Antipersonnel landmines are still being laid today, most recently by the Syrian army in March 2012. These and mines from previous conflicts continue to claim victims in every corner of the globe each day. Landmines are designed to injure people (rather than kill) and can lay dormant for several decades until a person or animal steps on them and triggers the detonating mechanism. Landmines are indiscriminate and inhumane. They don’t distinguish between a soldier and a child and the damages they cause are enormous. A step on a landmine can be fatal or cause injuries such as burns and damaged limbs. Injuries to the legs and feet often result in infections and lead to amputations.
Landmines are made of wood, plastic or other material and contain explosives. As there is no system to control the detonation, landmines are considered victim-activated weapons. Some types of landmines also contain shrapnel which aim to injure the victim even more by sending a rain of bullets into their limbs. Others bounce a meter and aim to injure the victim in the belly area.
The effects on development of landmines are disastrous: They deprive people of the poorest countries of land and infrastructure; they hold up the repatriation of refugees and displaced people; and they hamper reconstruction and the delivery of aid. In addition, assistance to victims can be an enormous strain on resources; they deprive communities and families of breadwinners; they kill livestock and wreak environmental havoc. And they don’t recognize cease-fires – most of the casualties are civilians, a third of which are children, and live in countries that are now at peace.
Nobody knows how many mines are in the ground but the actual number is less important than their impact. It can take only two or three mines or the mere suspicion of their presence to render a patch of land unusable.
Landmines affect at least 70 countries and have caused about 4000 casualties in 2010 alone. This number has decreased by 70% since the first recordings of casualties thanks to Mine Action programmes.
Mine Action is the central concept linking all activities related to fighting the scourge of landmines. There are five aspects or “pillars” of mine action:
- Marking or fencing off areas contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war and removing and destroying them. (Demining)
- Mine-risk education to help people understand the risks they face, identify mines and UXO and learn how to stay out of harm’s way.
- Medical assistance and rehabilitation services for victims, including social reintegration and economic reinsertion.
- The destruction of stockpiles.
- Advocating for a world free from the threat of landmines and encouraging countries to participate in international treaties and conventions designed to end the use, the production, transfer and stockpiling of mines.
In an unprecedented and unorthodox process, the Mine Ban Treaty has been created as a product of a strategic partnership between non-governmental organizations, international organizations, United Nations agencies and friendly governments. It was launched in 1996 and opened for signature in 1997 in Ottawa. For many people around the world, this Treaty is still called the Ottawa Convention but its official title is: the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.
States who join the treaty commit to:
- never use antipersonnel mines, nor to “develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer” them;
- destroy mines in their stockpiles within four years;
- clear mined areas in their territory within 10 years;
- in mine-affected countries, conduct mine risk education and ensure that mine survivors, their families and communities receive comprehensive assistance;
- offer assistance to other States Parties, for example in providing for survivors or contributing to clearance programs;
- adopt national implementation measures (such as national legislation) in order to ensure that the terms of the treaty are upheld in their territory.
This was the first time that an international disarmament treaty has been negotiated outside of the UN system and with a strong inclusion of civil society, under one umbrella organization, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. This fact earned the ICBL the Peace Nobel Prize in 1997 and has inspired many other campaigns since.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)
Clear Path International (CPI)
Gender and Mine Action Program (GMAP)
Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD)
Handicap International (HI)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor
Mines Action Canada (MAC)
Survivor Corps (SC)
United Nations Peacekeeping