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Africa: Laying Landmines to Rest?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 9, 2004 (041209)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

At the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, held in the Kenyan capital from November 27 to December 3 to review the Ottawa Convention to Ban Landmines, Ethiopia became the 144th country to ratify the treaty. In addition to the signatories, the summit was also attended by 23 states that have not signed the treaty, including China, Cuba, India, and Egypt. The United States did not attend.

Instead, the State Department issued a last-minute statement wishing the conference well and pledging U.S. support for humanitarian demining, but reaffirming U.S. opposition to the treaty. While committing itself to cease the use of "persistent" landmines by the year 2010, the Bush administration still defends the wartime use of "smart mines," designed to be deactivated after combat is over.

Delegates and anti-mine campaigners deplored the U.S. failure to attend, and the failure of other key nations, including China and Russia, to sign the treaty. Nevertheless, the conference focused on the considerable progress made since the treaty went into effect five years ago, and on formulating a multilateral action plan to continue with implementation.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three articles from "Laying Landmines to Rest? a Web Special on Humanitarian Mine Action (with special focus on the 2004 Nairobi Summit of a Mine Free World)," from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). The full report, which includes both general background and countryspecific articles on Angola, Chad, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda, is available at http://www.irinnews.org/webspecials/hma/default.asp Note that IRIN reports do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

For full official reports from the Nairobi conference, see http://www.reviewconference.org

For reports from the September 2004 regional conference of African experts on landmines, see
http://www.reviewconference.org/regional_conferences/addis.htm

For extensive additional information, including a full 2004 report on compliance with the land mine treaty in the five years since it came into force, see the website of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (http://www.icbl.org).

For the U.S. decision not to attend the Nairobi Summit, see http://allafrica.com/stories/200411291377.html and http://allafrica.com/stories/200411291069.html

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Nations Embrace Anti-Mine Action Plan

December 6, 2004

Nairobi

The summit on a mine-free world ended in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Friday with delegates adopting a declaration renewing their commitment to rid the world of the weapons and endorsing a comprehensive five-year plan aimed at expediting the clearance and destruction of landmines.

"We renew our unwavering commitment to achieving the goal of a world free of anti-personnel mines in which there will be zero new victims," the delegates said in their Nairobi Declaration. "We will strengthen our efforts to clear mined areas and destroy stockpiled anti-personnel mines in accordance with our time-bound obligations. We will assist mine victims and vigorously promote the universal acceptance of the convention [against landmines]."

The summit was the first review conference of the 1997 UN Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines, also known as the Ottawa Convention. The convention was ratified by 144 countries and is looking for new member states.

The plan of action commits governments to a wide range of measures to combat mines and provide care for victims of the weapons during the next five years. Member nations are obliged to promote the universalisation of the convention, expedite mine destruction efforts, meet their 10-year, mine-clearance deadlines and continue providing care to mine victims.

"State parties will enhance the care, rehabilitation and re-integration efforts during the period 2005-2009," according to the plan.

"Only action will save lives and restore victim's dignity," Peter Herby, head of the mines unit of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said. "This plan must now be used by people who care about mine victims to ensure more and better action and better resources in the crucial five years ahead." He added, however, that the plan was "solid".

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) vowed to keep up the pressure to ensure the universal implementation of the mine ban treaty. It described the five-year Nairobi action plan as "concrete and forward-looking".

"The summit has given us renewed energy, focus and commitment for the hard work ahead," said Jody Williams, co-laureate with the ICBL of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. "The Nairobi Summit will be measured by how vigorously the action plan adopted this week is carried out."

The ICBL, however, noted that some important issues were not addressed during the summit. They include whether anti-vehicle mines that have sensitive fuses, such tripwires or tilt rods that could easily be set off by a pedestrians, are banned.

It also failed to discuss the question of what activities are allowed during joint military exercises with states that are not party to the convention and the issue of the number of anti-personnel mines retained for training by state parties to the convention, according to ICBL.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said anti-vehicle mines were also a threat to human beings.

"We cannot rest until all landmines are cleared and these indiscriminate weapons [are] banished forever," Annan said in a speech telecast from New York to delegates at the end of the summit. "We must persuade more states, including some of the world's largest, to become parties to the treaty."

Hailing what he described as a "resounding success of the conference", the president of the Nairobi Summit, Wolfgang Petritsch of Austria, said the convention was "an outstanding example of multilateralism working the way it should".

Anti-landmine campaigners were encouraged by the participation of 23 states that are not party to the treaty, including China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Sri Lanka, according to the ICBL.

"Even countries outside the Mine Ban Treaty are taking steps towards it and are complying in many ways," said Stephen Goose, head of ICBL's delegation in the Nairobi Summit. "This shows that an international norm that rejects landmines is taking hold."

Handicap International said more resources were needed to ensure the success of mine-action programmes.

"Without increased and sustained resources, and lacking better prioritisation of mine action, many states will not be able to meet the 10-year deadline for clearance provisioned by the treaty," the aid agency said in a statement. "This would potentially translate into the death and maiming of thousands of more mine victims."

