The use of anti-personnel land mines by Russia and Myanmar triggered a surge in the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine and Myanmar last year, according to a new report by a land-mine monitor.
The report, published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, found that Russia, which is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty, “used antipersonnel mines extensively in Ukraine since its all-out invasion of the country in February 2022.”
The report also found evidence that Ukraine, which is a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, used anti-personnel mines in and around the city of Izium, in Kharkiv oblast, in 2022 when the city was under Russian control.
“This has created an unprecedented situation in which a country that is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty is using the weapon on the territory of a [treaty member],” said Mark Hiznay, associate arms director at Human Rights Watch and an editor of Landmine Monitor 2023. “In the 20-plus years [since the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted], this has never occurred before.”
Ukraine has previously said it would look into allegations in a Human Rights Watch report earlier this year detailing “numerous cases” in which Ukrainian forces deployed banned anti-personnel mines.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which is a global coalition of nongovernmental organizations chaired by Human Rights Watch, recorded 4,710 injuries and deaths in 2022, down from 5,544 casualties in the previous year.
“But there were significant increases in some countries, primarily Ukraine,” said Loren Persi, Landmine Monitor 2023 impact team lead. “In Ukraine, the number of civilian casualties recorded increased 10-fold from around 60 in 2021 to around 600 in 2022.”
The Monitor report says civilians accounted for 85% of casualties from land mines and exploded remnants of war last year, roughly half of them children. The highest number of casualties, 834, was recorded in Syria, followed by Ukraine with 608 casualties, and Yemen and Myanmar, each of which recorded more than 500 casualties in 2022.
Hiznay said that Russia began using landmines in 2014 in support of pro-Russian separatist forces in the contested Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
“Russia has made extensive use of land mines in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya,” he said. “I think they have supplied land mines to 35, 38 different countries over the years.
“Another factor we are noticing is wherever Wagner goes, land mines go,” he said, referring to the Moscow-financed Wagner Group militia. “We do not think that is a coincidence, particularly in Libya, where several new types of land mines were found and documented.”
Myanmar, he said, has been using anti-personnel land mines since 1999, but the magnitude and scope of the contamination is now different.
“It is just bigger,” he said. “You have more use by the government forces and more use by various nonstate armed groups. So, it is a lingering, festering problem that has just got worse in the past reporting period.”
The Monitor report indicates land mines were also used during the reporting period by nonstate armed groups in Colombia, India, Myanmar, Thailand and Tunisia, as well as in eight treaty members in the Sahel region.
Currently 164 countries have signed onto the Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
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The Monitor says that 30 states who are parties to the treaty have cleared all mined areas from their territory since the treaty came into force in 1999, leaving 60 countries and other areas contaminated. In addition, it notes that 22 states that are not party to the treaty and five other areas remain infested with these lethal weapons.
De-mining activists warn that the number of victims will continue to grow for as long as land mines remain in the ground. They say health care and physical rehabilitation services are seriously underfunded and unable to assist the many people who are disabled by these weapons, including in countries such as Afghanistan, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen.
“Alarming increases in the number of civilians killed and injured by recently placed mines in several countries further demonstrate the dire need for increased resources to ensure all the rights of the victims are addressed," said Persi.