Mine Action Standards Must Adapt to Evolving Conflict Stresses Assistant Secretary-General, as Delegates Recount Explosive Horrors
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution today, by which the General Assembly would urge all States affected by landmines to identify all areas under their jurisdiction or control containing anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war, as it concluded its consideration of assistance in mine action.
By other terms of that draft (document A/C.4/72/L.12), approved without a vote, the Assembly would also urge support for mine-affected States through assistance in developing mine action capacities; support for national programmes; and reliable, predictable and timely multi-year contributions for mine action activities. It would also urge States to provide necessary information, as well as technical, financial and material assistance to locate, remove, destroy and otherwise render ineffective minefields, anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war.
The Assembly would also, by further terms, urge States to provide humanitarian assistance for victims of anti-personnel mines while striving to spare civilians. It would stress the importance of cooperation and coordination in mine action, and emphasize the primary responsibility of national authorities in that context, while also stressing the supporting role of the United Nations.
Before action on the draft resolution, Alexandre Zouev, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, delivered a statement on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Jean-Francois Lacroix in the latter’s capacity as Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action.
Mr. Zouev emphasized the importance of adapting mine action standards to evolving methods and devices used in conflict, and said that the draft resolution reflected realities on the ground. Mine action was a critical component and driver of humanitarian action, crucial for building peace and accelerating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said. Noting that the dynamics of the Organization’s deployments had adapted to the evolution of conflict, he said individuals and communities received mine-action assistance even in the midst of active hostilities. In Iraq, the United Nations was supporting the Government’s stabilization efforts in areas liberated from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Despite falling anti-personnel mine casualty numbers, however, there had been a 40 per cent rise in the number of casualties recorded in 2016 resulting from the full range of devices, he said. “The world cannot afford complacency,” he stressed.
Libya’s representative said his country had suffered much damage from anti-personnel mines and unexploded remnants of war since its occupation by Italy and during the world wars waged on its territory. Today, mines were again affecting civilians, he said, highlighting the situation in Benghazi. That city still suffered the effects of anti-personnel mines planted in houses and populated streets from which people had been evacuated, he said, adding that mines and unexploded remnants of war had killed entire families following their return.
The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic said explosive remnants of war had become a daunting challenge to his country’s socioeconomic development after the war in Indochina, and continued to kill and maim innocent people.
Japan’s delegate stressed that humanitarian actions could not, in fact, be undertaken without mine action. The representative of the European Union delegation pointed out that the draft’s humanitarian dimension was particularly strengthened by its reference to humanitarian access and its inclusion of mine action in humanitarian appeals.
Austria’s representative expressed concern about reports of recent use of anti-personnel mines in Myanmar, which was not a State party to the Mine-Ban Convention. As President of that instrument, Austria had asked the Government of Myanmar to clarify the situation and consider an independent fact-finding mission with international participation.
Also speaking today were representatives of Poland, Thailand, Egypt, Germany, Canada, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, China and Saudi Arabia.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 2 November, to take up the effects of atomic radiation. It will also conclude its general debate on special political missions, and to take action on related draft resolutions.
ALEXANDRE ZOUEV, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, delivered a statement on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman in the latter’s capacity as Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action.
He said 2017 was particularly significant for mine action because it marked the twentieth year since the creation of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and of the Coordination Group. Since the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction — commonly referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty — more than 51 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed and 30 States parties had completed their clearance obligations. One of the most important achievements had been the dramatic drop in the number of anti-personnel mine casualties over the past 20 years, he said, citing Afghanistan and Colombia as having seen a notable decline in the number of victims.
He went on to commend the global leadership, innovation and creativity of the Mine Action Service, noting that it had recently received the Secretary-General’s recognition as well as other honours. Emphasizing the importance of adapting mine action standards to evolving methods and devices used by parties in conflict, he said United Nations programmes were also achieving high levels of adherence to the Gender Guidelines for Mine Action Programmes, resulting in a growing number of women being employed in that sector at various levels.
The draft resolution on mine action reflected realities on the ground, he said, urging humanitarian action to clear improvised explosive devices. Mine action was a critical component and driver of humanitarian action, crucial for building peace and accelerating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. More than 185 square kilometres of suspected contaminated land had been rendered safe from anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war in 2016, he said, adding that over 140 hospitals, 220 schools and almost 500 markets had therefore been made safe from contamination by explosive hazards.
