Mine Action: Mine Action & Peacebuilding Processes

Mine action is widely regarded as an essential component of peacebuilding, yet the relationship and practical implementation of activities often reveal a complex dynamic fraught with unintended consequences (both positive and negative). The first part of this section examines the relationship between mine action and international humanitarian law, as it is through this framework that landmines have been declared an illegitimate weapon that causes unnecessary injury to civilians both during and after conflict and the practice of military demining has shifted trajectory to also address the well-being of civilians living in mine-affected regions in a post-conflict environment.

Mine action expert Ted Paterson notes, "Large mine action programs were first established in countries in the midst of, or just emerging from, anarchic complex emergencies. . . . The international community responded (sometimes with a distinct lack of enthusiasm or success) with a combination of humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping missions."1 Mine action would often occur in post-conflict environments where social structures, government authority, and civil networks were also damaged or non-existent.

If peacebuilding affects the three sectors of security, development, and politics, then mine action has broadened its activities over the years to encompass most of these domains, albeit unevenly. Although the process of integrating mine action with other technical peacebuilding activities"disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, small arms and light weapons reduction, and economic and social recovery"has been poor, there has been an increasing push to develop more guidelines and cost-effective measures for cooperation to improve performance in the field. 

Mine action and international humanitarian law

Multilateral arms control processes have achieved minimal success in recent years despite pressing political imperatives. However, the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Mine Ban Convention) represents one of the few exceptions where the reframing of an arms control issue to a humanitarian perspective helped to break down the once rigid partition between hard security issues and humanitarianism.

The Mine Ban Convention is often seen to embody a mixture of arms control and international humanitarian law in that it highlights the need to consider arms control and disarmament from a human security perspective because of the potentially devastating effects of the misuse of weapons on people. The success of the Mine Ban Convention has spurred other similar initiatives, such as the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.

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Early efforts to regulate landmines

The first efforts to ban landmines originated from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which tried to reinvigorate the tradition of international humanitarian law discussed above. The ICRC convened a series of seminal experts meetings in the mid-1970s to examine different types of conventional weapons that required particular legal regulation. The first meeting, which was held in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1974, specifically examined weapons that would cause unnecessary suffering or have indiscriminate effects. Another meeting, held in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1976, reached a consensus on a ban on undetectable fragments and a prohibition on incendiary attacks against civilian areas. It also called for an agreement on minimum standards rather than an all-out prohibition. France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom introduced a proposal to regulate landmines and booby traps.2 

Responding the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1974-1977s, recommendation that it convene a meeting no later than 1979 to pursue agreements on the prohibition or restriction on the use of specific conventional weapons, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly launched two preparatory conferences in 1978 and 1979 that led to the UN Conference on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (also known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, or CCW).

Don Hubert, a scholar of the landmines issue, notes, The 1980 CCW and its three annexed protocols on nondetectable fragments, landmines and booby traps, and incendiary weapons represented the first formal ban on conventional weapons since the 1899 Hague Declaration banning dum dum bullets.3 Protocol I called for an absolute ban on non-detectable fragments. It was not very significant, however, as the likelihood of such weapons being developed or becoming part of a states arsenal was low. Protocol II prohibited the indiscriminate use of landmines and booby traps, and placed a modest restriction on remotely deliverable mines. Finally, Protocol III prohibited the use of incendiary weapons against civilians and was the most stringent of the three protocols. States that signed on to the CCW were obliged to accept two out the three annexed protocols. By 1990, only 31 states had committed to the CCW.

Despite these advances, anti-personnel (AP) mines were still readily available and used in conflicts throughout the 1980s in Afghanistan, Angola, and Cambodia. Hubert argues that the landmine problem was due not only to a lack of widespread ratification of the CCW but also to the CCWs failing to cover internal armed conflict.4 Moreover, the Convention focused more on the military than the humanitarian aspects of the weapons.

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Terms and conditions of the Mine Ban Convention

In December 1997, states convened again in Ottawa, Canada, to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (the Mine Ban Convention or Mine Ban Treaty). As of April 2008, there are 155 States Parties to the treaty. Despite broad support for the treaty, the United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan still have not signed on.5 The Convention clearly states that its goal is to eliminate anti-personnel (AP) mines by prohibiting their development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and use, including smart mines, which were permitted under the amended Protocol II to the CCW.
General Obligations of the Mine Ban Convention

Article 1
General obligations:
(1) Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances:
  (a) To use anti-personnel mines;
  (b) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, anti-personnel mines;
  (c) To assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.
(2) Each State Party undertakes to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.