According to the Landmine Monitor Report 2004, published by the ICBL, there are currently 300,000 to 400,000 mine survivors. In 2003, 86 percent of the new casualties reported were civilians and 23 percent children, according to the report.


Africa: Well-known and invisible killer littered throughout Africa

26 November, 2004

They threaten the peace, stability and development of the world's poorest continent and kill or mutilate 12,000 people each year. This was the reason that African governments agreed recently to a landmark initiative aimed at eliminating an estimated 40 million landmines from the continent.

At the African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa, a new "common African position" was unveiled on 17 September 2004. It aims to ensure that the continent becomes an anti-personnel mine (APM) free zone, with a framework largely centred on the 1997 Ottawa Convention. The initiative also stresses inter-African cooperation as a vital issue in successful mine clearance and calls for more support for victims and greater transparency by governments.

Among the innovations that were agreed on was a call by African nations to countries which have laid landmines throughout the continent during World War II to "devote a reasonable percentage of their military budgets" to clearing them.

In Egypt, for example, some 17 million landmines remain buried in the desert, a deadly legacy of World War II.

The new position was agreed ahead of the Nairobi Summit in November 2004 on a Mine-Free World that will look at the progress made in the last seven years since the Ottawa Convention was drafted.

Under the convention, which came into force in 1999 and was signed by 143 countries, nations that are party to the treaty must not use, stockpile, produce or transfer APMs. Still, even though African governments had backed the common strategy and some 48 joined the Ottawa Convention, a number of nations have not yet ratified the treaty. These include Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Morocco and Somalia.

Ethiopian officials told IRIN that ratification was in the pipeline and a draft was expected before their parliament meets in the coming months. They said delays in ratification had stemmed largely from security concerns along their borders due to conflicts against neighbouring countries like Eritrea in 1998 and Somalia in 1977.

However, Egypt, whose country is infested with an estimated tenth of the world's 200 million landmines, is still reluctant to agree to the convention.

"We do not believe in a total and free ban of landmines as long as many actors, including the major producers, are still out of the convention," an Egyptian diplomat told IRIN recently.

"There are three major shortcomings in the Ottawa Convention as far as we see it," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "There should be a real obligation, not moral obligation, to demine. States should have the right to get assistance where their countries have been mined and we also need to differentiate between landmines for protection, for national security and those landmines used for other purposes like terrorism. You should be given the right to defend yourself."

Some 30 countries in Africa report being affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance and 10, including Angola, Mozambique and Sudan, say they suffer a high level of casualties.

Said Djinnit, head of the Peace and Security Council at the AU, described the devastating effects of landmines on the continent and their impact on development at the conference.

"We have seen innocent people, women and children amputated, lose their limbs and other vital parts of their bodies - and end up handicapped," he told delegates. "We have also seen landmines destroy the healthy and productive part of our active population, destroy fertile land for agriculture, destroy transport networks and destroy important natural resources that support life."

Djinnit also told the conference, attended by diplomats, landmine experts and other officials, that the AU had been at the forefront of the campaign to ban landmines. Nonetheless, he said ending the scourge of landmines on the continent had "not been pursued with all the needed vigour and determination in Africa".

"Landmines continue to be the main impediment to post-conflict reconstruction and development in our countries," the AU official added. "Ridding the continent of this invisible and indiscriminate weapon is crucial for creating conditions for peace, security, stability and development in Africa, as well as reconciling and healing societies from the trauma of conflict."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IRIN that the convention, seen as one of the most successful global treaties, could also be a template for other weapons legislation. The organisation believes a similar treaty could be designed around small or light arms proliferation, a major factor causing instability on the continent. The convention also contains the potential for enforcement.

Under the Ottawa Convention, a system of verification exists, whereby countries believed to be using AMPs, could be subjected to international inspection. So far, said the ICRC, the verification system has never been triggered.

The ICRC also stated that sanctions could be imposed on countries where major concerns of non-compliance exist. While significant progress has been made, UN landmine experts also noted caution.

Phil Lewis, of the UN's Mine Action Service and also in charge of mine clearance for the UN peacekeepers monitoring the ceasefire between Ethiopia and Eritrea, spelled out key concerns that need to be addressed in adopting a common position. The geography, size and number of landmines pose tremendous problems, Lewis said.

"Within these huge distances, the actual number of mines laid may be few, but their effect is often disproportionate to these numbers," he said. "The fear of entering areas affected by a few mines remains psychologically the same."

He also noted that non-military forces have laid some mines with no record of where they were placed. Medical facilities are also weak, Lewis added. However, he praised the significant progress made in mine clearance and stressed that the continent has a huge movement of people willing to help demine.

Austria's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Wolfgang Petritsch, said progress made in the fight against landmines meant total eradication could be achieved.

"This is doable," Petritsch, who is president designate of the Nairobi Summit, told IRIN. "With the achievements we have made in the last five years, we can rid the world of landmines and make a significant difference."


Kenya: Treaty signatory and host to the 2004 Summit

November 22, 2004

Kenya, the host of the upcoming summit of parties to the Ottawa Convention - that calls for the ban of production and use of anti-personnel mines (APMs) - has been one of the most active parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. Kenya completed the destruction of its stockpile of 38,774 APMs in August 2003, four years ahead of the 2009 deadline stipulated in the convention, according to Michael Oyugi, head of the secretariat of the committee organising the summit, to be held in Nairobi from 29 November to 3 December 2004. Some 3,000 mines have been retained for training purposes, he added.

