organisations are defined as entities whose mission is to prevent and alleviate suffering in armed conflict while acting effectively and are worthy of trust due to their humanitarian and impartial nature. Humanitarian assistance is defined as activities aimed at preserving life and personal security, alleviating suffering, and addressing the essential needs of victims of armed conflict that are provided in accordance with the “fundamental principles” of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Where humanitarian demining complies with the above principles, it should be classified as a form of humanitarian assistance under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.
ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED IN HUMANITARIAN DEMINING
United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)
Established in 1997, it works to eliminate the threat posed by AMs, ERW and IEDs by coordinating UN mine action, leading operational responses at the country level, and in support of peace operations, as well as through the development of standards, policies and norms. As a specialized service of the UN located within the Department of Peace Operations, UNMAS operates under UN legislative mandates of both the General Assembly and the Security Council. In recent years, UNMAS has supported and continues to provide assistance in about 25 third world countries.
The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD)
Works towards reducing risk to communities caused by AMs, CMs and ammunition stockpiles. The Centre helps develop and professionalise the sector for the benefit of its partners: national and local authorities, donors, the UN, other international and regional organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), commercial companies and academia. It does so by combining four lines of service: field support focused on advice and training, multilateral work focused on norms and standards, research and development focused on cutting-edge solutions, and facilitating dialogue and cooperation. Collectively, its advisors support around 45 affected states and territories every year. Their work is made possible by core contributions, project funding and in-kind support from 30 governments and organisations.
Mine Advisory Group (MAG)
Is a global humanitarian and advocacy organisation that finds, removes and destroys AMs, CMs and ERW from places affected by conflict. MAG also provides education programmes, particularly for children, so people can live, work and play as safely as a possible until they clear the land. It works in communities to reduce the risk of armed violence through weapons and ammunition management programmes which keep guns and munitions safe and secure. Since 1989, MAG has helped over 20 million people in 70 countries rebuild their lives and livelihoods after war.
NGOs and Commercial Entities
There are a large number of NGOs and Commercial Demining organisations around the globe which are involved in humanitarian demining operations all over the world. These organisations are funded by countries committed to humanitarian laws and human rights of the people affected by conflicts. Many philanthropic organisations and individual donors provide financial support for humanitarian demining operations.
INTERNATIONAL TREATIES AND CONVENTIONS
The UN and others mine action work is guided by a solid framework of international laws, which include:
The Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty 1997 (Ottawa Convention)
The treaty, which imposes a total ban on anti-personnel landmines, used advocacy to raise public awareness of the impact of anti-personnel landmines on civilians and to rally global support for a total ban. Presently, 164 countries have acceded to the treaty.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CMs) 2008
It prohibits all use, production, stockpiling and transfer of CMs. It also provides countries with deadlines for clearance of affected areas and the destruction of stockpiled CMs. It includes articles concerning assistance to victims of CMs incidents. Presently, 123 countries are members of the treaty.
The Convention on Conventional Weapons 1980
Has protocols, two of which are related to mine action. Amended Protocol II deals with landmines, booby- traps and other devices, and protocol V deals with the problem of ERW. Under Protocol V, states parties and parties to armed conflict are required to take action to clear, remove or destroy ERW and record, retain and transmit information related to the use or abandonment of explosive ordnance. 125 countries have joined the convention to date.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2008
It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century. The Convention has particular significance for mine action as it details the rights of survivors of mines and ERW. It provides a solid legal framework for the provision of assistance to survivors of mines and ERW.
International Human Rights Laws
Establish the rights of persons, including those affected by mines and ERW which can affect the exercise of a number of political, economic, social, civil and cultural rights. Five of the core human rights treaties all contain relevant provisions in these areas.
International Humanitarian Laws
In addition to restricting the means and methods of warfare, international humanitarian law protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties which protect people who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war).
FIVE PILLARS OF HUMANITARIAN MINE ACTION
Mine clearance is one of the five core components of Mine Action. In its broad sense, it includes surveys, mapping and minefield marking,
as well as the actual clearance of mines from the ground. This range of activities is often referred to as “demining”. Humanitarian mine clearance aims to clear land so that civilians can return to their homes and their everyday routines without the threat of explosive hazards. The aim of humanitarian demining is to restore peace and security at the community level.
Mine Risk Education
Mine Risk Education (MRE) refers to educational activities aimed at reducing the risk of injury from mines and unexploded ordnance by raising awareness and promoting behavioural change through public-information campaigns, education and training, and liaison with communities. Objectives are to reduce the risk to a level where people can live safely and to recreate an environment where economic and social development can occur free from the constraints imposed by explosive hazard contamination.
Providing victim assistance is a core component of mine action and an obligation under the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Assistance is provided through a number of concrete actions to meet the immediate and long-term needs of mine accident survivors, their families, mine-affected communities and persons with disabilities. Assistance includes, but is not limited to, emergency and continuing medical care; physical rehabilitation; psychosocial support and social inclusion; and laws and public policies that promote effective treatment, care and protection for all disabled citizens.
The UN advocates for universal participation in existing international agreements that ban or limit the use of landmines, CMs and provides technical and expert advice to meetings of the state parties and helps build national capacities to implement these instruments.
In accordance with the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, State Parties must destroy their stockpiled mines within four years after their accession to the Convention. UNMAS provides technical support to aid the destruction of stockpiled explosive hazards. and also assists in proper storage and inspection.
METHODS OF DEMINING
A combination of methods and tools are used to detect and destroy AMs, CMs and other unexploded weapons, including manual deminers, machinery and mine detection dogs. The approach used varies depending on a number of factors, including terrain, vegetation, and the level and type of contamination. This is careful and painstaking work. Manual demining involves checking minefields metre by metre using metal detectors and a variety of excavation tools. A range of mechanical resources and technologies help to increase the speed and effectiveness of landmine clearance in certain circumstances. A fleet of specialised armoured machines prepares ground for clearance, removing vegetation and obstacles, and in some cases finding and destroying landmines directly. Mine detection dogs are trained to “sniff out” explosives and alert their handler, making them a valuable part of the mine clearance toolbox.
There are about 60 million abandoned landmines, ERW and CMs spread over nearly 70 countries around the world, killing thousands of people every year and maiming even more, leaving behind dismembered victims requiring extensive healthcare and rehabilitation. These victims are usually women, children and farmers in developing countries. This is a serious and a gigantic problem and needs to be addressed with greater vigour and participation by the world community. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Commissioned in to the Corps of Combat Engineers. A Civil Engineer, and Security Professional, with 47 years of rich experience in the field of Combat Engineering, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNe) Defence, Security & Disaster Management and Counter IED Operations. Is a qualified CBRN and Counter-IED Professional.
Is a former Member International Civil Service while working as Chief CW Inspector 1997-2004 with the ‘Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’, The Netherlands, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2013. Led teams of international professionals on many verification missions to various member countries, to verify the inventory of Chemical Weapons and monitor their destruction.
Presently, Chief Consultant with ‘CBRNe Secure India’ a ‘forum and a knowledge centre’ for bringing awareness in the general public, government and security entities on the threats arising from the use of CBRNe material and their disastrous consequences A prolific writer and speaker, participated in various international & domestic conferences on CBRN Security, Disaster Management and Counter Explosive Issues and writes articles for professional journals worldwide on these subjects.