Source: The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Geneva: United Nations, 1997).

The Convention does leave a number of possible loopholes. Human security scholar Fen Hampson notes that despite the fact that smart mines are covered by the treaty under Article 2.1, mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a vehicle (instead of a person), which are equipped with an anti-handling device, are not considered AP mines.6 Critics argue that by permitting the use of anti-handling devices, the Convention leaves a loophole, allowing civilians to continue to be injured by such mines.

The Mine Ban Convention represents one of the few instances where the efforts of civil society and like-minded middle power states were able to create an international public good"a legally binding international arms control agreement"outside of the UN framework and without the critical support of major powers. The process is also regarded as an example of middle power multilateralism.

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The Convention on Cluster Munitions

Although cluster munitions were brought up during the conference of experts organized by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1976, only 13 countries focused on the lethality of these weapons and their impact on civilians. The problem of cluster munitions almost entirely fell out of sight, except for advocacy work by the Mennonite Central Committee (along with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in Laos) and Human Rights Watch requesting a moratorium on these weapons.

The renewed interest in cluster munitions can be attributed to the international success of the anti-personnel (AP) mine ban campaign and the Ottawa Convention, which highlighted the unacceptability of weapons detonated by innocent victims either directly or indirectly. The Cluster Munitions Process, or the Oslo Process, which began in February 2007 in Oslo, Norway, with 46 countries pledging to establish a legally binding instrument that would prohibit the use and stockpiling of cluster munitions that might cause unacceptable harm to civilians and would secure adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and clearance of contaminated areas. Subsequent meetings on this issue were held in Peru (May 2007), Austria (December 2007), and New Zealand (February 2008). One hundred and seven countries negotiated and adopted a treaty to ban cluster bombs and provide assistance to affected communities in 2008 in Dublin, Ireland. The new convention was opened for signature in Oslo on December 3, 2008.7 

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Mine action as part of peace and security

Mine action is typically listed as part of the security domain, next to issues such as disarmament and demobilization, small arms and light weapons collection and reduction, and security sector reform. There has been a tendency among donors to consider mine action by its activities"the reduction or elimination of the weapons of war and the prevention of deaths and injuries, as well as the reduction of insecurity"rather than its impact, which has a wider scope than just the security sector.

Mine action, disarmament, and demobilization

As the Mine Ban Convention obliges States Parties to destroy stockpiles and prevent the use, production, and transfer of anti-personnel (AP) mines, mine action contributes to the reduction of military weapons and of perceptions of insecurity. The clearance and destruction of landmines indirectly ties into the disarmament process of peacebuilding.

Mine action also has been used as a confidence-building tool in disarmament, demobilization, reinsertion and reintegration (DDR). The demobilization of fighters during post-conflict peacebuilding is closely linked to mine action activities. In Afghanistan, former combatants took part in mine action projects as part of the national DDR program, with many clearing mines in their own communities. . Mine action expert Kristian Berg Harpviken notes, In the Afghan context, it has been argued that, by providing alternative employment to men who had largely been engaged in the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s, the mine action program prevented their recruitment by armed groups in the 1990s.8
Go to Case Studies: Afghanistan: Involvement of NGOs

The experiences in the buffer zone in Cyprus, in southern Lebanon, in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, in Thailand, and in Nicaragua are all examples of how mine action was used to help promote confidence between parties. In most cases, however, the reality is that mine action programs run parallel to DDR programs, with little or no coordination.
Go to Disarmament, Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration

Mine action and small arms and light weapons reduction

Aside from recognition that mine action and small arms and light weapons (SALW) are both concerned with human security, there has not been any significant effort to link the two sectors. SALW and mine action are considered different issues with separate constituencies of policy makers and practitioners. The Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) do point out that if a demining program is taking place at the same time as a SALW survey, the information from the general mine action assessment and landmine impact survey may provide valuable information to the SALW program.9

In 2004, the United States Department of State asked the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) to conduct a study on possible synergies between mine action and SALW. The report suggests that the rule of law, victim assistance, stockpile destruction, and advocacy are areas in which mine action and SALW reduction activities could establish greater coordination and collaboration. However, international and national legislation controlling the production, transfer, possession, and use of SALW is different from that of landmines. Whereas all countries consider SALW to be a vital part of their national security, the same cannot be said for landmines. Export control legislation and the capacity to implement tougher export control regimes is another area that could apply to both landmines and SALW. At the same time, the report points out that mine action and SALW are already operating at full capacity and struggling to reach agreed targets within their own thematic areas.10 Nonetheless, organizations such as MAG, Halo Trust, and Danish Demining Group have provided SALW collection and destruction services as part of post-conflict recovery programs.

