Every year, landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people — most of them children, women and the elderly — and severely maim countless more. Scattered in some 78 countries, they are an ongoing reminder of conflicts which have been over for years or even decades. Yet despite this random carnage, they continue to used as weapons of war.
According to an article by Nicolas E. Walsh and Wendy S. Walsh in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2003:
Landmines and unexploded ordnance result in significant musculoskeletal injuries throughout the world. In every conflict since 1938 antipersonnel mines have been used extensively, often resulting in death or injury to non-combatants, and have accomplished only limited military objectives.
In recent years, mines have been used increasingly as weapons of terror against local civilian populations in an attempt to isolate them or force them from their communities by depriving them of access to farmlands, roads, and even necessities such as drinking-water and firewood.
The antipersonnel mine is small and is set off either by a trip wire or a pressure switch that requires minimal pressure (typically 6 kg). It is designed to maim or kill anything that comes into contact with it, which often includes civilians, children and animals. Unfortunately, antipersonnel mines have a long life span: they can kill and maim indiscriminately for decades.
Many mines remain from the Second World War. In addition, since the 1960s as many as 110 million mines have been spread throughout the world into an estimated 70 countries. In addition to antipersonnel mines, submunitions such as bomblets delivered by air or artillery, multipurpose weapons, and unexploded ordnance should be regarded as mines. These submunitions are often more difficult to identify and clear than mines.
Landmines are unaffected by cease-fires or peace. The only way to deactivate them is by individual removal at a cost of US$ 300–1000 per mine. Even with training, mine disposal experts expect that for every 5000 mines cleared one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.
Modern technology has been able to make plastic mines that are smaller and less detectable. Mines cost between US$ 3 and US$ 75 to produce. Unfortunately, their small size, design and often colour make them very attractive to children, who may pick them up thinking they are toys. Remote delivery methods, such as dropping them by aircraft or artillery, has increased the random, unmapped dissemination of antipersonnel mines, primarily into rural areas where unsuspecting victims have no idea they are there. …
Approximately 80% of these casualties are civilian. … Children are more likely to die from landmine injuries than adults … It is estimated that 50% of victims die within hours of the blast, many of them never reaching medical care that may be hours away on the back of a camel or over bumpy roads in a truck. …
[As for those who live]: Developing, war-torn countries … lack systems for rehabilitation service delivery, trained rehabilitation professionals, financial and technical resources and a vocational rehabilitation system. … WHO reports that almost all developing countries have some rehabilitation services, but that such services generally reach less than 5% of the people with disabilities in the community.
Today, some 14 UN agencies, programmes, departments and funds are active on the ground in mine-related service. They find and destroy landmines and explosive remnants of war, assist victims, teach people how to remain safe in mine-affected areas, destroy stockpiles, and encourage universal participation in the Mine-Ban Convention. United Nations peacekeeping operations often play a key role in this process.
The mine-related activities of the UN system are coordinated by the UN Mine Action Service. It assesses and monitors the threat posed by mines and unexploded ordnance on an ongoing basis, and develops policies and standards. The Service mobilizes resources, and advocates in support of the global ban on anti-personnel landmines. It is also responsible for providing mine-action assistance in humanitarian emergencies and for peacekeeping operations.
The UN has been actively engaged in addressing the problems posed by landmines since the 1980s. It acted decisively to address the use of weapons having indiscriminate effects when it sponsored the 1980 Inhumane Weapons Convention. In 1996, that Convention was strengthened to include the use of landmines in internal conflicts and to require that all mines be detectable.
Eventually, a growing public outcry, combined with the committed action of non-governmental organizations involved in the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL), led to the adoption of a comprehensive global agreement.
The landmark 1997 UN Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Mine-Ban Convention) bans the production, use and export of these weapons and has nearly universal support. As of September 2008, it had 156 States parties.
A United Nations International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action is observed every year on 4 April.
Mine deaths and injuries over the past decades now total in the hundreds of thousands.
Excerpt from the Landmine Monitor Report 2008