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Mine Ban Convention: despite progress made, victim assistance falls short

26-11-2009 Interview

Following the adoption 10 years ago of the Mine Ban Convention, the number of mine victims has dropped significantly. However, most victims have yet to see substantial improvement in their access to many basic services, explains Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's arms unit.

©ICRC/O. Moekli / af-e-00541 
Hérat. ICRC rehabilitation centre 
Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's Arms Unit    
     Now that more than a decade has passed since the campaign was waged to ban landmines and the Mine Ban Convention was adopted, what has been achieved?  

In a very short period of time, the Convention has achieved remarkable results. Already, 156 States – more than 80 per cent of all the States in the world – have joined the Convention. Together, States Parties have destroyed more than 44 million mines and removed millions of mines and explosive remnants of war, making areas safe again for use by local communities. Most importantly, the number of new mine victims has been dramatically reduced, in some areas by two thirds or more.

The Convention has also had an impact on States that have not endorsed it. Production of anti-personnel mines has ceased in 38 States, four of which are not party to the Convention, and legal trade   in   these weapons has virtually ended.

Despite all the progress made, we must not forget that thousands of innocent civilians are still being killed or maimed each year by anti-personnel mines. The vast numbers of mines that remain to be cleared are also hindering reconstruction and development efforts in communities around the world where land is desperately needed for agriculture and other vital uses.

Thirty-nine countries, including some that hold significant stockpiles of anti-personnel mines, have not yet joined the Convention. Although most States retaining anti-personnel mines have not used them in recent years, a small number of States and a number of non-State armed groups have nevertheless continued to do so. Anti-personnel mines have been stigmatized, to be sure, but they will not be totally eradicated until all States fully accept the need to ban them.

 The number of mine victims has dropped significantly all over the world since the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines was adopted in 1997. Nevertheless, at least 5,000 people are still being killed or maimed in mine accidents every year, mine-clearance deadlines are not always met and many victims still do not receive adequate assistance. What have been the obstacles in implementing the Convention?  

First of all, the first 10-year deadlines for mine clearance occurred this year. However, 16 of the 24 States Parties with deadlines in 2009 requested and were granted extensions of up to 10 years. While some countries require extensions owing to the sheer scale of the landmine problems they face and the difficulties of clearing certain mined areas, it is also clear that planning and implementation in many cases started too late.

Another challenge relates to the destruction of stockpiled anti-personnel mines. For the first time, there are three States Parties that have failed to comply with the requirement to destroy their stockpiled anti-personnel mines within their four-year deadlines, and a fourth State is expected to miss its deadline next year. Together, these States hold several million mines.

Finally, the area in which progress has been the most difficult to achieve so far is victim assistance. While the situation has improved in some places, most mine victims have yet to see substantial improvement in their access to medical care, physical rehabilitation, psychological support, social services, education and employment. Most mine-affected countries are still developing economically, often after enduring years of armed conflict. In addition, many mine victims live in remote rural areas. Access to medical and social services is often limited and the delivery of such services must compete with other urgent claims on scarce resources.

 What will happen at the Cartagena Summit and how will the Summit help to address current challenges?  

The Cartagena Summit will review implementation over the last five years and set the priorities for future implementation by adopting a Cartagena Action Plan for the period 2010-2014. At the end of the conference, high-level participants from States Parties will adopt a po litical declaration reaffirming their commitment to achieving the Convention's objectives and to overcoming the remaining challenges.

The ICRC hopes to see States Parties agree on an ambitious Cartagena Action Plan that will respond to important issues that have emerged in recent years, in the areas of victim assistance, mine clearance and stockpile destruction in particular. The commitments made at the Summit will be crucial to ensuring that the Convention's humanitarian objectives are fulfilled in the years to come.

 What are some of priorities for the years ahead that the ICRC would like to see reflected in the outcome of the Cartagena Summit?  

The ICRC very much welcomes the fact that victim assistance has been identified as a key priority for the Summit. While progress has made in the last five years in establishing national plans and objectives, the time has come to focus on their implementation. We believe all States Parties should commit themselves to place a higher priority on victim assistance and to ensure that mine victims have access to the services they require to participate in society on a full and equal basis with others.

The Summit should also refocus attention on the Convention's obligation to clear mined areas " as soon as possible. " This must remain the objective for all mine-affected States Parties, including those that have been granted extensions of their deadlines. If extensions became the rule rather than the exception, the treaty's credibility would be seriously undermined.

With regard to stockpile destruction, the States that have missed their four-year deadlines must commit themselves to destroy the remaining stocks without further delay and announce a fixed timeline for completion of the destruction process.

Las tly, it is becoming clear that in order to address the main challenges the Convention is facing at present – in particular as regards mine clearance and victim assistance – States Parties will have to assemble additional resources in the years ahead. We believe States Parties should consider new strategies for mobilizing resources and for ensuring that available resources are used as effectively as possible.

 The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is promoting a new strategy against mines, explosive remnants of war and cluster munitions. What is this strategy, and what is novel about it?  

The new strategy acknowledges that the massive consequences that landmines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war have on the civilian population, sometimes for years or decades after armed conflict has ended, require a similarly massive humanitarian response. Since the first Movement Strategy on Landmines was adopted in 1999, much has been learnt about the human cost of these weapons and how to mitigate their effects on civilians. In addition, the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War was adopted in 2003 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008.

The new Movement Strategy commits the ICRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation to carry on with their efforts to reduce the impact of these weapons on civilians. To achieve this aim, the Movement promotes relevant treaties of international humanitarian law, carries out risk-reduction activities in affected communities and provides assistance for victims.

 What message does the ICRC want to convey to political leaders at the Cartagena Summit?  

For the ICRC, the Cartagena Summit is a key opportunity to remind the inte rnational community – not only political leaders but also the public at large – that anti-personnel mines still represent a serious threat to civilians in thousands of communities across the world. High levels of political commitment and financial resources will be needed in the coming years to ensure that all of the objectives of the Convention are met, in particular to complete mine clearance and provide adequate assistance for victims. The ultimate objective of the Mine Ban Convention is to end the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines. It is important that States Parties remain committed to continue their efforts until this goal has been achieved.