Twofold Increase in Casualties from Explosive Hazards, Senior United Nations Official Tells Security Council, on First Anniversary of Landmark Resolution

SC/13406
29 June 2018
8304th Meeting (PM)

Twofold Increase in Casualties from Explosive Hazards, Senior United Nations Official Tells Security Council, on First Anniversary of Landmark Resolution

After years of decreases, casualties from explosive hazards were on the rise, the Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions told the Security Council today, as the 15-nation organ took stock of progress in implementing its first stand-alone text on mine action, resolution 2365 (2017).

Alexander Zuev, presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2018/623), requested in that landmark resolution, underlined that, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, over 8,500 casualties from mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices had been recorded.  That number reflected more than twice as many victims as four years prior to that reporting.  Furthermore, some 2,000 of those people had been killed, nearly a quarter of them children.

“Mine action is a precondition for stabilization and peacebuilding, and eventually, sustainable development to take hold,” he said.  Once explosive remnants of war were removed from hospitals, power plants and water treatment facilities, reconstruction of public services could begin.  Mine action also helped to prevent explosive material from being used by terrorist groups.

Underscoring that 59 peacekeepers had lost their lives in 2017 through malicious acts involving explosive devices, he said Mali and Somalia were highly threatening environments for safely carrying out Council mandates.  “We owe it to the personnel we deploy on the ground to provide them with the right training, knowledge and equipment to safely conduct the United Nations mandate,” he said.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates stressed that one year after the adoption of resolution 2365 (2017), the Council could not afford to become complacent, a point driven home by Equatorial Guinea’s delegate, who quoted United States civil war General William Sherman’s description of land mines as “not war, but murder”.

Several representatives supported the Secretary-General’s call for an annual debate on the issue, with Ethiopia’s delegate welcoming his proposal to mainstream mine action into relevant country discussions, as well as ceasefire and peace agreements.

Others called for more coherence going forward.  Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate advocated stronger cooperation between States and regional organizations, universal application of international instruments, awareness-raising and assistance to victims in line with the United Nations anti-mine strategy. 

To such concerns, the representatives of Sweden, the United States, Netherlands and United Kingdom all detailed their financial contributions to mine action efforts.

Peru’s delegate, meanwhile, described his country’s cooperation with Ecuador to clear mines along their common border.  It was of utmost importance to also work with local authorities and civil society, he said, noting that coordination between the United Nations and other entities would allow for developing common standards.

Also speaking today were representatives of Bolivia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, China, France and the Russian Federation

The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 4:44 p.m.

Briefing

ALEXANDER ZUEV, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, presented the Secretary-General’s report, “Comprehensive approach to mine action” (document S/2018/623), and stressed that after years of decrease, casualties from explosive hazards were on the rise.  Despite the clearance efforts by the United Nations, Member States and non-governmental organizations, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines had recorded more than 8,500 casualties from mines, explosive remnants of war and victim-operated improvised explosive devices.  Conflicts, as well as difficult access to contaminated areas during active combat, were among the causes.  That figure represented more than twice as many victims as four years ago.  Some 2,000 of those people had been killed, nearly a quarter of them children, and given the difficulty of collecting data during conflict, it was likely that the actual casualty number was much higher. 

“Mine action is a precondition for stabilization and peacebuilding,” he said, adding that it also supported sustainable development.  Once explosive remnants of war had been removed from infrastructures such as hospitals, power plants and water treatment facilities, the reconstruction of public services could begin.  Mine action had helped to prevent explosive material from being used by armed terrorist groups, a vital element in the nexus among peace, security and development, and a cornerstone in preventing relapse into conflict.

In 2017, he said 59 peacekeepers had lost their lives through malicious acts involving explosive devices, underscoring that Mali and Somalia represented highly threatening environments for safely carrying out Council mandates.  “We owe it to the personnel we deploy on the ground to provide them with the right training, knowledge and equipment to safely conduct the United Nations mandate,” he stressed, underscoring that in armed conflict, improvised explosive devices had become the main driver of deaths and injuries among civilians and peacekeepers.

He also noted that in his disarmament agenda, launched last month, the Secretary-General had called for a whole-of-system approach to that deadly threat. Under the leadership of the United Nations Mine Action Services, the Organization’s entities were working towards a more integrated response.  Troop-contributing countries must step up efforts to prepare peacekeepers for such threats.  “We cannot allow ourselves to be complacent,” he said, urging States to provide lasting, predictable and non-earmarked funding to the voluntary Mine Action Fund.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Mine Action Service stood ready to inform the Council on any related issues.

