The international community must redouble its efforts to address the challenges facing mine action
Thank you for convening this important discussion today. It offers an opportunity to rekindle the attention and resources to global mine action, an area in which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has direct experience as a humanitarian organization and in its expertise in international humanitarian law.
Landmines, cluster munitions as well as more broadly explosive remnants of war have distinct catastrophic effects on conflict-torn societies. The price in civilian casualties is not only felt during active hostilities but it lingers for many years, even decades, after the end of hostilities. In 2020, the United Nations recorded 4,663 civilian casualties from landmines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war, comprising 80% of total casualties from these weapons. Children were particularly affected - 25% of child casualties in armed conflicts were caused by these weapons. Beyond the deaths and life-changing injuries, these weapons cause long-term trauma, psychological and physical rehabilitation needs, and socio-economic impact.
Mine action is generally considered to comprise five core components: clearance, risk education, victim assistance, advocacy and stockpile destruction. It plays an important role in reducing civilian harm, making communities safer and enabling humanitarian access. Humanitarian demining can also serve as an important confidence-building measure in the lead-up to peace building. Finally, mine action is instrumental to enable the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and create conducive conditions for the restoration of livelihood and sustainable socioeconomic development.
While significant progress has been made through mine action, challenges persist. According to Mine Action Review, more than 50 countries remain contaminated by anti-personnel mines and more than 20 countries suffer from cluster munition remnant contamination. They pose a daily threat to civilians, hampering agriculture, trade and development, and hindering humanitarian operations. Landmines and cluster munitions, be they industrially manufactured or improvised, continue to be used in today's armed conflicts, causing unacceptable levels of civilian casualties and leaving behind long-term explosive hazards, in particular in urban and other populated areas.
In 2017, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2365 which set out a comprehensive approach to mine action. The international community must redouble its efforts to address the challenges facing mine action. To do this Member States must take five immediate actions:
- First, join and faithfully implement the existing and robust international instruments governing these weapons. We call upon all States that have not yet done so to join without delay the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the 2003 Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. These treaties find their roots in international humanitarian law and have been largely successful in protecting civilians from the indiscriminate harm caused by these weapons. We strongly encourage all States and parties to armed conflicts already now to renounce using, producing, transferring or stockpiling mines and cluster munitions.
- Second, place victims and affected communities at the centre of mine action to reduce their suffering. The lifelong needs of survivors and their families must be fulfilled taking into account gender, age and diversity factors, and their full, equal and effective participation in society. However, far too often, they have struggled to access services and to be fully included in their societies. Victim assistance is a long-term commitment that requires sustained mobilization of resources and political will from States with significant numbers of survivors and those in a position to provide support.
- Third, elaborate an informed, coordinated and well-planned humanitarian and development response to address contamination of mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. A key element of such a response is the gathering of data. Mine action must be evidence-based to effectively respond to the problems facing affected communities. Data is essential to identify risks, set priorities, craft appropriate activities and, in the end, allow for the most efficient use of resources. One example is Iraq where the ICRC, working with the Iraqi Red Crescent, established a data collection tool and process in part of the country since 2019. In agreement with the Iraqi Directorate of Mine Action, we are aiming to expand this project nationally, with a view to improving information sharing and facilitating closer coordination with other humanitarian actors and local authorities.
- Fourth, invest in risk education, as a critical element to protect civilians from the dangers of mines and explosive remnants of war pending their eventual clearance. Increasing awareness, however, is just part of the solution. Many communities already know that they are in a dangerous environment but are driven to dangerous areas largely by economic necessity. To be fully effective, awareness raising must be coupled with interventions to enable communities to live more safely in contaminated settings and should be incorporated in longer term livelihoods and economic and social security programming. Examples include providing or restoring a safe water supply when water access is made dangerous because of mines and explosive remnants of war, and granting microloans or training and equipment for alternative income generation in places where there is a prevalence of gathering scrap metal or entering dangerous areas to forage. To ensure their chance of success, such responses must be designed in cooperation with the affected communities themselves.
- Lastly, take national ownership to address the human cost of these weapons. In the meantime, progress would also require substantial, consistent and long-term support from those States and organizations that are in the position to provide assistance, both financially and technically. Ensuring a long-term national response capacity is critical as is close cooperation between all relevant institutions. This includes ensuring an adequate dialogue between national mine action authorities, international and local mine action operators, military forces, and community actors such as National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The ICRC stands ready to support States and other stakeholders to take practical measures to achieve progress on fulfilling long-standing commitments to protect civilians and their communities from the indiscriminate harm caused by mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war.
Much of the ICRC's work in relation to mines and explosive remnants of war focuses on developing the capacity of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to work alongside national authorities that carry out mine-action work domestically. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are often in a good position to work with local communities, gather data and conduct risk awareness and safer behaviour interventions, especially in areas that may be difficult for other organizations to access. In Syria, for example, 10 teams of staff and volunteers of the Syrian Red Crescent Society, trained by ICRC, have been working in difficult-to-access areas such as Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and Hassakeh. The ICRC also helps national mine action authorities strengthen their ability to undertake humanitarian mine and explosive remnants of war clearance and risk reduction measures in accordance with international standards and provides blast trauma care training for health personnel and first responders during an explosive ordnance assessment or disposal operation.
The ICRC also undertakes specific initiatives to prevent and address the effects of mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war, including the physical disabilities they may cause. Over the past 40 years, by developing national capacities and directly providing rehabilitation services, the ICRC's Physical Rehabilitation Programme has supported nearly 2 million people with disabilities, including survivors of mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war, in more than 50 countries around the world.
At the multilateral level, the ICRC is available to provide our insight as a humanitarian organization and our expertise in international humanitarian law.