The decision to hold the summit in an African country is also significant because the continent is most affected by the hazards of landmines, according to Oyugi. Although Kenya does not have a landmine problem, it has - over the years - emerged as a "hub for humanitarian activities", a factor that makes Nairobi an appropriate choice as host of the summit, which will also address the humanitarian dimension of landmines, Oyugi said. Most of the 240,000 refugees in Kenya come from countries affected by the landmine problem, including Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The refugees include some of those who have lost limbs to landmines in their countries.

At Lopiding, close to the Kenyan-Sudanse border area of Lokichoggio, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) runs one of the largest field hospitals in the world, treating mostly those affected by war in southern Sudan. In 1992, the ICRC set up an orthopaedic workshop at the Lopiding hospital that makes artificial limbs for amputees, including victims of landmines, and fitting those with disabilities with orthoses. Fighting between Ethiopian troops and rebels of the Oromo Liberation Front has occasionally spilled over into Kenya, and in the late 1990s there were several reported cases of the rebels planting mines on the Kenyan side of the border to prevent Ethiopian forces from pursuing them. The mines were removed by the Kenyan military mines, according to Oyugi.

The Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of APMs and their Destruction, came into force on 1 March 1999 and has been widely hailed as the most successful global disarmament and humanitarian treaty ever, having been ratified by 143 states. According to Oyugi, Kenya will gain from a "raised international profile" due to the media focus on the summit as an estimated 1,500 delegates gather to review the Mine Ban Treaty.

The gathering is widely seen as the most significant meeting of world leaders to address the global landmine problem since the historic Convention signing in Ottawa, Canada, in December 1997. "There is likely to be a tourism spin off from the summit," said Oyugi, referring to the increased exposure Kenya’s tourism industry, one of the country’s foreign exchange earners, is likely to gain during the meeting.

Mereso Agina, the research coordinator of the Kenya Coalition Against Landmines, hoped that the successful hosting of the mines summit would lead to the "upgrading" of the United Nations Office in Nairobi with a view to holding more such international meetings in Kenya. "That would be a direct benefit to Kenya, promoting the country as a conference destination with the expected benefits to the hospitality industry," she said. Nairobi hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

The Nairobi Summit is aimed at reviewing issues critical to the Convention, including deadlines for mine clearance and destruction of mine stockpiles by state parties to the convention and providing help to those maimed by landmines. "Some countries may need assistance to meet the [mine clearing] deadline, for example Angola - mine clearing is a tedious exercise," said Oyugi. He said the Nairobi Summit is expected to come up with two documents. One of them will be a programme of action on how the goals of the convention are to be achieved, while the second one will be a political declaration by state parties re-affirming their commitment to the convention. "The summit is expected to re-invigorate the convention - give it a new lease on life," Oyugi added.

Although Kenya does not have a landmine problem, parts of the country’s arid and semi-arid pastoral north and eastern areas are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind by foreign and Kenyan armed forces carrying out training exercises. Regular military training exercises have been carried out around Archer’s Post in the Eastern Province and Dol Dol in Northeastern Province, exposing an estimated 600,000 people to potential danger.

In July 2002, the British government agreed to pay compensation of 4.5 million pounds (about seven million euros at that time) to more than 200 Kenyan members of the Maasai and Samburu nomadic communities, who were injured or maimed by UXOs left on their land by the British army. Britain’s defence ministry said it accepted "limited liability" for what happened during a 50-year period during which, British forces conducted live-fire exercises on land used for grazing by Maasai and Samburu livestock herders.

UXO-clearance operations have been carried out in the affected areas by the British army in conjunction with the Kenyan military. According to last year’s report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), UXO-clearance teams working in the Archer’s Post area in 2001 and 2002, found four to five pieces of ammunition per sq km. A Kenyan army-demining unit, serving with the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), has been involved in mine clearance along the two countries’ border. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody two-year border that ended with the signing of a peace agreement in 2000.

To facilitate travel to Nairobi for registered delegates who will attend the summit, Kenyan embassies abroad are issuing visas free of charge, Oyugi said. Delegates from countries where Kenya does not have embassies will obtain visas on arrival from a special immigration counter that will be set up at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi. ...

The summit’s official opening ceremony will be held in the Kenyatta International Conference Centre in central Nairobi on November 28, presided over by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, a day before delegates shift to the UN complex for the rest of the conference. It will be attended by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

According to ICBL, most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the most heavily mined region in the world, are parties or signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty. There are 23 mine-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Sudan. In 2002 and 2003, new landmine casualties were reported in 20 of the 23 mine-affected countries, according to ICBL.

In many of the mine-affected countries in the African region, medical facilities and rehabilitation services are in poor condition, mostly due to a lack of financial resources. Armed conflict, whether ongoing or in the past, has also taken a heavy toll on the health infrastructure in several countries, meaning that landmine survivors have had little hope for rehabilitation and re-integration into society.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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