Anti-landmines Campaign: Not Much Success So Far!

By Silvija Jaksic | 1996-07-01 12:00:00

Landmines are some of the cheapest, most accessible, and dangerous of all conventional weapons. Each week they cause more than 200 deaths or injuries worldwide; most victims are innocent civilians.1 Thirty to 40 percent of those killed are women and children. A total ban on the production, use, stockpiling, sale, and transfer of landmines therefore is a necessary global objective.

There are only two basic kinds of landmines - anti-tank and anti-personnel - but more than 340 specific types of mines in production by 200 companies and governments in 56 countries. Between 85 and 100 million anti-personnel landmines are scattered through 62 countries and 100 million more are believed to be stockpiled.2

Anti-tank mines average from nine to 47 inches long, weigh at least 30 pounds, and require about 100 pounds of direct pressure to detonate. They have a high metal content, are easily detectable and therefore often stolen and replanted by opposite forces. Anti-personnel mines were invented to circumvent this shortcoming. What was originally intended to be no more than a deterrent for antitank mine theft has turned into an indiscriminate conventional weapon.

Anti-personnel mines are cheap, easy to manufacture and use, difficult to detect, and expensive and dangerous to remove.3 They are virtually undetectable without precision de-mining equipment. Despite their small size, an anti-personnel mine can kill or blow off a limb. They often kill children playing in fields because only 20-30 pounds of pressure is needed to detonate them.

Landmines stay active long after wars have ended. Mine detectors sense metal, so many mines go unnoticed because today's mines contain only traces of metal.Whether its exterior is made of wood, ceramic, or plastic, a landmine remains dangerous. A plastic mine may be dented or faded in color, yet the mine remains as sensitive to explosion as ever. In fact, since most mines are located in dry, sandy regions, "most have been rendered even more volatile by a thousand days of constant exposure to blistering temperatures and sun."4

Cheap, But Pricey To Remove

The average mine costs only about $3. An anti-personnel mine can cost as little as 50 cents, while the anti-tank mines cost $30-$40 and can destroy a small car or disable an armored vehicle.

Mine clearance costs, on the other hand, are astronomical. For every $3 anti-personnel mine, it costs between $300 and $1,000 for a mine clearance specialist to uproot and prepare each individual landmine for disposal. Mine clearance is a tedious, slow, extremely dangerous process. Mine sweepers normally work for private de-mining companies, many of which are commercialized sectors of humanitarian agencies. The United Nations also has teams of de-miners stationed across various parts of the world. Finally, there are local de-miners who use poorly made, imprecise equipment. Even sophisticated equipment is only 60-90 percent effective in finding low-metal mines. Wide-area mine clearance is not yet available; inspectors measure progress in meters rather than kilometers. According to top U.N. de-mining experts, it would cost between $200 and $300 billion to clear all mines worldwide. To remove only newly-laid mines in an average year costs at least $600 million. In 1993, the U.N. spent $67 million on mine clearance and awareness programs worldwide.

Mine production yields great profits, though actual figures are hard to obtain. Landmine production is normally only a section of a larger product line and not separately covered in annual reports.5 The large producers include Daimler-Benz (Germany), the Fiat Group (Italy), Daewoo (South Korea), and RCA (United States).6 Many of the firms that make mines are either government-owned or government-controlled, and release little financial data, but mine production is estimated to average 10-30 million mines per year. Accordingly, mine sales have been estimated to total between $100 and $200 million per year.7 While such impressive profits come to mine producers (almost all of which are rich), the war-torn, poor, developing countries are left to deal with the devastating consequences of landmines.

Large areas of arable land become inaccessible and livestock are killed. Refugees are impeded from going home, and a country's health and social system is overwhelmed with blast survivors.8 Medical conditions are poor, with blood, anesthetics, and antibiotics in short supply and surgeons and surgical facilities inaccessible.

Individuals whose limbs have been amputated are often considered burdens to their families. They consume the food the family grows but can no longer help in its production. Consequently, many spouses are abandoned in favor of other, more productive mates. Once abandoned by their families and the community, many amputees turn to alcohol, drugs, and criminal behavior. Such actions only create greater problems for the societies in which they live.

Devastated countries during their post-war recovery period require humanitarian assistance. When a country is known to be littered with mines, such assistance is often sparse. It is socially undesirable for a country to send its soldiers abroad for humanitarian assistance when the risk of danger is so great. The countries with the most severe landmine problems include Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Mozambique, and northern Somalia.9

There are international laws that govern the use of landmines, along with declarations and protocols to further protect civilians. Unfortunately, if a country does not sign the agreement, it does not have to abide by its provisions. International law governs the use of mines but not their production, stockpiling, and export. Because of such shortcomings, moratoriums have become a prime objective. Some countries voluntarily agree to be bound by these moratoriums.

The most extensive international law that deals specifically with landmines is the "1980 Landmines Protocol." Thirty-six countries are parties to it. The United States signed the document, but has not yet ratified it.

The Protocol was formulated to protect civilians from the effects of mines during times of war. For instance, there are rules regarding the protection of civilians from direct and indiscriminate attacks; precautions must be taken to minimize civilian injury from mines directed toward military targets; and the proportionality principle must be applied so that anticipated military advantage outweighs the expected civilian harm. There must exist special regulations for remotely delivered mines and booby traps; mine location information must be recorded and disclosed so as to assist in postwar de-mining; and there has to be international cooperation in the removal of mines.

Despite all of the advantages which the Landmines Protocol had hoped to bring to civilians in warring nations, this agreement has fallen short.