Noting that the dynamics of the Organization’s deployments had adapted to the evolution of conflict, he said individuals and communities received mine-action assistance even in the midst of active hostilities. In Iraq, the United Nations was supporting the Government’s stabilization efforts in areas liberated from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), he said, adding that water and electricity had been restored to Mosul shortly after the end of the conflict there, following explosive hazard assessments at more than 270 electricity and water sites. Despite falling anti-personnel mine casualty numbers, however, there had been a 40 per cent rise in the number of casualties recorded in 2016 resulting from the full range of devices, he said. “The world cannot afford complacency,” he stressed.
JESÚS DÍAZ CARAZO, European Union delegation, said the regional bloc was the leading donor of financial assistance to mine action, but its effort alone was not enough; combined assistance by international actors could increase the impact of different kinds of support, he noted. Turning to the draft resolution on assistance in mine action, he said it would play a crucial role in reaffirming the normative framework for humanitarian mine action activities carried out by the United Nations system. The draft’s humanitarian dimension was strengthened in particular by its reference to humanitarian access and its inclusion of mine action in humanitarian appeals, he said. Furthermore, the text addressed concerns about the impact of mines on refugees and displaced persons, he said, adding that it also recognized the contribution of mine action to the 2030 Agenda.
BOGUSŁAW WINID (Poland), associating himself with the European Union, noted that the draft resolution called upon States to ensure they were in compliance with their international mine action obligations. Recognizing the contribution of mine action to the 2030 Agenda, he said consultations had led to streamlined terminology on explosive devices and strengthened clarity relating to the text’s humanitarian aspects. With 2017 marking the twentieth anniversary of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty and the United Nations Mine Action Service, he said, Poland hoped the draft resolution would contribute in practical ways to efforts in the field of humanitarian mine action.
KITTITHEP DEVAHASTIN NA AYATHAI (Thailand) said assistance in mine action was “not a stand-alone policy” but rather, an essential component of the Organization’s work, which cut across diverse issues of peace, security, humanitarian assistance and development. Thailand was committed to the Mine Ban Treaty and to the goal of mine-clearance, he said, adding that it was also active in assisting mine victims, having integrated that aspect into the broader legal framework as well as national plans and programmes for persons with disabilities in general. In addition, Thailand had accorded priority to promoting mine risk education in order to reduce the potential for injury from mines and unexploded ordnance by raising awareness, he said, reaffirming his country’s commitment to ending the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines.
AHMED ELSHANDAWILY (Egypt) said landmines had posed a significant challenge over the past 70 years, with more than 22 million of them having been left in his country after the Second World War. Egypt exerted substantial efforts in clearing landmines, but still experienced major technical challenges, he said, adding that it needed advanced detection and clearance technologies capable of accurately locating landmines. The Government was fully aware of the humanitarian ramifications associated with the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines, and for that reason, it had applied a voluntary moratorium on the transfer and production of mines to any other State. Turning to the Ottawa Convention, he expressed regret that its final text lacked acknowledgment of responsibility for removing landmines placed on Egyptian territory on the part of the States involved in planting them. Furthermore, the Convention’s time frame for demining was extremely difficult to meet, especially for States like Egypt, he pointed out.
SOULIKONE SAMOUNTY (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) recalled that more than 2 million tonnes of bombs had been dropped on his country’s territory during the war in Indochina, including approximately 270 million sub-cluster munitions of which 30 per cent had failed to explode on impact. Explosive remnants of war had therefore become a daunting challenge to the country’s socioeconomic development and continued to kill and maim innocent people, especially in rural areas, he said. A huge amount of resources was required to clear them, including public awareness campaigns and assistance for victims. With assistance and collaboration from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others, the clearing of unexploded ordinance had officially begun in 1996, he recalled. Under a multilateral project signed with UNDP recently, six humanitarian demining operators and 13 private companies were active in the sector, he said, adding that bilaterally, the Government was working closely with countries such as the United States, Japan, Norway, China, India and others that had provided surveying, clearance and mine risk education, among other forms of assistance.
