The Silent Menace: Landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina
This is a text version of the brochure, The Silent Menace: Landmines in Bosnia and Herzegovina, certain maps are missing, please refer to the original printed version.
As a contribution to the ongoing international effort to address the worldwide scourge of landmines, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), commissioned a study on the impact of these weapons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The study indicates that although armed hostilities between the various factions officially ended in December 1995, mines continue to have severe human, social, medical and economic consequences for the country. A summary of the study’s main findings and recommendations is presented below.
The current situation
The United Nations Mine Action Centre (UNMAC) estimates that there are at present over 30,000 mined areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina littered with some 750,000 mines. In general, during the conflict, mines were used by all sides in a fairly disciplined manner consistent with military doctrine. The devices tended to be deployed as defensive weapons in order to protect military positions, strategically important installations and avenues of retreat. Most mined areas are found along former front lines, now i n the Zone of Separation (ZoS) between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska (the two “entities” that make up the country), or in areas immediately outside the various ethnic enclaves. Today, most minefields remain unmarked and pose a threat in the post-war environment. Although the conflict has officially ended, mines continue to be used to prevent ref ugees and displaced persons from returning to their pre-war communities and to protect private property.
The human impact
ICRC records show that during the conflict the majority of those killed or injured by mines were soldiers. As mines were primarily used along front lines and civilians generally fled the fighting, soldiers were the group most directly exposed to the threat. Since the end of the war, however, this has changed dramatically. Today, 80 per cent of mine victims are civilians.
In the six months immediately after the war ended, an average of 50 people were killed or injured by mines every month. Since mid-1996, this number has gradually decreased. From August 1996 to August 1997, the ICRC estimates that there were 30 to 35 casualties per month. The typical mine victim in the post-conflict period is the male farmer.
Alarmingly, many organizations working in Bosnia and Herzegovina expect the number of mine casualties to increase in the near future. Pressure on land will grow in the coming year as refugees and displaced persons return to their pre-war communities, many of which are situated in the ZoS — the most heavily mined area of the country. Having been away from their homes, these people lack knowledge about the precise location of mined areas and the local markings used to identify them. For this reason, refugees and displaced persons will be particularly vulnerable to mine accidents.
These facts and figures indicate that even when used responsibly, if left uncleared, landmines will claim civilian victims long after the fighting has ceased.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the percentage of mine victims wh o die from their injuries appears to be lower than in other mine-contaminated countries. This may be attributed to the widespread ownership of private cars and the well-developed road net work, both of which facilitate evacuation. In many cases, rapid and good quality emergency medical attention is available. However, as a result of the war, a large number of hospitals have undergone damage to buildings and equipment and, particularly in Republika Srpska, suffer from a shortage of surgical supplies. Since mine injuries require multiple operations and prolonged hospital stays, they will continue to divert scarce resources from the treatment of other injuries and illnesses. Many Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats requiring amputations are currently evacuated to hospitals in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or Croatia, respectively.
Overall, the quality of prostheses available to mine victims is good. Given the number and capacity of operational and planned limb-fitting centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the potential exists to meet the long-term need for prosthetics services. Most mine victims appear to have been fitted with an artificial limb at least once. Services can nevertheless be improved. Facilities and equipment in Republika Srpska need to be renovated and upgraded, and appropriate training provided to technicians. Furthermore, most centres only concentrate on lower-limb prostheses and there are no uniform policies regarding the financial contributions expected from patients.
The survivors of mine explosions face shattered lives. There are few employment opportunities for amputees. In addition, the psychological consequences and the lack of an adequate State disability benefit cause further difficulties for them in most circumstances.
The impact on agriculture and economic reconstruction
Many of the mines still in the ground have contaminated fertile agricultural land, severely reducing food production while Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to rely on international assistance to feed its population. In addition, the US$ 5 billion programme for economic reconstruction has been seriously impeded by the presence of mines. Many activities, from the restoration of water supplies to the resumption of the logging industry, remain affected nearly two years after the end of the conflict. Official assessments of the full impact of mines on agriculture and reconstruction are lacking and further research is required.
