Anti-Personnel Landmines Ban: A Backgrounder

15 Aug, 1997    ·   13

Maj Gen Dipankar Banerjee briefly introduces the subject

Over 100 million anti-personnel (AP) land mines today remain planted in the earth in more than 70 mainly developing countries across four continents. It is estimated that these inflict casualties to about 24,000 people every year. Majority are women and children who have played no role in conflict. Even today, ten times more mines are likely to be laid than those that may be lifted. Most of these new mines will be laid in flagrant violation of international humanitarian laws.


The 1996 UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling all states to conclude a new internationally binding treaty to ban all AP land mines as soon as possible. 156 States voted in favour and none opposed it. Ten countries abstained, among whom were Russia , China and Pakistan . Canada then took the initiative and convened a meeting of governments at Ottawa in December 1996. It called on all nations to sign a treaty totally prohibiting the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of AP land mines. Thus began the Ottawa process. On 2 December 1997 governments from around the world are expected to meet again at Ottawa to sign the Treaty. As of 12 June 1997, 74 states are committed to ban AP land mines by the end of the year.


Throughout 1996 a large number of international conferences have drawn attention to the scourge of AP land mines. India held one at Nagpur earlier in the year. Another international conference is taking place at New Delhi from 13-14 August 1997. Even though land mines were developed for a military purpose, primarily to prevent armour mobility, they never proved decisive in battle. In today’s wars their effectiveness in legitimate conflict is to be seriously doubted. A conference of military experts in Asia was held in Manila from 20-23 July to examine the military utility of land mines in conflict. They were of the overwhelming opinion that their limited military utility is nullified by their enormous potential as weapons that violate humanitarian laws of warfare. Their conclusions are enclosed after this article.


A Conference to draft the Treaty will be held at Oslo from 1 September 1997 for three weeks. All states supporting the Ottawa process will participate. Over hundred states are expected under this. Others may participate as observers. Some doubts have been raised regarding this process of negotiation. Should this not have been done through the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva (CD) of 61 member countries? That is a valid point. However, the urgency of the situation does not permit further delay. Which would be inevitable given the ponderous procedures of the CD.


What should India do? Prime Minister Gujral took a strong position at the UN General Assembly last year asking for their elimination. There is no doubt that given India ’s long history of supporting disarmament policies she should go along with the Treaty. It meets all Indian criteria for disarmament treaties. It is non-discriminatory, universal and attempts to eliminate a weapon of doubtful value because it is patently anti-humanitarian. More than mere participation there are strong reasons why India should assume a leading role. Philippines in particular has showed a way that is bold and positive. If China and Pakistan continues to hold out, India can always re-examine the situation. It may even bow out at a late stage if its supreme national interests are compromised.


Statement by military experts in Asia


The undersigned Asian military and strategic studies analysts from 14 countries gathered in Manila to examine the experience of anti-personnel mine use in the region. The analysts discussed the military effectiveness of anti-personnel mines based on their actual combat performance in Asian and other conflicts. The military value of AP mines was considered in the context of the long-term human, social and economic cost incurred in many of the conflicts in which this weapon has been used. Particular attention was given to the difficulties and extremely high cost of post-conflict mine clearance.


The seminar sought to develop recommendations which will promote and broaden dialogue within Asian military and political circles on the question of anti-personnel mines. It is hoped that the work of the Manila seminar can contribute to the development of a common approach within the region to the humanitarian problems which anti-personnel mines have caused in Asia and globally. The following statement was adopted by participants acting in their personal capacities.


The undersigned participants in the regional seminar "Anti-personnel Landmines; What Future for Asia ?" agree that;


1. The global scourge of anti-personnel landmines, which kill and injure some 2,000 persons per month, most of whom are civilians, is unacceptable and must be stopped. These mines not only kill and maim combatants in an inhumane way, but also indiscriminately affect civilians and inflict on them enormous physical and psychological damage long after the conflict is over. This must be a grave and continuous concern of the international community;


2. In most conflicts, the appalling humanitarian consequences of the use of anti-personnel mines have far outweighed their military utility;


3. The use of anti-personnel landmines in internal armed conflicts, either by State or non-State actors, should not be condoned;


4. The cases considered during the seminar, and the personal experience of participants, lead to some initial conclusions concerning traditionally emplaced mines;


* Establishing, monitoring and maintaining extensive border minefields is time-consuming, expensive and dangerous. In order to be effective they need to be under continuous observation and direct fire, which is not always possible. Because of these practical difficulties some armed forces have entirely refrained from using such minefields. Moreover, these minefields have not always proved successful in preventing infiltration.


* Under battlefield conditions the use, marking , mapping and removal of mines in accordance with classical military doctrine and international humanitarian law is extremely difficult, even for professional armed forces. History indicates that effective marking , mapping and removal of mines have rarely occurred.1 The cost to forces using anti-personnel mines, in terms of casualties to one’s own forces and civilians, the limitation of tactical flexibility and the loss of sympathy of the indigenous population is higher than has been generally acknowledged.