Mine Action versus SALW Control

Mine Action SALW Control
  • Mine risk education (including ERW);
  • Humanitarian demining (i.e., mine and unexploded ordnances surveying, mapping, marking, and clearance;
  • Stockpile destruction;
  • Survivor assistance (including rehabilitation and reintegration); and
  • Advocacy.
  • Stockpile management and security;
  • Weapons collection and disposal (including destruction);
  • Marking, tracing, and record-keeping;
  • SALW awareness;
  • SALW surveying;
  • Cross-border controls;
  • Legislative and regulatory reform systems (including on civilian possession and official use and misuse/inappropriate use of firearms);
  • Export, import, and transfer controls (including brokering controls);
  • Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration; and
  • Advocacy (survivor assistance).
  • Source: United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), Scoping Study on Mine Action and Small Arms Control within the Framework of Armed Violence and Poverty Reduction (Geneva: UNIDIR, September 2006).

    Mine action and security sector reform

    Security sector reform (SSR) activities tend to privilege internal security sector capacity building. Training of police and other security forces in weapons registration and safe storage can improve police-community relations. Mine action also may be instrumental to reconciliation, being a key component of the effort to tear down old divisions and to make it possible for parties who may have been involved in serious atrocities to live together. Generally, cooperative activities and processes of transitional justice are the primary mechanisms here, and mine action may contribute to both.11 Although there is a lot of potential overlap between DDR and SSR activities, specific programs that link mine action and SSR appear to be few in number.

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    Mine action as part of development, socio-economic reconstruction, and reintegration

    The revised 1999 Guidelines for Mine Action Programs from a Development-Oriented Point of View (the Bad Honnef Framework) places the mine action sector squarely within the broader framework of peacebuilding activities. The document recommends that mine action be integrated into the national and local peacebuilding framework and suggests activities where mine action could support peacebuilding processes, including in socio-economic sectors.
    Mine Action Programmes as part of Peace-building
    • Mine action programmes are part of national reconstruction and development programmes guided by the goal to create a community empowerment, social confidence and a development-oriented civil society.
    • Mine action programmes are part of peace building programmes. Beyond victim assistance, they should take into consideration the need for fully reintegrating refugees, displaced persons, and demobilised soldiers. There should be no discrimination of ex-soldiers, particularly of victims of mine accidents and other war disabled.
    • The participation of diverse social groups in mine action promotes both the sustainability of programmes and national reconciliation. The success of reconciliation, particularly among war victims, is an indicator of progress.
    • Efforts on the part of the victims (and their dependants) to establish a reparation fund, and financial aid such as pensions, should be supported. States are required to draw up and implement appropriate legislation regarding war victim and disabled rights, including the rights of veterans.
    • Mine action programmes require the creation of national data management systems including archives, mine related records, Geographical Information Systems, and national-wide databanks. Data should not only cover planted and stockpiled mines but also victims, internally displaced, demobilised soldiers. Comprehensive data collection and transparency with free access for all participants needs to be assured.
    Source: German Initiative to Ban Landmines, Mine Action Programs from a Development-Oriented Point of View (The Bad Honnef Framework) (Berlin: German Initiative to Ban Landmines, 1999).

    It is now widely acknowledged that landmines are a major hindrance to development, especially for countries recovering from conflict. Landmines prevent civilians from accessing fundamental resources such as land, water, housing, infrastructure, and transport routes. The decision concerning which fundamental resources to make accessible first can be a highly contentious one.
    Go to Case Studies: Mozambique: Humanitarian demilitarization

    Since there are many stakeholdersinvolved in the mine action process, priority setting inevitably leads to clashes of interest. The use of socio-economic criteria and comprehensive impact surveys has helped to some extent in the management of mine action programming priorities. (Go to Security and Public Order: Mine Action - Actors and Activities) The role that mine action can play in the long-term development of post-conflict regions concerns fostering a conducive environment for the normalization of life and livelihoods for civilians, opportunities for income generation, and the reintegration of both former combatants and civilians. 