As of 31 July 1997, an estimated one per cent of the mine-contaminated land in Bosnia and Herzegovina had been cleared to humanitarian standards. The slow progress has been due to lengthy start-up requirements and in some cases a lack of funding and disputes over whether customs duties should be levied on demining equipment. There are a number of agencies and organizations involved in mine clearance, and several different approaches to the problem have been adopted. However, most activities focus on actual mine removal and there has been very little effort put into marking mined areas. In addition, the absence of an agency or a body that effectively coordinates demining activities means that each programme sets its own priority areas for clearance.
As required by the agreement that ended the war, the armed forces of the two entities are removing the mines emplaced by them. While “mine lifting” establishes an important principle, it has been criticized because it only involves the clearing of mines recorded on a minefield map, and does not require checking every square foot of ground to ensure total safet y. Thus, it does not meet the demining standards used by humanitarian agencies. Greater pressure is now being put on the entity armed forces to adopt these higher standards.
The United Nations and the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina have concluded a Memorandum of Understanding whereby the government will take over the responsibilities and assets of UNMAC during 1998. With the establishment of the Commission on Demining and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (BHMAC), the national authorities will assume a prominent role in mine clearance and it is hoped that coordination among the various players and the pace of mine clearance will improve in 1998.
Mine awareness Mine awareness
The mine-awareness programmes in Bosnia and Herzegovina have benefited from the experience acquired in other mine-contaminated countries, particularly with regard to methods of disseminating messages. The two major programmes are run by the ICRC and UNICEF, although smaller organizations are also involved. Nearly universal school attendance means that children can be reached through the classroom. However, informing adults is more difficult. In some areas, a lack of coordination among the various mine-awareness programmes has led to a duplication of effort and, in some instances, conflicting messages.
Banning the future use of antipersonnel mines in Bosnia and Herzegovina Banning the future use of anti-personnel mines in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina joined 122 other States in signing the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the “Ottawa treaty”. At the signing ceremony the government dec lared its intention to destroy its anti-personnel mine stockpiles and dismantle production facilities within four years.
On the basis of this study on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are a number of measures which can be taken to limit the dangers posed by landmines, impr ove the situation of mine victims, and speed up reconstruction.
Protecting the civilian population
To help protect civilians from the dangers of mines, demining agencies should focus increased effort on surveying and demarcation programmes, particularly in areas to which refugees are expected to return.
To enhance the protection of returning refugees, mine-awareness programmes should be established in host countries.
Improving medical treatment
To ensure that mine victims receive the most effective medical treatment available, the ICRC should disseminate information about the best surgical practices to all hospitals concerned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Improving physical rehabilitation
To ensure more effective provision of artificial limbs in Republika Srpska, donors should commit themselves to renovating and re-equipping prosthetics centres in the entity.
To ensure an effective long-term programme, prosthetics workshops in both entities should use more appropriate technology and provide theoretical training to technicians.
Meeting the long-term social needs of mine victims
To promote the social reintegration of mine survivors, especially amputees, the authorities and relevant organizations should seek to address their psycho-social needs.
Lessening the impact of mines on agriculture and economic recovery
To address the impact of mines on agricultural production and economic recovery, the ministries concerned should conduct relevant research and they should improve the prioritization of land for clearance on the basis of their findings.
To ensure safe and effective economic recovery, all reconstruction programmes should include a financial component for demining, where necessary.
Improving the pace of demining
To ensure effective long-term demining, international donors should commit themselves to financing mine-clearance programmes in Bosn ia and Herzegovina for a minimum of three more years.
To ensure the effectiveness of mine lifting by the entity armed forces, the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) should insist on the use of humanitarian demining techniques at all times and employ sanctions where appropriate.
To improve the coordination of demining activities, a concerted effort should be made by all governments and organizations concerned to provide the Commission on Demining and the BHMAC with the necessary resources and political support to enable them to discharge their responsibilities under the Memorandum of Understanding.
Improving mine awareness
To improve coordination among the organizations involved in mine awareness activities, it is important that agreement be reached by all those concerned regarding the messages to be spread and their respective areas of responsibility (both geographical and sectoral). The ministries of education of both entities should take the lead in coordinating the programmes, ensuring that there is no duplication of effort within the school system.
Ensuring a ban on the future use of antipersonnel mines
To build confidence in the treaty, the entity governments should immediately conclude a binding agreement to destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel mines currently being held by their armies.