Statements

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said the indiscriminate use of landmines disproportionately affected civilian populations, especially children.  The problem was exacerbated by the increasingly urban nature of conflict.  Landmines and other explosive devices were also a constant threat to peacekeepers and humanitarian workers.  Thus, mine action was essential for building and sustaining peace, he said, underlining the intrinsic connection between mine action, security and development.  Furthermore, mine action should be included at the very start of planning of peacekeeping operations, as well as part of the agenda of Security Council visits to the field.  He called on all States parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Convention, to comply with its provisions, and for those States that had not done so to sign that instrument.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that only through joint action could there be durable solutions to the question of land mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.  He underscored the need for risk education among affected populations, including children and youth, as well as constant support to victims of anti-personnel mines.  Noting that his country was the European Union’s facilitator on the topic, he said the United Nations was of utmost importance.  It was terrifying that the number of mine-related casualties had more than doubled since 2014 and he proposed that the Council continue with yearly reporting on the issue.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru), calling mines cruel, vicious and indiscriminate, said that the international community had a moral obligation to eliminate them.  The Security Council must remain watchful of mine action developments, especially in peacekeeping operations in which mine action was essential for the transition to peacebuilding.  He highlighted the situation in his country, including its cooperation with Ecuador to clear mines along their common border.  It was of utmost importance to plan and programme anti-personnel mine action in close cooperation with regional organizations, local authorities and civil society.  Coordination between the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and other United Nations entities would make it possible to create common standards and synergies, he said, emphasizing the need to strengthen national mine-clearing capacities.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) expressed alarm over the impacts of mines, improvised explosive devices and other such arms on peacekeeping missions, particularly the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  She also said she was troubled that MINUSMA had registered the highest fatality rate since 2014.  A three-fold approach was required.  Compliance with international humanitarian law must be ensured by all parties to conflict in their weapons choice, including compliance with the principle of proportionality.  Recognizing that explosive remnants of war had devastating short- and long-term impacts on civilians, humanitarian actors and peacekeepers alike, she underscored the importance of measures to address existing contamination.  Troop-contributing countries must better prepare their troops to respond to such threats, including in context of asymmetric war, while missions must be provided with the requisite training and capabilities, including mine-protected vehicles and ammunition.  She welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to mainstream mine action into relevant country discussions, as well as into ceasefire and peace agreements, where appropriate, and expressed support for the Council’s ongoing consideration of that issue.

KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said that the alarming rate of conflicts using explosive devises demanded a greater response through the provision of urgent humanitarian mine assistance.  There had also been an increase in the use of explosive devices by terrorist groups against civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian personnel.  While valuing the work of UNMAS, he emphasized that it was important that all relevant stakeholders — including Member States, the United Nations, and regional and subregional groups — worked together and streamlined efforts to protect civilians, as well as include mine action in their mandates and programmes.  It was just as important to build national capacities through training.  He urged the international community to support UNMAS, an invaluable and efficient United Nations entity that mitigated the devastation caused in conflict and post-conflict zones through mine action, clearance, rehabilitation and risk education.  Victims of mines should be given immediate medical attention, along with long-term rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) commended the United Nations for its work on all aspects of mine action, noting that related casualties had dropped in recent years.  Nonetheless, “there is no space for complacency”, he said, underlining that the number of deaths from improvised explosive devices, especially used in conflict and post-conflict areas by non-State actors, had risen sharply.  Expressing concern over the serious post-conflict humanitarian and peacebuilding problems caused by such war remnants, he advocated greater efforts to minimize occurrence, effects and risks.  Women were often more inclined to share information on threats, and, along with children, often at daily risk from remnants of war.  Noting that Sweden had contributed more than $100 million to mine action over the last decade, he advocated an approach to disarmament that placed people at the centre of policy.

Kelley A. Eckels-Currie (United States) urged Member States to join a robust international partnership to reduce the impact of land mines and other explosive devices on vulnerable communities around the world.  As Chair of the Mine Action Support Group, the United States would strive to increase donor commitment for such important work.  She underscored her country’s multi-million-dollar financial support for the destruction of conventional weapons.  Its efforts were focused not only on mine clearance, but also on helping States with weapons management.  Deteriorating or mishandled stockpiles could prevent the safe use of land, suppress economic development and prevent the return of displaced persons.  Swift stabilization could not happen until improvised explosive devices, unexploded ordinance and other munitions were removed safely and securely, she said, underscoring the role that conventional weapons destruction assistance would play in building a peaceful and prosperous world.