* Use in accordance with traditional military doctrine appears to have occurred infrequently and only when the following specific conditions were met;


- both parties to the conflict were disciplined professional armies with a high sense of responsibility and engaged in a short-lived international conflict,


- the tactical situations were fairly static,


- forces possessed adequate time and resources to mark, monitor and maintain minefields in accordance with law and doctrine,


- mined areas were of sufficient economic or military value to ensure that mine clearance occurred,


- parties had sufficient resources to ensure clearance and it was carried out without delay, and


- the political will existed to limit strictly the use of mines and to clear them as indicated above;


5. Remotely delivered anti-personnel mines are not exclusively defensive weapons. They can easily be used in an offensive manner behind frontlines to prevent reinforcement and escape, and to saturate target areas.


Remotely delivered anti-personnel mines can cause vastly increased civilian casualties, even if such mines are designed to be self-destructing and self-deactivating , for the following reasons;


* they will be dangerous during their intended active life-time,


* the fencing and marking of such mines will be virtually impossible,


* in extended conflicts minefields may be re-laid many times,


* self-destructing and deactivating devices may be unreliable,


* inactive mines, as unexploded ordnance, can still be dangerous, and


* the mere presence of mined areas will produce fear, keeping civilians out of


areas important for their livelihood;


6. Some barrier systems and other methods offer more humane alternatives to anti-personnel mines under certain circumstances. Additional alternatives should be pursued rather than further development of any new anti-personnel mine technologies. Developments which further increase, rather than reduce, the lethality of anti-personnel mines are to be deplored and are unnecessary;


7. Those who have used and those who have supplied anti-personnel mines bear a joint responsibility to ensure the clearance of these weapons and the provision of adequate care to their victims;


8. Improved mine clearance technologies for military, humanitarian and civilian agencies that are affordable and easy to use should be vigorously developed with a goal of making the use of anti-personnel mines progressively less useful;


9. Since resources are not currently available even to clear mines currently in the ground , any attempt to deploy additional anti-personnel mines is likely to impose an unacceptable level of cost to countries that are least able to bear it;


10. Countries in Asia , including Afghanistan , Cambodia , Laos and Vietnam are among those most affected by anti-personnel mines and similar remnants of war ; and


11. Notwithstanding successive UN resolutions since 1994 calling for increased assistance by all States to mine-affected countries, the actual assistance rendered has fallen far short of the requirements.


The undersigned participants therefore call upon States of the Asian region to consider the following urgent measures;


1. The adoption of national prohibitions on the production, stockpiling , transfer and use of anti-personnel mines;


2. For those States which are not yet Parties, adherence to the 1980 United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including its Protocol II on landmines ( as amended on 3 May 1996), and for current States party to this Convention that have not yet done so, adherence to its amended Protocol II at the earliest possible date to ensure its early entry into force;


3. A substantial increase in assistance to mine-affected countries in the region, including Afghanistan , Cambodia , Laos and Vietnam . Such assistance might include provision of trained manpower, specialized equipment and funds to cope with the problems of landmines laid in those countries. The delivery of such assistance should be considered a purely humanitarian measure, should be free of political considerations, and should not be at the expense of other forms of humanitarian assistance;


4. The initiation, through all appropriate institutions, including the Asian Development Bank, of programs of regional cooperation in the fields of mine clearance, mine-risk education and victim assistance;


5. The rapid adoption of a regional agreement to prohibit remotely delivered anti-personnel landmines in Asia so as to prevent an escalation of mine warfare in the region and even higher levels of civilian casualties; and


6. Participation in upcoming negotiations aimed at the conclusion of a new treaty comprehensively prohibiting anti-personnel landmines by the end of 1997.


7. To build on and work towards the implementation of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 51/45 calling for the conclusion of a legally-binding agreement totally prohibiting anti-personnel landmines.


The undersigned participants appeal to the International community;


1. To pursue as a matter of urgency the prohibition and elimination of anti-personnel mines;


2. For those States which are not yet Parties, to adhere to the 1980 United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, including its Protocol II on landmines (as amended on 3 May 1996), and for current States party to this Convention that have not yet done so to adhere to its amended Protocol II at the earliest possible date to ensure its early entry into force;


3. To recognize that the use of anti-personnel landmines in internal armed conflicts, either by State or non-State actors, should not be condoned ;


4. To explore how non-State actors involved in internal armed conflicts can be encouraged to end the use of anti-personnel mines;


5. To assist mine-affected countries in Asia in ending the scourge of anti-personnel mines on their soil, in particular through the provision of technical, financial and other assistance in the clearance and destruction of mines, assistance to victims and mine awareness programs; and


6. To adopt a compassionate approach to the reunification of mine victims with family members living in mine-free countries.


Participants express their thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross for convening the seminar, and for its ongoing efforts on behalf of war victims in many of the countries of the region and to the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and Philippine National Red Cross for the generous hospitality they have provided in Manila.


Manila , 23 July 1997