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20 years fighting against anti-personnel mines: Successes and challenges

20 years ago, the Ottawa Convention on the comprehensive ban of anti-personnel mines came into force. To date, 164 countries have ratified the Convention. Switzerland was one of the first signatories and has since been active in the fight against anti-personnel mines.

04.04.2019 | Robert Amsler, Head Mine Action Unit

KAMBODSCHA TEMPEL MINEN WARNSCHILD
© KEYSTONE / AP Photo / David Longstreath

Until 1999, the use of anti-personnel mines was quite the norm; today it is the exception. As a direct result of the Ottawa Convention, this shows how successful the Convention has been. The treaty's 164 member states no longer use, stockpile, produce or transfer anti-personnel mines. Since the Convention came into force, large areas have been cleared of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war. To date, over 55 million anti-personnel mines have been destroyed worldwide, clearing 31 countries previously affected.

The Swiss Confederation's commitment

Over the past 20 years, the Swiss Confederation has contributed an average of CHF 18 million a year to humanitarian demining efforts, following three approaches in accordance with its strategy:

  • demanding the comprehensive implementation of existing international agreements;
  • clearing contaminated areas, providing mine risk education and victim assistance;
  • building local capacities to strengthen and improve local efforts.

In addition, Switzerland founded the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) in 1998, and has provided financial support to the GICHD ever since. The GICHD is globally recognized as the leading centre of mine action expertise and knowledge.

New challenges

Despite these great achievements, the job is not yet done: people in 61 states are still suffering from the consequences of anti-personnel mines. The recent increase in the number of victims, the use of improvised explosive devices and the uncertainty as to whether displaced persons will ever return to their countries have become major concerns.

Increased number of casualties

The number of victims has again risen significantly in the last five years and is currently at the height it was 20 years ago. One of the main reasons for this development is that improvised explosive devices, which act like anti-personnel mines, are used in current conflicts.

Furthermore, worldwide improvements in data collection, which is now far more comprehensive, have led to more transparency and to many more victims being recorded statistically today than 20 years ago.

Uncertain return after expulsion

Increasingly, civilian populations are actively drawn into conflicts. Conflict parties, such as the terrorist group 'Islamic State' in Syria and Iraq, attack the population directly and kill, mutilate and expel civilians.

In current conflicts, large swathes of land, entire towns and villages are deliberately mined in order to inflict damage on the returning population, thus barring access to much needed humanitarian aid and paralysing reconstruction. This also impedes the return of displaced persons and further aggravates the refugee crisis.

The price of success: a dangerous alternative

Thanks to the Ottawa Convention, global industrial production of anti-personnel mines has practically ceased. Simultaneously, however, conflict parties have developed an alternative: improvised explosive devices. They are easy and cheap to manufacture and are suitable for mass production. It is possible, for example, for inconspicuous everyday objects such as refrigerators or children's toys to be transformed into improvised explosive devices.

This presents a major challenge to mine clearance specialists: unlike conventional anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive device clearance teams are unable, at first glance, to determine how improvised explosive devices are constructed; blueprints do not exist.

These circumstances make the disposal of such explosive devices extremely dangerous and slow down the clearance of contaminated towns and villages, further delaying the return of refugees.

The extension of war

Anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war cannot simply be turned off. They remain active for decades after conflicts have ended. Even today, explosive remnants from both world wars are still being uncovered on European construction sites, just as 30 years after the civil war, fully functional anti-personnel mines are still being found in Mozambique.

Mine clearance: not a "never ending story"!

The 20-year fight against anti-personnel mines has done a lot of good. Thanks to the international community's effort, people can safely use their land again. In addition, thanks to 20 years of experience and technical expertise, more countries will soon follow and be mine-free.

The international community is aware that it has to continue its commitment in the field and at an international political level. Mine clearance will become a "finite story" if the political will to continue the commitment is maintained and the necessary resources are made available.

Switzerland continues to contribute actively

Switzerland will remain committed to work for a world in which people no longer fall victim to anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions or explosive remnants of war, and in which sustainable development that meets the needs of those affected is possible.

In order to achieve this goal, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) take the form of interdepartemental cooperation in what is known as a "whole of government approach".

The video: "Humanitarian Demining" clearly shows the current challenges and the successes achieved around the world in the past 20 years. It can be watched on youtube.com/schweizerarmee.

 

Humanitarian Mine Action

01

Twenty years after mine action first became an international topic, considerable progress on the road towards achieving a mine-free world has been made. Large areas have been cleared, new standards and international norms have been introduced while new international legal instruments have been created and implemented. Switzerland is a committed actor that makes important contributions to the relevant processes.

Read more