Written by Agnes Amaral
An international problem:
The discussion about landmines and explosives remnants of war is relevant for several reasons. First, because it affects almost all the globe, even though it is more risky in some places. Secondly, there are several civilians who are victims of this problem. In this sense, addressing this problem and working together as a community is one way to deal with it. Above all, the importance remains on framing the issue as a humanitarian problem.
The “Landmine Monitor 2022” by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines offers an amount of information and data about antipersonnel mines that explode from the presence or contact of a person. It is an unstable explosive item used in wars and conflicts, from the past or nowadays. You could say that it is an almost invisible problem since citizens are often unaware that they are walking through areas with landmines. From citizens working on farms to students walking to school, this weapon is fearful in various communities.
There are discussions about how to solve this problem. One of them is the removal of mines already laid in places of conflict. The other is the non-production of these products. It is necessary to stop their use, transport, and stockpiling of these weapons. In this context, a treaty (the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty) was created to provide guidance on how to mitigate the issue. Both governments and non-state actors implement these measures and ensure their effectiveness. It has been more than 25 years since the signature of the Mine Ban Treaty.
Despite decades, there is still a need for significant efforts to clear lands with landmines. There is still debate about the transparency of the States Parties in disclosing information about these locations, especially about the continued production of those weapons. The report states that in 2021 alone, more than 2,100 people were killed by approaching landmines, and nearly 3,500 were injured. Even more aggravating is that more than three-quarters of these people were civilians.
One of the most significant challenges in applying and enforcing the rules against these weapons is their continued use by countries participating in contemporary conflicts, for example, Russia invading Ukraine. Even though it is not a participating country in the treaty, Russia uses landmines in a participating country. In addition, non-state armed groups also use these weapons as a source of hard power. The report mentions, for example, the use of landmines in at least five treaty countries, such as Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as India and Myanmar (which do not participate in the treaty).
A humanitarian intervention:
This is problematic in the sense that it affects citizens on a daily basis. In addition to the insertion of more explosives, people must deal with landmines left over from other wars. It is estimated that about 5,544 people have been killed or injured by this type of remnant explosive. The conflicts that are taking place only add to the increase in this number. For this reason, the issue of ending the use and production of landmines stands out as a humanitarian issue for urgent action. People who do not necessarily actively participate in these conflicts continue to live in these places with explosives planted.
We need an effective way to slow the pace of survey and clearance. And until we get a practical way to mitigate these explosives, humanitarian education actions are the most effective in combating the growing number of dead and injured citizens. Direct education is needed for the population living and working in contaminated areas and spaces in conflict, such as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Ukraine.
According to the report, risk education has been conducted in at least 30 States Parties during 2021, with clear examples of improved actions. In addition, the United Nations (UN) Protection Cluster has incorporated risk education as an action plan for humanitarian response in countries that lack such intervention. These plans combine ways to educate and warn the local population about the risks and the places that need to be vacated. The use of media is essential in disseminating this information, but it should not be the only one, as direct dialogue is more effective and more accessible for localities with less access to information via the internet.
In 2019, the Oslo Action Plan was adopted, which includes a session dedicated to risk education and action plans for State Parties to carry out in this regard. These actions include:
- Integrating risk education within broader humanitarian, development, protection, and education efforts and with other mine action activities;
- Providing context-specific risk education to all affected populations and at-risk groups;
- Prioritizing people most at risk through analysis of available casualty and contamination data and an understanding of people’s behaviour and movements;
- Building national capacity to deliver risk education, which can adapt to changing needs and contexts; and
- Reporting on risk education in annual Article 7 transparency reports.
Risk education has become the main pillar of humanitarian action against landmines. Although it is often overlooked or watered down by State Parties with little transparency, it is a humanitarian action that deserves recognition for mitigating casualties and preventing injuries.
The Monitor shows that in 2021, only 8 out of 22 State Parties have delivered effective data on risk education, with an explanation of the activities carried out and specified sex and gender differentiation data: Angola, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Thailand, and Zimbabwe. The other States Parties provided only less detailed information. They prioritized risk education according to the number of events by area, citizens’ proximity, and operators’ location.
Having transparent knowledge about the reality of the population in which risk education will be conducted is important. Issues such as gender, age, and people with disabilities are factors that change the approach and the knowledge to be passed on. In addition, it is necessary to have sufficient knowledge of the risk areas, the most affected groups, as well as the cultural activities and behaviour of these citizens. All these facts are essential in creating risk education programs.
For instance, there are some border regions with refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) where risk education must happen in camps and in host communities. While there are communities where children often grow up in contaminated areas but they do not have the knowledge of the risks. Children seem to be targeted for risk education in most of the States’ Parties.
Generally, gender is an issue to look at in global and humanitarian problems because women and girls tend to be the most affected in these situations. In the case of landmine-specific issues, the situation is the opposite. Monitor data shows that women and girls are less susceptible to dangerous behaviour because they tend to take care of household activities. While men and boys tend to be more responsible for travelling away from home, whether for hunting or other activities. But women and girls are still a risk group.
According to the Oslo Action Plan, there is a recommendation that the State Parties integrate risk education with broader humanitarian, development, and protection actions. This is because there are risk groups that need broader actions, for example, health programs for workers who work in contaminated areas, as happened in Afghanistan. These and other actions are essential for the population at risk.
The effort must also be directed at school children. This is because only a few States Parties have the risk program integrated into the school curriculum: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Expanding these programs and more integrated education is needed for all participants in the agreement and in all countries suffering from explosive mine problems. Children need to understand the dangers around them in order to avoid death and injury. The role of social and non-state actors in this regard is to oversee these implementations and reinforce the importance of caring for children and local citizens.
Although this issue is a problem specific to some localities, the number of citizens who are directly impacted by landmines and explosives has increased considerably. A problem such as this involves not only the removal of remaining mines but the production of these weapons and their use in conflicts, which is quite complex. The actors involved have various interests in the use and production of these weapons and often, humanitarian and educational actions seem to be diminished when faced with decisions made by state actors.
However, signing treaties and strengthening these rules can be effective in saving the lives of dozens of citizens. For this and other reasons, as global citizens, it is crucial to spread the word about the problem faced primarily by regions that are in conflict. Speaking out and spreading the word about this dilemma enables more non-state actors to learn about the victims of these operations. It also enables special actions, such as risk education, that protect local citizens. It is essential to point out that global information dissemination networks have the capacity to reinforce treaty decisions and pressure governmental agenda changes. In this sense, information exists as an artifice to combat such complex problems. Thus, information dissemination and risk education are valuable tools to protect and unify citizens.
 All information and data used here is from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor 2022 (ICBL-CMC: November 2022).
Featured image: JRS and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines: 25 years of the Ottawa Convention and 25 years of the Nobel Peace Prize – JRS.