    Mine action and psycho-social recovery

    Victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) accidents suffer not only physical injuries but also psychological trauma. The very nature of their injuries means they have to recuperate and readjust to life, possibly without the use of one or more of their limbs or senses. Without sufficient or appropriate support, victims may end up begging to support their families, experience divorce, ostracism, or be excluded from schooling. Psychological or psycho-social assistance to victims of severe trauma is largely neglected, especially in post-conflict countries. There are very few, if any, state-run rehabilitation facilities in developing countries (at best, countries have some artificial limb-fitting centers). Psycho-social support is rarely a component of government services, and the resources for other institutions to provide such support are lacking.12  Go to Psycho-Social Recovery: Introduction

    Economic recovery

    In most mine-affected countries (generally post-conflict environments), unemployment rates are high as a result of general economic problems, so instituting equal rights and employment of victims is even more challenging. But, as ICRC has written, amputees believe that employment in victim assistance services helps them regain their dignity and that it has a positive impact on other amputees and on combating social stigma. Programs for social reintegration of victims aim to improve the economic status of the disabled population through education, economic development of community infrastructure, and creation of employment opportunities. The World Rehabilitation Fund (WRF) has compiled a set of guidelines for socio-economic integration of landmine survivors to help them become productive community members and contribute to their families livelihood.13 In addition, demining (as well as informal village demining), stockpile destruction, and other aspects of mine action can create medium- to long-term employment for former combatants and assist them in reintegrating into society.14
    Go to Case Studies: Cambodia: Village demining and Economic Recovery Strategies

    Reintegration of returning refugees and internally displaced persons

    The return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the aftermath of post-conflict settlements, as in Afghanistan or Bosnia, has always been marked with an increase in mine-related mortalities, as civilians attempt to return to their homes. Suspected mine- and UXO-infested areas represent a multi-faceted challenge in post-conflict peacebuilding environments. The mines and UXO adversely impact the everyday activities of the populations living within those areas, limiting their movement and access to basic necessities. In effect, people are denied the right to life, physical integrity, socio-economic development (including adequate food, the means of production, and access to potable water), access to adequate mental and physical health, access to education and safe working conditions, and adequate housing (for IDPs and refugees). The increase in mine-related injuries also puts a strain on overburdened and poorly functioning health services. The types of injuries incurred present a complex public health challenge. Moreover, mine victims put a heavy demand on hospital blood banks, which have been difficult to supply and maintain in post-conflict environments.15 In addition, physical insecurity, inaccessible roads, and land use issues inspire little confidence in any governments attempts to return to normality.  Go to Psycho-social Recovery: Reconciliation and Economic Recovery: Community (Economic) Reintegration

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    Mine action as a political process

    A narrow focus on the technical aspect of demining has led some proponents to advocate for a more political role for mine action in peacebuilding. Harpviken argues, however, that there are some drawbacks to politicizing mine action. By making explicit the potential for mine action to play a political role in peacebuilding, one risks defeating the purpose, since it is exactly the ability to depoliticise the landmine problem that gives mine action its potential.16 Mine action can be a politically sensitive issue in many countries recovering from conflict. Its activities require the support of local and national officials and of mine-affected communities. Moreover, mine action needs to take into consideration political structures (or lack thereof), as well as institutional, historical, cultural, political, and economic factors. 

    Politicizing how priorities are set

    The process of figuring out what should be cleared first is always politically contentious. Often, decisions to clear essential locations such as roads, wells, and transit routes become a matter of providing some communities with access to essential locations over others.

    Shifting power relations and community dynamics

    As mine action takes place gradually, the presence of mines in communities over long periods of time means that land use and power relations may change, which means that mine action may return cleared land to communities that have changed in various ways. In the past, mine action only aimed to return land to communities in a non-contaminated state and did not seek to address developmental or social issues. Yet, the unintended consequences of mine action have caused the sector to become more broad-based in its intervention. For example, in some cases, opium poppies have been cultivated on cleared land in Afghanistan. In Cambodia, the expropriation and hijacking of cleared land by local interests (elites or military) has occurred. Thus, mine clearance is no more neutral or automatically beneficial than other interventions.

    Mine action as a confidence-building process

    As noted in the DDR section above, mine action activities has been incorporated in some post-conflict countries as part of the process of fostering confidence among the various parties to a conflict, as well as in order to secure the commitment to peace.
    Go to Mine action as part of the peace and security: Mine action, disarmament, and demobilization

    Fostering cooperation among warring parties

    In some cases, deminers have been allowed to clear landmines while the conflict is still ongoing. In Sudan, for example, the Sudan Landmine Information and Response Initiative (SLIRI) was established to collect information on the landmines problem, to build capacity, and to promote cross-conflict dialogue on the necessity of mine action.

