TODAY -

LANDMINES : Some Basic Fact

By Binalakshmi Nepram *



History:

  • Landmines were originally developed as a countermeasure against tanks.
  • The early versions were relatively large, pressure-activated devices which were easily detected and removed by the enemy.
  • In response, anti-personnel mines were developed as a deterrence mechanism to keep enemy mine clearance away from the larger and more detectable anti-tank devices.
  • An anti-personnel mine is a device "designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person that will incapacitate, injure, or kill one or more persons," according to article 2 of the Ottawa Treaty that bans these mines.
  • They were first used on a wide scale in World War II, where they were used defensively to protect strategic areas such as borders, camps, or important bridges and to restrict the movement of another force.
  • A key characteristic of the weapon is that it's designed to maim rather than kill an enemy soldier. The logic goes that more resources are taken up caring for an injured soldier on the battlefield than dealing with a dead soldier.
  • After a while anti-personnel landmines began to be deployed on a wider scale, often in internal conflicts and started being aimed at civilians. They were used to terrorize communities, deny access to farming land, and restrict population movement.


The Problem
  • Anti-personnel landmines do not discriminate between a soldier's footfall and that of an innocent child or farmer.
  • Since these weapons recognize no ceasefire and remain lethal for decades after hostilities have ended, landmines leave a deadly and long lasting legacy wherever they are set. It makes little difference if one landmine or one thousand landmines are planted in a community, as the fear and uncertainty created in both cases is debilitating.
  • As a result, the placement of a single landmine will terrorize and paralyze a community for decades, creating a culture of fear and limiting mobility and access to productive resources in the community


The Victims
  • Even if someone survives a landmine explosion, they will not wake up to an easy life:
  • Landmine injuries are horrific, consistently involving the loss of one or more limbs, and often causing blindness or severe injuries to the victim's reproductive organs.
  • These injuries are complicated by the crude way in which a landmine explosion takes place.
  • In addition to blowing off a limb, when a landmine explodes, it will often propel other materials, such as shrapnel, dirt, and the victim's own shoes into the wound, infecting it and preventing a clean amputation. This leads to further infections and the need for future surgery.
  • For these victims, their loss of mobility is further compounded by a new inability to work, degradation of their own body image and the loss of confidence and independence.


Military Perspective
  • Many soldiers, including high-ranking leaders worldwide, have called for a ban on antipersonnel mines. Military arguments for outlawing antipersonnel mines:
    • Their military value is questionable: they do not lend much advantage on the battlefield and they kill your own soldiers
    • Alternatives exist
    • They violate International Humanitarian Law and the Rules of War
    • Long-term humanitarian consequences far outweigh any possible military utility
    • For more information regarding this argument please see "Anti-personnel Landmines. Friend or foe? A study of the military use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines. http://www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/p0654


Ottawa Treaty and the Movement to Ban Landmines
  • The Ottawa treaty is part of the international response to the humanitarian crisis caused anti-personnel mines.
  • Recognizing the severity of this man-made problem, the world voluntarily came together in 1997 and negotiated the Ottawa Treaty, an international agreement banning the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personal mines and requiring their destruction.
  • Currently, 156 nations have signed the treaty, yet this is not enough, as the treaty's goal is universal compliance.
  • What makes the treaty such a unique achievement is the fact that it marks the first time that countries -through International Humanitarian Law- have agreed to comprehensively ban a weapon already in widespread use.
  • Thirty nine countries, with a combined stockpile of some 160 million anti-personnel mines, remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty. They include three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, Russia and the United States), as well as many Asian states, some of the Middle East and some of the former Soviet states.
  • The movement is led by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a network of over 14,000 groups in over 90 countries who work locally, nationally, and internationally to eradicate antipersonnel landmines.
  • The ICBL and its coordinator at the time, Jody Williams, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 in recognition of its achievements


The Indian Situation
(According to the 2007 Landmine Monitor Report)

India's Mine Ban Policy
  • India has not yet acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty
  • India has often expressed support for "the ultimate objective of a non-discriminatory, universal and global ban on anti-personnel mines" but believes that the weapon still plays a legitimate defensive role.
  • A perceived willingness to engage with the issue has occurred in the past five years:
    • 2004: India attended the First Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in Nairobi as an observer (India's first participation in a Mine Ban Treaty-related meeting since 1997 agreement).
    • 2005: India participated in the treaty's intercessional Standing Committee meeting in Geneva from June 13-17, 2005. The government has been regularly participating in the Standing Committee meetings since.
    • 2006: Senior Indian Defense officials met with a visiting Canadian delegation specifically to discuss the landmine ban issue. A proposal for a joint moratorium with Pakistan on the use of anti-personnel landmines on their common border, as part of confidence building measures, provoked a positive response from senior officials.
    • 2007: Indian Government representative sent as an observer to the 8th Meeting of States Party.
  • India is a member of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) which is much more limited in scope relating to landmines. It prohibits:
    • The use of non-detectable anti-personnel mines and their transfer
    • The use of non-self-destructing and non-self-deactivating mines outside fenced, monitored and marked areas


Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

  • India is one of a small number of countries still producing anti-personnel mines, all of which are vested with government agencies.
  • India maintains that it has never exported or imported antipersonnel mines.
  • The Landmine Monitor has estimated India's stockpile total of antipersonnel mines to be between four and five million, which would be the fifth largest in the world. India has neither confirmed nor denied this estimate.


Use

  • The government's last major use of anti-personnel mines took place between Dec 2001-July 2002 when the Indian Army deployed approximately two million anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines along the border with Pakistan.
  • India has repeatedly stated that it "has never taken recourse to using mines for maintenance of Law and Order or in internal Security situations, or even for combating the menace of terrorism".
  • Non-state armed groups have been using antipersonnel mines, anti-vehicle mines and, most commonly, improvised explosive devices.


Mine Clearance

  • All de-mining activities are carried out by the Indian army.
  • On August 30, 2004 India reported that "99 percent" of the mines laid during Operation Parakram on and near the India-Pakistan border had been recovered, and the remainder were in the process of being removed. However, as mines shift due to natural conditions, mines remain in these locations.


Casualties

  • There is no comprehensive data collection mechanism on Indian landmine casualties. It is believed that many civilian casualties are not reported due to the remoteness of the communities in mine-affected areas.
  • It is very difficult to determine what casualties are caused by mines, as opposed to unexploded ordinance (UXO) or improvised explosive devices (IED)
  • According to the Chairman of the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on defense, the Army de-mining forces suffered 1,776 casualties due to mines, UXO and IEDs between December 2001-April 2005 (375 killed, 1401 injured).
  • There were at least 107 new casualties reported in 2006 from landmines and 524 new casualties of explosive devices .


Mine Risk Education

  • Mine Risk Education (MRE.) involves informing the communities in mine-affected areas of the dangers posed to them by landmines, and warns these community-members of unsafe practices, restricted areas, and dangerous activities.
  • In 2005-06, Mine Risk Education was conducted in India through the Indian government and various NGOs such as:
    • The Indian Red Cross (with technical and financial support from the International Committee for the Red Cross)
    • The Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament and Environmental Protection
    • The Society for All Round Development


Survivor Assistance

  • While India has a system of free medical care for all citizens, in rural areas the quality and availability of services can be problematic:
    • First aid generally isn't available
    • Mine survivors in these villages reportedly have no access to physiotherapy or prosthetics services
    • The government has indicated support for the rehabilitation of mine survivors, including provision of prostheses, financial grants and assistance with economic reintegration but it is not know if any mine survivors have benefited from these services.
    • The International Coalition of the Red Cross began supporting the prosthetic/orthopedic department of Jammu Government Medical College to help meet the needs of persons with disabilities in the border areas
    • The ICRC also subsidized the formal training of two technicians in prosthetics and orthotics
    • The Indian army opened an artificial limb repair center in Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir.
    • There are other NGOs operating in India assisting persons with disabilities, but none dealing with the unique rehabilitative needs of landmine survivors.


What are the Needs in India?

1. Survivor Assistance - There is a need for vocational training, psycho-social support, artificial limb replacement, and community sensitization for the survivors of landmine injuries and their families, in order to re-integrate them back into their societies in a dignified manner.

2. Advocacy- India is yet to join the Treat, to which 156 countries are signatories. Until that happens, advocacy continues to be a priority.

3. Mine Risk Education - While no new landmines have been planted by the government in India since Operation Prakaram in 2001-2002, many rural villagers along India's border are still at risk, as they do not know how to identify landmines, what to do if they see landmines, or which fields remain mine-affected. As a result, the need for proper MRE remains. There has also been continued use of IEDs by non state groups throughout in India.

Sources for Additional Research

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines
www.icbl.org

The Landmine Monitor
www.icbl.org/lm

The International Committee of the Red Cross
http://www.icrc.org/

Mines Action Canada
www.minesactioncanada.org

Landmine Survivors Network
www.landminesurvivorsnetwork.org

Landmine Action UK
www.landmineaction.org

Handicap International
www.handicap-international.org

Human Rights Watch
www.hrw.org

UN Mine Action Service
www.mineaction.org


* Binalakshmi Nepram is the founder of 'Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network'. She can be contacted at BNepram(at)cafi-online(dot)org
This article was webcasted on 4th March 2009 .


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