print preview

Humanitarian demining

Mine action can look back on great successes. Since the end of the Cold War, more than 30 countries have been completely cleared of mines, and in 10 countries all the remnants of cluster munitions have been removed. Today, affected communities are also better informed about the dangers, and accident victims are better cared for. Despite this progress, anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war (unexploded ordnance, abandoned ammunition, improvised explosive devices) still claim thousands of casualties every year. The end of an armed conflict does not necessarily bring immediate relief to the population since mines and other unexploded ordnance remain active. 

Switzerland has been committed to mine action for over 30 years, helping those affected as part of its humanitarian duty. The Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention), in force since 1999, has been ratified by 164 countries, including Switzerland. The country also belongs to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention). As a major player in the international community, Switzerland fosters the development and implementation of these instruments under the overall heading of Humanitarian Mine Action.

The DDPS’s main role in mine action is to provide expertise. Based on the principle ‘helping people to help themselves’, the DDPS seeks to build and deploy local capabilities, i.e. clearance capacities and management and leadership structures, through providing the necessary skills.

The Swiss Armed Forces provide specific support by deploying specialists as part of military peacebuilding for UN mine action programmes. At present, it is supporting four field programmes in Africa, which are run by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the UN headquarters in New York and Geneva. Those deployed are conscript volunteers and civilian and military professionals, who carry out their work unarmed and in civilian clothes. Their work makes a visible and vital contribution to humanitarian demining.

Conscript personnel are engaged primarily in the fields of logistics and information management. For this reason, Armed Forces personnel with civilian vocational qualifications and experience in the fields of logistics, IT (e.g. databases and geographical information systems) or with similar training are recruited.

A mix of basic military knowledge, leadership experience and expert knowledge is essential for these deployments. The work requires soldiers, NCOs and officers who are able to work independently in an international team, to communicate in English and/or French and to perform in an intercultural environment. The deployments require physical and mental resilience, but promise unique and unforgettable experiences. They usually last a year, but may be extended.

Almost all civilian and military professionals deployed to mine action programmes come from the Swiss EOD Centre in Spiez. These specialists support mine clearance capacity building on the ground by providing training, quality control and mentoring.

After successful selection, the newly recruited specialists must pass various training modules, including security training by SWISSINT and technical training by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) or the UN.

Switzerland’s political and operational activities are defined in the 2023–26 Mine Action Plan. Its main goal is to provide substantial impulses in the field to prevent further victims and to improve the living conditions of those affected. The annual federal budget for this is around CHF 17-18 million. A further focus is on the effective implementation of, and the compliance with existing instruments of international law and on using the synergies between development cooperation and mine action. In addition, Switzerland seeks to be proactively involved from the beginning in developing new instruments and concepts and in addressing new topics.

Switzerland takes a ‘whole of government’ approach to the various mine action tasks. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), for example, focuses primarily on victim assistance, prevention and building local capacities, while the FDFA’s Peace and Human Rights Division supports mine clearance projects and financially supports the GICHD. The FDFA also has a lead in policy making.

Together with the GICHD, the DDPS particularly supports projects relating to information management (IMSMA, Information Management System for Mine Action), international standardisation (IMAS, International Mine Action Standards) and quality management. Every year, together with the GICHD and as part of the Partnership for Peace programme (PfP), it also organises introductory and refresher courses on mine action.