Anti-personnel mines: overview of the problem

02-11-2009 FAQ

The suffering caused by anti-personnel mines is horrific. A victim who survives typically requires amputation, multiple operations and prolonged physical rehabilitation, commonly suffering permanent disability – with serious social, psychological and economic implications. Fortunately, 156 States have joined the Mine Ban Convention, which establishes a comprehensive ban on these weapons. The number of new mine victims has fallen significantly since the Convention was adopted.

 What is an anti-personnel mine?  

Anti-personnel mines are small explosive devices placed under, on or near the ground. They are " victim-activated " and designed to detonate when a person steps on, handles or comes near it, regardless of whether that person is a soldier or a civilian man, woman or child. 

 What are the effects of anti-personnel mines?  

The suffering caused by anti-personnel mines is particularly horrific and war surgeons consider them among the worst injuries they have to treat. When a person steps on a buried anti-personnel mine, the detonation often rips off one or both of his or her legs and drives soil, grass, gravel, metal and plastic fragments of the mine casing, pieces of shoe, and shattered bone up into the muscles and lower parts of the body. If they explode while being handled, mines can blow off fingers, hands, arms, or parts of the face. They can also blind their victims or cause injuries to the abdomen, chest and spine.

The victim who survives an anti-personnel mine blast typically requires amputation, multiple operations and prolonged physical rehabilitation. Mine survivors commonly suffer permanent disability – with serious social, psychological and economic implications. In addition to the direct effect on the persons killed or injured, the victim's family members also suffer, particularly if they are economically dependent on the victim. Mine-affected communities also pay a high price in lost livelihoods, blocked access to agriculture and economic disruption. 

 Who are the victims?  

The groups most at risk from anti-personnel mines are typically men and boys involved in livelihood activities, such as farming, herding and the collection of firewood and water. In many affected communities, people have no choice but to enter areas that may be dangerous due to economic need. Children, in particular boys, may also fall victim to mine during play in contaminated areas. In specific countries and areas where women are significantly involved in subsistence activities, they can also be at high risk. Anti-personnel mines also have serious consequences for women and girls when their male family and community members are injured or killed. 

 What is the scale of the challenge?  

In 1994, at the height of the landmine crisis, the ICRC estimated, on the basis of its field data and that of other humanitarian organisations, that 2,000 persons per month were killed or injured by anti-personnel mines. Over the last decade, the number of new mine victims has steadily decreased year by year. In several countries where adequate data has been available and the Mine Ban Convention is being implemented (including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Croatia) the ICRC has noted a two-thirds decrease in the number of new victims as compared to levels in the early- and mid- 1990s.

In 2007, the Landmine Monitor identified 5,426 casualties caused by both mines and explosive remnants of war, although significant numbers of casualties go unreported[1 ] . In countries affected by both mines and explosive remnants of war, it is not always possible to determine with certainty the type of weapon that caused the casualty. In addition, data collection is inadequate and incomplete is most affected countries. Although precise numbers on new landmine victims are elusive, it can be said with certainty that landmines are continuing to inflict casualties in nearly every region of the world. In 2007, new casualties were reported in 37 countries and areas in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa [2 ] . The thousands of new victims every year that suffer permanent injury and disability due to anti-personnel mines add to the hundreds of thousands of landmine survivors injured in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mine Ban Convention: A comprehensive response to the anti-personnel mine problem 

 What is the Mine Ban Convention?  

In the mid-1990s, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the non-governmental organizations in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the United Nations and many States, joined forces in a major campaign focusing the world's attention on the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines, mobilizing public support for a ban and stimulating high-level political and military support to this end.

This endeavour led to the launch of international negotiations to ban these weapons in 1996. Only a year later, on 3 December 1997, 121 States signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines in Ottawa, Canada. The treaty entered into force on 1 March 1999 following the fortieth ratification.

The Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-Personnel Mines (Mine Ban Convention) The official title of the treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction, establishes a comprehensive ban on these weapons, by prohibiting their use, stockpiling, development, production, acquisi tion and transfer. It also requires the destruction of all anti-personnel mines, whether in stockpiles or in the ground, within specific time periods.

 What makes the Mine Ban Convention unique?  

  • Its adoption marked the first time in the history of international humanitarian law that States agreed to ban a weapon that was in widespread use throughout the world.

  • It is not only a disarmament treaty, but also a humanitarian plan of action to end the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines. To respond to the humanitarian consequences of these weapons, States Parties commit themselves to assist the victims, to remove the threat of mines already in the ground and to reduce the interim risk to civilians through preventive actions such as the marking of dangerous areas and the provision of warnings and risk education.

  • The treaty has achieved widespread adherence by 156 States and made a significant impact on the ground in record time. More than three-quarters of the world's countries have joined the treaty and even most States that remain outside it have ceased the use, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Mine clearance is under way in most mine-affected countries and the majority of States Parties have completed the destruction of their anti-personnel mine stocks. The number of new mine victims has fallen dramatically since the treaty's adoption, in some affected areas by two-thirds or more.

  • The Mine Ban Convention has also inspired subsequent initiatives to protect civilians from other explosive munitions that pose a serious threat. This has resulted in the adoption of two new international agreements: The 2003 Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War to the Co nvention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Together, these three treaties provide a broad legal framework to protect civilians from weapons that " keep on killing after conflicts " .


1. Landmine Monitor Report 2008, Toward a Mine-Free World, p. 51. 

2.Landmine Monitor Report 2008, Toward a Mine-Free World, p. 55.