KOJI MIZUMOTO (Japan), pointing out that his delegation was a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the draft resolution, said that in the face of expanding violent extremism and terrorism, the threat of explosive hazards was growing. The diversification of explosives devices, improvised explosive devices in particular, demanded a different approach. Humanitarian actions could not be undertaken without mine action, he said, adding that Japan had made assistance to mine action one of its diplomatic priorities, and was proud to be the second largest State contributing to the cause. He went on to underline the importance of triangular cooperation, including South-South cooperation, comprehensive support to victims, risk education, partnerships and gender mainstreaming.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, said that despite meaningful progress in mine action, much work remained. Recalling that his country had held the presidency of the Cluster Munitions Convention in 2016, he said it had focused on initiating dialogue with States that had not yet joined that instrument, among other things. Germany was proud to be one of the main donors to mine action. He went on to note that large amounts of legacy contamination remained in many countries and current conflicts had led to new contamination, much of it consisting of improvised explosive devices.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS GRANT (Canada) said that although significant progress had been made in demining, much work lay ahead before the goal of a mine-free world by 2025 could be attained. In many cases, contamination was the work of non-State actors with no regard for humanitarian principles, he said, pointing out that mines continued to cause devastating casualties and prevent civilians from returning after conflict. Canada supported an evidence-based approach that would respond better to the needs of those affected and prioritized gender equality in mine action, he said, emphasizing that, as a donor to mine action, his country would ensure that programmes were adapted to local realities and aligned with key principles.
MUSTAPHA ABBANI (Algeria) said his country had acceded to various conventions related to anti-personnel mines, based on its commitment to disarmament and international humanitarian law. In September, it had completed the final stage of destroying its remaining stockpile, totalling 5,970 mines, which had been kept for training purposes, thereby fulfilling its international commitments as a party to the Mine-Ban Convention, he said. As for the humanitarian aspect of the Ottawa Convention, Algeria had cleared its territory of anti-personnel mines dating back to the colonial period, he said, noting that its efforts had succeeded in destroying 9 million anti-personnel mines, thereby enabling the launch of development projects in contaminated regions. Moreover, the Government had worked to rehabilitate and ensure the social and professional reintegration of those with disabilities resulting from anti-personnel mines. He noted that the Secretary-General’s current report referred to a 40 per cent increase in casualties from anti-personnel mines between 2014 and 2016, due to a rise in the number of armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In that regard, he emphasized that mine action helped to prevent conflict by clearing devices, disposing of them and preventing their use in constructing new weapons.
ESAM BEN ZITUN (Libya) said his country had suffered much damage from anti-personnel mines and unexploded remnants of war since its occupation by Italy and the world wars waged on its territory. Today, mines were again affecting civilians, he noted, paying tribute to United Nations efforts to raise awareness about dealing with mines among the returning population of Sirte after that city’s liberation. Highlighting the situation in Benghazi, he said it still suffered the effects of anti-personnel mines planted in houses and populated streets from which people had been evacuated. Following the return of the displaced, mines and unexploded remnants of war had killed entire families, he said, noting that the mine detonators were connected to cell-phones and disguised as unexpected objects. Noting that such technology was developed locally, he expressed hope that the United Nations would investigate the situation and provide lessons for all States. Those killed and maimed during the clearing of mined areas included civil defence forces whose primitive resources could not match the sophisticated technology used in the devices, he said, adding that he looked forward to further coordination among Libyan authorities, the Mine Action Service and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), with a view to providing the necessary technology and securing the safety of all technicians and experts involved.
Mr. HAMADI (United Arab Emirates) recognized that landmines caused huge damage to infrastructure and thwarted development efforts, making their eradication a prerequisite for sustainable development. Mine action played an important role in building confidence and peace, and for that reason, the United Arab Emirates supported mine action efforts and initiatives throughout the world. In Lebanon, for instance, it had carried out successful demining projects in coordination with UNMAS and the national military, he said. The United Arab Emirates had also actively participated in numerous relevant international meetings and conferences, and continued to work with regional and international partners to protect civilians, he said, adding that it would help to promote the ability of the United Nations to provide assistance on mine action.
HUANG DA (China) said mine action efforts should be carried out with due consideration for the national conditions and requirements of the recipient States. Highlighting the importance of enhancing the concrete effects of assistance in mine clearance, he said that as a former mine-effected country, China understood the concerns of mine action well, and was an active participant in international demining assistance. Through its own programme of international demining assistance, China had provided assistance to more than 40 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, he said.
GEORGE WILHELM GALLHOFER (Austria) expressed concern about the reported recent use of anti-personnel mines in Myanmar, which was not a State party to the Mine-Ban Convention. As President of the treaty banning landmines, Austria had asked the Government of Myanmar to clarify the situation and consider an independent fact-finding mission with international participation, he said, reminding delegates that the success of the Mine-Ban Convention rested on the “fragile cooperation” among States, civil society and international organizations. Together with the Convention’s next and previous presiding delegations, Austria had tabled the traditional draft resolution on its implementation in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), which had approved the text, he noted.
MOHAMMED MUNIS (Saudi Arabia) said his delegation would provide a written statement.
Action on Draft Resolution
The Committee then took up the draft resolution “Assistance in mine action” (document A/C.4/72/L.12), approving it without a vote.