After 15 years of almost continuous decline, the number of mine victims is on the rise again. Humanity & Inclusion (HI) Advocacy Director Anne Héry explains the history of the fight to ban landmines and the ongoing challenges:
Why were landmines banned?
A landmine is triggered by its victim, which is the very definition of landmine: you walk on a landmine, a plate presser triggers and causes an explosion, for example. It is indiscriminate; a landmine cannot differentiate between a soldier and a civilian. More than 80% of landmine victims are civilians.
Landmines are also cruel weapons. It kills or inflicts life-long injuries that may cause permanent disabilities. It blows off its victims' legs, feet, toes and hands; it may destroy their eyesight; many landmine victims have to be amputated from the injured limb. Landmines are designed to mutilate.
What are the consequences of the presence of mines after a conflict?
A landmine laid during a conflict remains active decades after the end of hostilities. A big part of their victims are killed or injured years after the conflict in their country has ended. Fights are over but the mines are still there… It has also serious economic and social consequences. Communities are deprived of their contaminated land they depend upon like farmland, water points may be no longer accessible.
25 years after the Ottawa Treaty was signed, can we say we have won the fight against landmines and that these weapons are now part of the past?
After the number of casualties has decreased after the treaty entered into force, we are now facing new challenges with recent increasing uses of landmines, specifically the increasing use of improvised landmines. More than 7,000 people were injured or killed by landmines in 2020, according to the Landmine Monitor 2021. A high number of landmine casualties have been recorded six years in a row after 15-year sharp decline. Of them, a third were victims of improvised landmines.
Landmines are not weapons of the past for the victims; we need to continue providing meaningful assistance to people that are injured, family members of those injured and/or killed as well as affected communities: in many countries declared mine-free, victims still need assistance for the rest of their lives, medical care, rehabilitation, social and financial support. Only 14 States have victim assistance or relevant disability plans in place to address recognized needs and gaps.
What does the Ottawa Treaty say?
The Ottawa Treaty, signed by 164 states parties, includes a series of obligations for States Parties: The first obligation is to stop to use, produce and trade landmines. States that have contaminated lands are also obliged to clear their territory of landmines, giving each country a 10-year deadline to do so. Since the adoption of the Convention in 1997, more than 30 States Parties have now cleared their territory. Clearance operations are underway in 35 other States, although most have had to request an extension of their original 10-year deadlines.
States are also committed to assisting landmine victims, most of whom are located in countries with very limited health and physical rehabilitation facilities. Victim assistance in the Ottawa Treaty was a major step forward, consisting of adapted medical assistance, including rehabilitation services, for the direct victims, in addition to social and financial supports for families that can bear the consequences of landmine accidents.
States Parties are required to destroy their stockpiled landmines. Prior to the adoption of the Convention, more than 130 States were reported to have such weapons. Since then, States Parties have destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled landmines.
What still need to be achieved for the Ottawa Treaty?
Although it has not been signed by all states in the world, the Ottawa Treaty has become an internationally recognised and respected norm. But still, 35 States remain non-signatories of the Ottawa like United States, Russia, China… A concerted and renewed universalisation effort is essential to bring these states on board and reach the objective of a mine free world.
We also have to discuss with non-states armed groups, as they are the main users of improvised mines, to incite them to bind by the humanitarian law and the Ottawa Treaty. Some NGOs like Geneva Call are specialised in mediation with non-states armed groups. We’re not naïve; we know with some groups it would be very difficult but we had some success in the past.
There is still a lot of to do in term of victim assistance: In many countries, persons who have survived a mine incident may not have the appropriate medical care or services - functional and appropriate prosthetic, first, but also psychosocial support. It needs to be developed. We also need to strengthen their rights as landmine victims are often marginalized (difficulty in accessing the labour market, education, culture, sports…) States Parties to the Treaty need to develop support programs for mine survivors and affected families, especially inclusive education, livelihoods, small business or regular employment.
Finally, with the Ottawa Treaty states have agreed to free the world of mines. We will continue to take on their obligation to increase their efforts to reach this important goal!