ALCIDE DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire), recalling that 164 States were now party to the Ottawa Convention, welcomed the fact that mine action was now at the heart of humanitarian action, peacebuilding and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  However, a mine-free world remained far off.  Long after hostilities ended, explosive devices continued to kill and maim, while impeding refugees from returning to their homeland.  Poor management of various kinds of munitions, small arms and light weapons was another concern.  Recalling that his country had destroyed 1,800 mines in line with its Ottawa Convention commitments, he called for greater cooperation among States and regional organizations, universal application of relevant international instruments, awareness-raising programmes and assistance to victims in line with the United Nations anti-mine strategy.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) underlined that landmines remained a constant threat to civilian populations long after the cessation of hostilities.  Unexploded bombs, shells and grenades impacted communities around the world.  However, the threat went beyond the killing and maiming of thousands of people.  Those devices had protracted social, economic and environmental consequences as well.  Casualties had been reported in 65 countries, including 41 that were at peace.  During the United States’ civil war, General William Sherman had said that land mines were “not war, but murder” due to their brutal effect, she noted, and she called on States to adopt regulatory mechanisms for the use, holding and illicit trafficking in land mines and other explosive devices, with better detection and confiscation measures at airports, seaports and border crossings.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said his country favoured the further integration of mine action into United Nations peacekeeping.  Yet humanitarian space must be protected, as well.  The Netherlands had contributed €3 million of un-earmarked funding to the United Nations voluntary trust fund and an additional €45 million to humanitarian demining projects during the 2016-2020 period.  That was part of the Netherland’s multi-annual funding and multi-stakeholder collaboration approach, he noted, calling on other countries to approach mine action in a similar way.  It was important that the Security Council continue to address mine action, both in specific country debates and through mainstreaming mine action in peacekeeping mandates.

DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) said 20 years after the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, those arms continued to kill and maim indiscriminately, with children often among the victims.  The Convention on Cluster Munitions protected against their proliferation and he called on countries to accede to that accord and other disarmament instruments.  The United Kingdom was working to clear land mines in the Falkland Islands*, and over the next three years, would spend $130 million to tackle the humanitarian and other impacts of land mines around the world.  He welcomed the United Nations’ focus on strengthening national capacity, partnerships and development of international disposal standards.  He underscored the importance of resolution 2370 (2017), which restricted terrorists’ access to such arms, as well as the second General Assembly resolution to counter the threat posed by improvised explosive devices, stressing that the United Kingdom continued to facilitate discussions on mine action.

NAWAF A. S. A. ALAHMAD (Kuwait) expressed concern that children were often among the victims of landmines and improvised explosive devices, noting that Iraq’s occupation had left mines on beaches and in the dessert, killing many civilians.  He welcomed the United Nations efforts to maintain security among all parties to conflict, and through its peacekeeping operations, to arrive at settlements and confidence building measures.  Urging improving the performance of peacekeepers in areas where they faced high landmine risk, he also outlined measures to address those problems, including pressing armed groups to stop fighting, while underlining the need to rebuild infrastructure in post-conflict areas, and support the Sustainable Development Goals and relevant legislation banning such explosives.  In that context, he welcomed the memorandum of understanding signed by the United Nations and the African Union Commission, as well as efforts by Lebanon and Libya, among other Governments.  He condemned landmine use by the Houthis in Yemen, which violated international humanitarian law, and encouraged the Council to consider the issue of mine action on an annual basis.

WU HAITAO (China) said the United Nations mine action efforts were in line with those aimed at realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, and stressed that dozens of countries around the world faced the threats from those arms.  As terrorists increasingly used improvised explosive devices, cooperation was all the more vital.  The international community should respect differences among countries, addressing humanitarian concerns and military needs in a balanced manner.  It must also consider the national conditions and needs of landmine-affected countries, build their capacity and help them transition to self-reliance, with a focus on improving the results of mine assistance.  As a victim of mines, China supported the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and resolution 2365 (2017).  China was also an observer to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Ottawa Process, and supported efforts to resolve the threat posed by non-State actors within the framework on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said that too many anti-personnel mines, unexploded remnants of war and cluster munitions were improvised explosive devices used by terrorists, which — being homemade with easy to obtain parts — were hard for international organizations to tackle.  She recalled the Council’s recent mission to Bangladesh, during which representatives met a Rohingya woman who had been maimed by an explosive device.  Echoing the Secretary-General’s appeal for strengthened United Nations action, she said that should include providing troops and non-governmental organizations on the ground with the appropriate operational means, adapted to each security situation.  In addition, training and awareness-raising should be implemented so that States could develop their own mine clearance expertise rather than depend on outside help.  Noting her country’s support for demining efforts in the Middle East and Africa, she also called for the universalization of the Ottawa Convention, the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the Secretary-General’s report contributed to the implementation of the disarmament agenda.  However, it failed to reflect the Russian Federation’s mine action efforts, which included the deployment of a demining unit in Syria and the training in Aleppo of 1,000 demining specials for the Syrian armed forces.  His country’s efforts were important for restoring infrastructure and the return of refugees.  While the Secretary-General’s report gave specifics about demining work in Darfur and Iraq, it spoke only of difficulties ahead in Syria.  The work of UNMAS in Syria was being unjustifiably delayed due in part to the politicization of humanitarian topics.

Mr. ZUEV said he had taken note of the comments and recommendations made by Council members.  They would be implemented in the mine action programme, he added.

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* A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

For information media. Not an official record.