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    Gender considerations

    The gender dimension of mine action is often overlooked in planning activities. Despite the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, which recognizes that women are particularly affected by the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel (AP) mines, recognition of the diverse needs to men, women, boys, and girls within a society has not been carefully considered in mine action until recently. Several factors may affect a womans ability to access mine risk education. For one thing, illiteracy is higher among women and girls than among men and boys. Obligations of childcare and restrictions on communication with unrelated males can present a temporal barrier to accessing mine risk education. In addition, while males constitute the majority of mine victims, women are at particular risk when performing traditional tasks, such as collecting water, firewood, and fodder, in mined areas.

    Some NGOs have incorporated a gendered perspective into their planning and programming on an ad hoc basis. In 1996, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) began hiring and training women deminers. To this extent, an all-female mine action team was established in Cambodia. In Angola, the Mines Advisory Group held women-only meetings to ensure womens priorities for mine clearance were heard. Also, the womens association, Collectif des Femmes Actrices du Développement et de Défense des Droits de lEnfant, Femmes et Mères dAfrique in the Democratic Republic of Congo runs a sensitization program for provincial and district-level leaders on dangers related to landmines. Recognizing the need for a more systematic mainstreaming of gender in mine action activities, UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) conducted a gender study in 2004 that resulted in a set of gender guidelines for mine action. More recently, the Swiss Campaign to Ban Landmines published further guidelines on how to ensure mine action programs incorporate a gender-sensitive approach, based on the UNMAS gender guidelines.17 Although there have been numerous rhetorical statements about the need to consider women in mine-affected regions, little analysis and documentation is available in this area.

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    Fostering local ownership

    To ensure the most effective and appropriate response to the landmine threat, UNMAS activities promote national ownership, institution building, and capacity development and are contingent on adherence to the core requirements of the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). The primary responsibility for mine action lies with the government of the mine-affected state. This responsibility should be vested in a national mine action authority that is charged with the regulation, management, and coordination of a national mine action program within national borders, including the development of national mine action standards, standing operating procedures, and instructions.
    Go to Implementation Challenges: Capacity building in mine action

    1. Ted Paterson, "Is Mine Action Making a Difference . . .  or Avoiding the Question?" in Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges (Geneva: Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, November 2005), 311.
    2. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Draft Rules for the Protection of the Civilian Population from the Dangers of Indiscriminate Warfare (Geneva: ICRC, 1960), 277-78; Maslen, Commentaries on Arms Control, 15-16.
    3. ICRC, Draft Rules, 277-78; Maslen, Commentaries on Arms Control, 15-16; Don Hubert, "The Landmine Ban: A Case Study in Humanitarian Advocacy," Occasional Paper 42, Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies (2000), 5.
    4. Ibid.
    5. Brian Rappert, A Convention beyond the Convention: Stigma, Humanitarian Standards and the Oslo Process (London: Landmine Action, May 2008), 8­-9.
    6. Ibid.; Hampson, Promoting Safety of Peoples, 93.
    7. For further details, see http://www.clusterconvention.org/.
    8. Harpviken and Skåra, Humanitarian Mine Action.
    9. United Nations Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (UN-DDR) Resource Center, Integrated Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) (New York: UN-DDR Resource Center).
    10. Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), Identifying Synergies between Mine Action and Small Arms and Light Weapons (Geneva: GICHD, 2006).
    11. Ibid.; Harpviken and Skåra, Humanitarian Mine Action.
    12. Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), Mine Action: Lessons and Challenges (Geneva: GICHD, November 2005), 177-78.
    13. Ibid., 179.
    14. Although the United Nations recognizes village demining, it does not encourage the practice, as demining and explosive remnants of war clearance undertaken by local inhabitants require some form of regulation to mitigate the risk.
    15. Christopher Horwood, Humanitarian Mine Action: The First Decade of a New Sector in Humanitarian Aid, RRN Network Paper 32, Overseas Development Institute (March 2000), 5.
    16. Alan Bryden, "Optimising Mine Action Policies and Practices," in Security Governance in Post-conflict Peacebuilding, ed. Alan Bryden and Heiner Hänggi (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2005); Harpviken and Skåra, Humanitarian Mine Action, 818.
    17. Swiss Campaign to Ban Landmines, Gender and Landmines: From Concept to Practice (Geneva: Swiss Campaign to Ban Landmines, 2008).

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