Cluster Bombs and Landmines in Kosovo: Explosive Remnants of War

31-12-2001 Report

This report provides a unique overview of the human and social costs of unexploded mines, cluster bomb submunitions and other ordnance to the civilian population of Kosovo during the one-year period from June 1999 to May 2000.


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Virtually all armed conflicts in modern times have left problems of explosive ordnance in their wake. Unexploded artillery shells, bombs, landmines, grenades, booby traps and even missiles often remain after the end of hostilities for national authorities and local civilian populations to deal with. In many instances these munitions remain for decades and inflict severe human, social and economic costs. Between 1945 and 1981, for example, the armed forces of Poland cleared an estimated 88 million pieces of unexploded ordnance left from the Second World War. During that same period an estimated 4,094 civilians were killed and another 8,774 injured as a result of the unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in the national territory. Even today, many European countries continue to clear land contaminated by World War II munitions.

Since the Second World War the vast majority of armed conflicts have occurred in poorer countries lacking the ability to ensure clearance of unexploded ordnance. The same period has witnessed a rapid proliferation of sophisticated weapons and, increasingly, the means to deliver munitions in huge numbers and over great distances. The Indochina wars of the 1950’s, 60s and 70’s left massive amounts of unexplo ded ordnance in countries of the region, giving rise to some early attempts to address the problem of “explosive remnants of war” in the context of the United Nations. In Laos alone some 9 million unexploded munitions are estimated to have killed or injured approximately 11,000 persons since 1975.

Conflicts of the past twenty years have been accompanied by a steady spread of the problems caused by unexploded munitions and, in particular, of cluster bomb submunitions which can rapidly be delivered by the thousands, tens of thousands or even millions. The list of recent conflicts in which submunitions were used includes Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Eritrea-Ethiopia, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), the Gulf War, the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and, most recently, Kosovo. The choice of Kosovo as the focus of the present study is neither because the situation there is unique nor because the region is that most severely affected by unexploded ordnance. Rather, Kosovo has been chosen because of the high degree of access afforded to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations and other organizations concerned with the aftermath of the conflict in all parts of the province. This access has enabled such organizations to provide a high level of reliable documentation of the problems faced by both the civilian population and by mine/UXO clearance and awareness programs. The international conflict over Kosovo is also notable for the fact that, although lasting only eleven weeks (24 March to 10 June 1999), the conflict left behind a severe problem of unexploded remnants of war which will take years to address. It is hoped that the lessons learned from this work in Kosovo can be applied both for preventive purposes and to make mine/UXO action programs more effective in the future.

Even before refugees began returning to Kosovo in June 1999 the ICRC was deeply involved in providing food, medical assistance and “mine awareness” educatio n, aimed at reducing the risk of death and injury, to Kosovo refugees outside the province. With the end of hostilities in June 1999 these efforts were rapidly expanded to the civilian population inside Kosovo. It was clear, however, that the risks faced by the population were from a wide variety of munitions in addition to landmines. A significant and widespread threat was posed by other “explosive remnants of war” including unexploded cluster bomblets (submunitions) and other unexploded ordnance – which were taking as heavy a toll on civilians as were landmines.

This report provides an overview of the use and effects of mines, cluster bombs and other ordnance on the civilian population of Kosovo. Reports on the post-conflict effects of unexploded munitions are taken primarily from the ICRC’s extensive mine and unexploded ordnance awareness program in the province and from reports provided to the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in Kosovo by other humanitarian organizations. The contents provide a comprehensive review of the human costs of explosive remnants of war in Kosovo during the one-year period from June 1999 through May 2000.

Although the ICRC is aware that civilian casualties in armed conflicts are regrettably not always avoidable, it believes that a large proportion of the deaths and injuries from explosive remnants of war in the post-conflict context is both predictable and preventable. This report is aimed at launching a dialogue among governments, humanitarian agencies, the military, the mine clearance community and other interested organizations on how a dramatic reduction in the level of death and injury from the explosive remnants of war can be achieved. The ICRC’s own preliminary conclusions and recommendations in this regards are presented at the end.