The Mine Ban Treaty: How the world decided to bury the use of mines

The Mine Ban Treaty: How the world decided to bury the use of mines
A Landmines and Cluster Munition Monitor report revealed that land-mine casualty rates have been on the rise since 2015, with 6,897 people killed or maimed in 2018. (AFP)
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Updated 03 April 2023

The Mine Ban Treaty: How the world decided to bury the use of mines

The Mine Ban Treaty: How the world decided to bury the use of mines
  • Although the agreement has reduced land-mine casualties, it has not protected civilians from devices laid by non-state armed groups

LONDON: On Dec. 3, 1997, representatives from 122 countries met in Ottawa, Canada, to establish an agreement that would eradicate the use of land mines in the hope of protecting civilian lives and facilitating the recovery of conflict-ridden regions.

By August 2022, 167 nations had ratified or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, formally dubbed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

“The Mine Ban Treaty was a ground-breaking instrument when adopted in 1997,” Jared Bloch, communications manager at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), told Arab News.

“It shifted the disarmament narrative towards human security, put victims at the center of the discussion, and provided a template for subsequent disarmament treaties,” he added, highlighting that since the Treaty’s adoption, “the number of people killed and injured by land mines has decreased dramatically.”

In 1992, six NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, joined forces under the umbrella of the ICBL-CMC to address the issue of land mines. Due to their impact on civilian lives, the group’s conclusion was that the best solution was to get rid of antipersonnel mines completely.

Owing to the efforts of the ICBL-CMC and several states, the treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines and obliging authorities to clear affected lands, destroy stockpiles and support victims.

The ICBL-CMC works with members to raise awareness of the impact of mines and cluster munitions on local communities, and to advocate for government adoption and implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions’ objectives.

Land mines date back to as early as 120 BCE, but their first use in modern history was during the American Civil War, according to the Federation of American Scientists’ website. But they really entered public consciousness as a serious problem following their extensive deployment during World War II. A 1993 paper entitled “The Cowards’ War: Landmines and Civilians” stated that “Germany, Italy, Britain and France laid between five and 19 million mines in North Africa alone.”

And these hidden explosive devices have become a growing threat across the Middle East and North Africa, with Yemen, which signed the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 and ratified it in 1998, being one of the region’s most contaminated countries.

“Despite the fact that Yemen, since March 1999, has been a party to the Ottawa Treaty — which bans the use of antipersonnel land mines, warring parties — namely the Houthi militias, have not complied with the treaty and, instead, extensively laid antipersonnel mines, in blatant violation of the agreement,” Fares Alhemyari, executive director of the Yemeni Landmine Records, which comprises a group of volunteers who document land-mine casualties across the country, told Arab News.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has said that Yemen “was the first Arab country to destroy its stockpile of antipersonnel mines completely,” but the current conflict has reportedly seen the Houthis plant thousands of mines across several governorates.

“Yemen was close to officially declaring itself a mine-free zone in early 2014, after years of efforts to clear affected areas, but the return of violence at the end of that year sent the country to point zero,” said Alhemyari. “Today, (Yemen) is one of the world’s most contaminated regions.”

Claiming that over two million mines had been laid across areas previously controlled by Houthi militants, Nabil Abdulhafiz, Yemen’s deputy minister of human rights, told Asharq Al-Awsat in April 2022 that it would take approximately eight years to clear affected lands.

And since being a signatory of the Mine Ban Treaty did not guarantee the protection of civilians against the threat of explosive ordnance, land mines and unexploded munitions, civil society organizations, supported by the relevant NGOs, took up the mantle to push for the elimination of these devices.

“Ensuring involvement of land-mine and cluster-munition survivors in advocating for their rights and needs is at the heart of our work,” said the ICBL-CMC’s Bloch.

“A good example of how civil society organizations contribute to eliminating (the) use of land mines by non-state actors is the work of our member Geneva Call,” he continued. “The organization has facilitated dialogue and negotiation with, and declarations by, non-state groups stating commitment to the principles of international humanitarian law and publicly renouncing the use of mines as indiscriminate weapons.”

A Landmines and Cluster Munition Monitor report revealed that land-mine casualty rates have been on the rise since 2015, with 6,897 people killed or maimed in 2018. This trend is in step with increasing large-scale violence across the world, including in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria. 

For this reason, “the Mine Ban Treaty continues to be incredibly relevant today,” according to Bloch.

“Extensive mine use by a small number of states outside the treaty, including Myanmar, Russia and Syria, and non-state armed groups in conflicts in Colombia, Yemen, and elsewhere means a prolongation of this terrible legacy of killing and maiming civilians; girls, boys, women and men,” he said.