Landmines: One of our ugliest inventions

It is 20 years since the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was founded in New York in 1992. The Campaign was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its efforts to bring about the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Since then, it has been pressing for the words of that treaty to become a reality.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a global network covering over 90 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, in which survivors of these horrendous weapons can lead fulfilling lives.

In the past, more than 50 countries have produced antipersonnel mines, both for their own stocks and to supply others. Cheap and easy to make, it was said that producing one antipersonnel mine cost $1, yet once in the ground it can take more than $1,000 to find and destroy.

Thirty-nine nations have now stopped production, and global trade has almost halted completely. None of the 156 States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty produces landmines anymore. Unfortunately, 12 states not party to the treaty continue to produce (or have not renounced the production of) antipersonnel mines: China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

Governments have provided a record level of funding to rid the world of landmines, and more contaminated land has been cleared than ever before, according to the global report Landmine Monitor 2011. However, use of antipersonnel mines by states during 2011 surpassed that of any year since 2004, according to the report and some non-state armed groups or rebel groups in various countries are improvising equally lethal antipersonnel mines.

Three weeks ago Chile closed its main border crossing with Peru after torrential rain washed landmines on to the road. Officials did not say how many mines had been displaced by the downpour, but army bomb disposal experts detonated at least four devices. Chile planted thousands of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines along its northern border in the 1970s during a period of tension with Peru. In recent years it has been working to de-mine the area.

In the words of a United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children, landmines remain “an insidious and persistent danger.” Naturally curious, children are likely to pick up interesting objects, such as the infamous toy-like “butterfly” mines that Soviet forces spread by the millions in Afghanistan. In northern Iraq, Kurdish children have used round mines as wheels for toy trucks, and in Cambodia, children have used B40 anti-personnel mines to play “boules”.

Children are particularly vulnerable because they are too young to read or are illiterate, making signs posted to warn them of the presence of mines useless. Also, children are far more likely to die from landmine injuries than adults. And of those maimed children who survive – the vast majority in the global South – few will receive prostheses that keep up with the continued growth of their stunted limbs.

Celebrating its achievements, the ICBL noted: “We will continue to challenge the international community to reinvigorate its commitment to reaching a mine-free world, and to act to achieve this aim within years, not decades. But we also want this anniversary to celebrate the power of civil society as a driving force to make a real difference in the world, and promote the model of partnership between NGOs, governments and international organizations as the most effective catalyst for change.”

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One comment on “Landmines: One of our ugliest inventions

  1. Kate Wiggans says:

    Thanks so much for the post Philip, really nice little write up this….. Shared on our Facebook wall now. Best, Kate and all @ the ICBL.

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