Tackling the legacy of landmines: 'a humanitarian success story’

Credit: Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

It’s 23 years since the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted, and we’re closer to a mine-free world.

Only one government — Myanmar — used anti-personnel landmines in 2019, according to a new report,  further evidence of the “humanitarian success story” of the international ban on the weapons, according to Human Rights Watch.

Steve Goose, Human Rights Watch Arms Division director, said in a statement that “a total of 164 countries are bound by the mine ban treaty 23 years after being adopted. That is more than 80 per cent of the world, with most of the 33 countries remaining outside acting in de facto compliance.”

Myanmar is not a signatory to the treaty and denies using the weapons.

An online conference of the states parties to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention is being held this week, hosted by Switzerland and organised from Geneva. Chile and the UK are expected to announce they have completed their clearance obligations.

Only a handful of countries still produce anti-personnel landmines: India, Iran, Myanmar and Pakistan. However, an annual watchdog report, “ Landmine Monitor 2020 ” (which Goose contributed to and which was published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines), says the United States could return to production in the future. A White House announcement in January 2020 “rolls back the 2014 policy pledge to not produce anti-personnel mines,” The US, along with India, China, Russia and Pakistan, is not a signatory to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Since the treaty came into force, 55 million stored landmines have been destroyed, including 269,000 last year, according to the annual review.

Armed groups used them in at least six countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Libya, Myanmar and Pakistan.

Landmines and explosive remnants of war (a category that includes unexploded ammunition) caused 5,554 casualties in 2019, about 20 per hundred fewer than in 2018. Four-fifths of those were civilians, and of those, about half were children. Overall though, the numbers have not fallen as 2019 still saw 60 per cent more casualties than in 2013, the report says, noting that improvised, or home-made, mines accounted for about half the incidents.

The worst-affected countries for casualties were: Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

The UN's high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said in a message to the conference that any use was unacceptable: “Let me reiterate that no non-state actor or state, whether or not it is a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, has any justification for using such weapons ”.

As well as destroying stockpiles, signatories are committed to remove any planted in their territories: In 2019, 123,000 landmines were found and removed. Zimbabwe cleared and destroyed the largest number, reporting 39,031 devices cleared from just 2.75 square kilometres.

Some countries at the meeting will be seeking financial support to finish mine clearance, including Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Others will report on their progress destroying stockpiles. International aid for landmine action, including removal, education and victim support, stood at about $ 561m in 2019, a drop compared to previous years.

The conference closes on Friday and features sessions on the Sahel, Sudan, and the impact of COVID-19 .