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Humanitarian demining

Since mine action became an international issue more than twenty years ago, significant progress has been made: new instruments of international law were created and are continually being implemented, mine clearing technology has been standardised and made more efficient and safer, large land areas have been demined and extensive stockpiles destroyed. Despite all this progress, anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war claim more victims every year. Furthermore, many people still suffer from the consequences of these weapons as they impede the social and economic development of the population as well as the establishment of a peaceful and politically stable order in the countries affected. 

The Mine Ban Treaty (‘Ottawa Convention’) became applicable for Switzerland in 1999. Switzerland has since been a major player in the international community’s commitment. The convention has now been ratified by 162 countries. Meanwhile, Switzerland has also become party to the Convention on Cluster. Switzerland fosters the development and implementation of these instruments under the overall heading of “Humanitarian Demining”. 

In its mine action engagement Switzerland applies the principle of ‘helping people to help themselves’. Essentially, this involves the use of indigenous resources – both for creating demining teams and for establishing management and leadership structures – and to sustainably teach the necessary expertise. Programmes are supported that are directly managed by the respective UN agencies: the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). 

Since the beginning, the DDPS has been providing specialists from the Swiss Armed Forces for UN mine action programmes. For this purpose, the Swiss Armed Forces rely on conscript volunteers as well as civilian and military professionals. Such specialists are still in demand and play an important role in UN demining programmes. Conscript personnel are engaged in the fields of logistics and information-management. Preferably deployed are conscripts with civilian vocational qualifications and experience in the fields of logistics, IT (e.g. databases, networks and GIS), or bookkeeping as well as business school graduates or persons who are similarly trained. 

A mix of basic military knowledge, leadership experience and expert knowledge is essential for these deployments. Therefore, soldiers, NCOs and officers are in demand as experts who are able to work independently in an international environment, to communicate in English and/or French and to perform as required in an intercultural environment. On the one hand, the deployments require physical and mental capacity, and on the other, promise unique and unforgettable experiences. The deployments are carried out on a civilian basis and usually last a year, but may be extended. 

Civilian and military professionals come almost exclusively from the centre of excellence for unexploded ordnance disposal, mine action and demining (NBC EOD CC) in Thun. These specialists are sent on missions where their specific expertise is required. 

Political and operational federal activities for the current legislative period are defined in the Confederation’s mine action strategy for the 2016–2022 period. The main goal is to provide substantial impulses on location, to prevent further victims and to improve the living conditions of the affected population. For this the Confederation provides some 16 – 18 million Swiss francs a year. There is also a focus on enforcing the application of existing instruments of international law and using the synergies between development cooperation and mine action. Apart from this, Switzerland wishes to actively participate from the beginning in the development of new instruments and concepts and in the integration of new topics. 

The Swiss Confederation differentiates between the various tasks related to humanitarian demining. It concentrates on its own area of assistance, while the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) focuses primarily on victim support, prevention and building local capacities. The Human Security Division of the FDFA promotes mine clearing projects in particular and gives financial support of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). The FDFA continues to take the lead in political issues and policy making. 

The DDPS also provides material support. In particular, special shaped-charge systems developed in Switzerland (known as SM EOD systems) have been provided. These disarming systems enable contact-free and therefore safe destruction of unexploded ordnance and mines. 

With the help of the GICHD, primarily projects relating to  information management (IMSMA, Information Management System for Mine Action), international standardisation (IMAS, International Mine Action Standards) and quality management are supported. Every year, together with the GICHD and within the context of the Partnership for Peace programme (PfP) the DDPS also organises introductory and progressive courses in mine action.