Theoretically, the Landmines Protocol did not consider the fact that mines are delayed action mechanisms that may not detonate while a war is occurring, but which may explode many years after peace has resumed.Often more civilians get injured than do military personnel. When planting a mine, one cannot know whether it will hit a military or civilian target. Because of this failure to differentiate between targets, landmines are illegal under customary humanitarian law.The Protocol's complexity, discretionary language, and broad exceptions and qualifications limit its actual utility.

Disregard Of Proportionality

The Landmine Protocol has many practical failures. The likely harm often surpasses the expected military gain, in direct disregard of the proportionality principle. When a commander must estimate proportionality, it is in fact nearly impossible to do so because he or she cannot predict who will be the one to detonate a mine, or whether during a war or afterward. Furthermore, since the enactment of this Protocol, even the most modest restrictions have not been complied with. Accurate recording and mapping of mine locations for postwar de-mining efforts has been practically nonexistent. This is one of the biggest concerns for Bosnia-Herzegovina, where 2-4 million mines have been randomly scattered with no records of their existence.

Because the Landmines Protocol has been so poorly applied and generally ignored, the United Nations has sought specific moratoriums by which countries voluntarily agree to bind themselves. In 1992, the United States passed the "Landmines Moratorium Act," which placed a one-year ban on all U.S. exports, sales, and transfers of anti-personnel mines. This moratorium was extended in September 1993 for an additional three years. Similar export moratoriums were passed by Belgium, France, Germany, and Sweden. In 1993 the U.N. General Assembly called for a global moratorium on the export of anti-personnel mines.

But Some Progress In Canada

In Canada on Jan. 17, 1996, Defence Minister David Collenette and Foreign Minister André Ouellet jointly announced a moratorium on use, production, and export. This moratorium goes further than that of the U.S. because it includes both the use and production of landmines. It does not, however, totally ban mines; Canadian soldiers will continue to use them during training.

Because of the blatant disregard of the Landmines Protocol, the only hope for mine-infested countries was that the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) might bring what the Protocol had failed to achieve - a total ban on the use of anti-personnel mines.

The relevant CCW session took place over two weeks in April/May of this year in Geneva. It was a review conference on the 1980 Weapons Convention (including the Landmines Protocol) that "was originally convened as a result of international recognition that anti-personnel mines were claiming an ever-increasing toll in civilian life and that the 1980 Landmines Protocol had been a complete failure." Unfortunately, the document signed on May 3 makes no significant improvements and even encourages the production and use of a new breed of landmines.

This new document was negotiated by delegates from 53 countries and deals specifically with anti-personnel mines. The new CCW protocol will be added to the 1980 Weapons Convention, part of which is the Landmines Protocol.

Under this new CCW protocol, as long as the country intending to use landmines states that the "primary" role of the mine would be for military purposes, the mine is no longer deemed indiscriminate and can therefore be used and exported. Also, an anti-tank mine which has an anti-handling device or is booby-trapped would normally be considered an anti-personnel mine. Under the new protocol, however, anti-tank mines are not considered as such and would therefore not be prohibited. The result will be great potential harm to humanitarian de-mining teams, as well as to civilian populations.

The sale of either undetectable or "dumb" mines would be prohibited, as "smart" mines are instead being encouraged. While "smart" mines are programmed to explode or deactivate themselves within a given period of time, some such mines have failed to do so. Besides, even "smart" mines that operate efficiently are unable to discriminate between a civilian or a soldier and are therefore contrary to international humanitarian law. Furthermore, "internal disturbances" are exempt from the Protocol while "internal conflicts" are applicable; the state gets to decide under which category to classify the conflict.

The CCW decided to prohibit all-plastic, undetectable anti-personnel mines, but is allowing countries nine years in which to phase out these banned weapons. Also, the new CCW Protocol lacks strict enforcement mechanisms; countries are left to decide on their own whether to abide by the restrictions.

For many people around the world, the new Protocol from the CCW has made no improvements and has possibly even worsened the situation. Some experts believe that what these 53 delegates and the Convention did was find a place for anti-personnel mines within the constraints of humanitarian law, rather than acknowledge that these mines fall outside such laws, as they are both indiscriminate and lack proportionality. Nonetheless, even if one believes the new document will solve the landmine crisis, during the nine-year phase-out period approximately 260,000 more people will be killed or injured before the Protocol's key provisions are complied with.

Silvija Jaksic is a recent graduate of Erindale College, University of Toronto.


1 Initiatives Fact Sheet, U.S. Initiatives for Demining and Landmine Control, Dispatch V6, Issue 6, May 30, 1994: 72.
2 Kevin M. Cahill, ed. Clearing the Fields (New York: Basic Books, 1995) p. 3;Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighborhood (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) p. 130; Paul Lewis, "Red Cross to Urge U.N. to Adopt a Ban on Land Mines," in The New York Times Feb. 28, 1994, p. A6; Initiatives, op cit. p. 2; Lester Brown, State of the World 1995 (New York: Worldwatch Institute, 1995), p. 156.
3 Initiatives, 1994:1.
4 Donovan Webster, "One Leg, One Life at a Time," in The New York Times, Jan. 23, 1994, p. F28.
5 Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, 1993:35.
6 ibid.
7 Cahill, pp. 21-22; Webster, p. 6.
8 Brown, p. 156.
9 Cahill, pp. 21-22; Paul Koring, "Canada Seeks to Set Example with Land-Mine Moratorium," in TheGlobe and Mail, Jan. 18, 1996, p. A4.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1996

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1996, page 8. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Silvija Jaksic here

Peace Magazine homepage