Landmines still killing children, despite legislative wins

The past year has seen legal successes in banning landmines, but a rise in civilian casualties on the ground.

Sirajuddin Afghanmal, an Afghan police official, detects and removes land mines planted by suspected militants in Maiwand district of Kandahar, Afghanistan
Sirajuddin Afghanmal, an Afghan Police official, removes landmines planted in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He has so far removed around 10,000 mines in a 12-year career [File: 2017/Muhammad Sadiq/EPA]

In spite of successful efforts to ban landmines in law, and to increase funding for mine action and victim support, civilian casualties remain extremely high.

This is one of the major findings of the Landmine Monitor 2019 report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) that was released on Thursday. This latest research gives a global overview of efforts to ban landmines over the past 20 years but focuses on 2018, with information included up to November 2019. 

Increased efforts and funding

No fewer than 164 countries are now state parties to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines, known as the Mine Ban Treaty. Most recently, in December 2017, Sri Lanka and the State of Palestine ratified the treaty. The de facto global ban on producing and transferring antipersonnel mines can be attributed to the stigma attached to using landmines created by the Mine Ban Treaty.

Great progress has been made in the destruction of landmines. In November 2018, for example, Oman declared the complete destruction of its stockpiles ahead of the February 1, 2019 deadline. Despite this progress, however, three states possess more than four million landmines that still have to be destroyed: Ukraine (3.5 million), Greece (643.2 million) and Sri Lanka (77.8 million).

Donors and affected states have contributed approximately $699.5m in combined international and national support to anti-landmine efforts in the 2018 reporting period. This is the second-highest amount of annual funding since the ICBL started monitoring funding in 1996. 

According to ICBL, there have been unconfirmed reports of landmine use in the past year in Cameroon, Colombia, Mali, Philippines, Somalia and Tunisia who are all parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.

More child casualties

Landmines affect everyone, with 71 percent of casualties being civilians. In 2018, casualties were identified in 50 states; 32 of which are parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.

During the period covered by the report, the number of child victims of landmines has increased. Children account for 54 percent of all civilian casualties – a seven percent increase from 2017. 

The ICBL report states that for the fourth year in a row, civilian casualties have been exceptionally high.

Morgan McKenna is the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor Programme manager at ICBL and says there has been a rise in casualties every year since 2015.

“When one considers that children regularly make up more than half the civilian number, one is left with the harsh reality that states and armed groups who use these indiscriminate weapons have accepted that civilians and children will die due to their actions,” said McKenna.

Another of the report’s important findings is that, for the third consecutive year, the highest number of annual casualties recorded was caused by improvised mines (3,789), while 2018 also marked the most improvised mine casualties recorded to date.

According to Loren Persi, coordinator of survivors’ rights and assistance at ICBL, the rise in landmine casualties can be attributed to the increased use of improvised mines, as well as the increased urbanisation of conflict – which means that mines are exploding closer to where civilians live.

Persi says a mine-free world, the goal of the Mine Ban Treaty, is possible. He emphasised that the 164 states that are currently members of the Mine Ban Treaty are all complying with their obligations under the law. The problem lies with non-state-armed groups. Increasingly, non-state groups have the ability and the opportunity to make mines.

Persi says this marks a significant change in the landscape of conflict. 

Supporting survivors

Landmines are also a human rights issue. Marianne Schulze, a human rights expert at the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, says landmines, by their very nature, are a threat to the fundamental right to life:

“If a person survives a landmine they are dependent on health care services and rehabilitation measures, which are enshrined as human rights obligations. Importantly, there is a need for comprehensive rehabilitation, education, as well as psycho-social support. All of these measures are human rights obligations.”

Persi added that states should not only support victims of landmines but also the families of victims, an issue which is often overlooked. The children of landmine victims should, for example, be given education and work opportunities.

Source: Al Jazeera