The recently concluded negotiations at Oslo to ban anti-personnel mines are part of the Ottawa Process, begun in October 1996 when 50 States pledged to work together for a total ban on APMs by December 1997. Princess Diana's interest in the welfare of landmine victims and the award of this years' Nobel Peace Prize to the U.S. based International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and its coordinator, Jody Williams, have put the ban on APMs high on the world's human rights agenda.
The recently concluded negotiations at Oslo to ban anti-personnel (land) mines (APMs) are part of the Ottawa Process, begun in October 1996 when 50 States pledged to work together for a total ban on APMs by December 1997. The Canadian initiative is a ‘fast track’ approach, parallel to the involved negotiations in progress at the United Nations under the “Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices” to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). A third approach to the vexed issue of banning APMs is the yet to be fully articulated initiative under the Conference of Disarmament (CD) at Geneva.
APM statistics are indeed grotesque and the enormity of the damage and human suffering caused by them is only now beginning to be widely known. Princess Diana’s interest in the welfare of landmine victims and the award of this years’ Nobel Peace Prize to the U.S. based International Campaign to Ban Land Mines and its coordinator, Jody Williams, have put the ban on APMs high on the world’s human rights agenda. Approximately 110 million APMs are strewn across vast areas in 71 countries Afghanistan and Cambodia with about 10 million and Angola with over 15 million are the most severely affected. It has been estimated that APMs claim almost 2,000 victims every month, of whom 800 are killed and 1,200 are maimed for life.
Each year about 100,000 mines are cleared while two million new mines are laid so that, for every mine cleared 20 new ones are planted. With the present resources available in the world. it would take over 1,000 years to clear all the APMs —provided no new mines were laid.
What is not so well known is that most of the APMs have been and are being laid by “non-state actors” i.e. the terrorist and insurgent groups and the private militias of ethnic warlords. APMs, which cost between $3 and $30, are being indiscriminately laid in intra-state conflicts by opposing groups as a relatively inexpensive method of denying passage over large areas of ground to their opponents. It is these non-state actors who must be denied access to the procurement of APMs and the technology for their manufacture. However, it must be stated that APMs, particularly improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are low- tech weapons which can be assembled in a car garage with screw driver technology.
The proposed global ban on APMs, seeks to ban APMs even during armed conflict. The US joined the Oslo conference only at the last minute to avoid being isolated on this emotive issue and set several pre-conditions, including the right to maintain APMs in Korea for nine years, before agreeing to be a party to the proposed ban on the use manufacture and sale of APMs. Other US demands included the right to use landmines during war and exemption for self-destructing smart mines (usually aerially delivered) which explode within 48 hours and, hence, pose no long-term dangers. The Oslo conference rejected all three US demands and the US has decided to opt out of the treaty for the time being.
At the heart of the US position is the US Army’s insistence that a militarily effective alternative to APMs be found before these weapons can be discarded from the inventory. APMs are deployed during war to deter enemy attacks on prepared defensive positions. Negotiating a minefield requires special techniques which slow down the momentum of the assault and enable the defender to cause greater attrition to the attacker. Also, APMs are used as an anti-lifting measure to protect anti-tank mines.
APMs as well as anti-tank mines are laid systematically by regular armies. Detailed records are kept of the layout of each minefield to ensure that no one strays into them accidentally. After the war is over, the minefields are physically cleared and the land is made safe for the farmers to till again.
India has thousands of kilometres of disputed, unsettled land borders with its neighbours. The use of APMs is an inescapable operational necessity for the Indian Army. Of course, APMs have been laid by the Pakistan Army also along the LoC.
The present convention to ban APMs does little to ameliorate the suffering of thousands of civilians who have already been maimed or to reduce the risk to future generations from the millions of APMs which have been indiscriminately strewn across vast areas of lands stricken by ethnic and ideological intra-state conflicts. Besides the US, Russia, China and Pakistan have also opted to stay away from the proposed treaty. While the effort to sign a treaty at Ottawa in December 1997 is indeed commendable, in its present form the ban on APMs is merely a ‘feel good’ convention. The total elimination of APMs would require an international consensus with verification measures and the acceptance of responsibility by the largest manufacturers and exporters of APMs to bear the cost of their removal and destruction. Only then would the ban be truly humanitarian.