Africa can do more to help eradicate landmines

Daniel Aghan

Ten years after the historic treaty banning anti-personnel mines became a binding international law, we still ask: Is it possible to have a mine free world?

To campaigners from all over the world, this is a ‘mission possible’. This week (February 23 to March 1) various activities have been planned in nearly 50 countries so that all humanity can once again reflect on the horrific consequences of landmines and to call for renewed efforts toward a mine-free world. Whereas the Mine Ban Treaty has made a major difference in mine-affected countries, too many people’s lives still remain impacted by uncleared minefields, too many mine survivors are denied decent living conditions, and too many mines are still stockpiled.

Activists are aware that pursuing a mine-free world is a long-term mission, but it can be done. States need to recommit themselves to doing everything in their power to end the suffering these weapons cause.

Kenya, though not directly affected by landmines, lies in a region that is, with war-torn Somalia being one of the countries yet to sign the treaty. Other countries, such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda, are still grappling with challenges on implementation.

The world still remembers that five years ago, Kenya hosted the first review conference, dubbed the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, showing the leadership on this issue. Now, she remains committed to promoting the treaty and fight against landmines in Africa and in the world.

Baying For Blood

However, Kenya is yet to formulate a national law on landmines. The issue is too grave to be handled casually, the way Kenya has done even after ratifying the treaty nearly five years ago. Besides, Africa has had a strong voice in the global landmine movement and has showed leadership in adoption and universalisation of the Mine Ban Treaty. Africa should step up efforts to rid the continent of landmines and help survivors.

To date, 156 states have joined the treaty and, as reported by Landmine Monitor, an initiative of the International Coalition to Ban Landmines, the stigma attached to the use of anti-personnel mines means that only two governments — Myanmar and Russia — and a handful of non-state armed groups used these weapons in the past few years. Some 42 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed from stockpiles since 1997; only 13 of the more than 50 countries that manufactured such mines in the 1990s still have a production capacity; trade in them has virtually stopped; and large tracts of land have been cleared and returned to productive use.

Belarus, Greece and Turkey failed to meet their four-year stockpile destruction deadline (March 1 last year) but have since indicated that they are committed to destroying their stockpiled mines as soon as possible. Some states have been unacceptably slow in fulfilling their mine clearance obligations, potentially putting thousands of civilian lives at risk.

Fifteen, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mozambique, Nicaragua, the UK and Yemen, had to ask last year for an extension of a ten-year deadline to clear mine-affected areas. Programmes to address the lifelong needs of mine survivors — estimated at almost half a million people worldwide — are still grossly inadequate in affected countries.

Thirty-nine countries have not yet formally joined the treaty and thus remain at odds with the widespread international rejection of the weapon.

Over the past decade we have seen elements of the new diplomacy that created the Mine Ban Treaty applied to tackle other issues, such as cluster munitions. However, as with the Mine Ban Treaty, the real value of agreements like the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be the difference it makes in the lives of people affected on a daily basis by these weapons, and how it will avoid new victims.

Despite the goodwill and continued partnership between civil society and governments, ensuring full compliance by Mine Ban Treaty members is an ongoing challenge. Kenya and other African countries, therefore, have their work cut out for them to help create a mine free world.

The author is the Communication and Advocacy Officer, Handicap International.