Egypt Points out Ottawa Convention’s Failure to Mention Responsibility for Wartime Planting of Explosive Remnants at El Alamein
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution today, by which the General Assembly would urge States to provide humanitarian assistance for victims of anti-personnel mines, as it concluded its consideration of assistance in mine action.
Also by that draft resolution (document A/C.4/74/L.5), approved without a vote, the Assembly would express alarm over the renewed increase in casualties — of whom nearly half are children — from mines and explosive remnants of war. As such, it would urge support for mine-affected States through the provision of assistance in developing mine-action capacities, supporting national programmes and making reliable, predictable and timely multi-year contributions to mine-action activities.
By other terms, the Assembly would urge the provision of 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.
Further by the text, the Assembly would urge all mine-affected States to identify areas containing anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war, using land-release techniques, including surveys and clearance, when appropriate.
The Assembly would, by further terms, stress the importance of cooperation and coordination in mine action, and emphasizes the primary responsibility of national authorities in that context, while also stressing the Organization’s supporting role.
Before action on the text, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, cited a recent spike in casualties driven by a small number of intense conflicts fought in urban and residential areas. Pointing out that children comprised half of those killed and injured, he said most such casualties are caused by explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, many of which are anti-personnel mines. “The challenging task of disposing of these unpredictable improvised weapons, often buried in large amounts of rubble, presents unprecedented challenges for the mine action sector.”
As such, he continued, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) improves the performance and safety of peacekeepers by supporting safe and secure storage of ammunition and reducing their exposure to the risks posed by improvised explosive devices. He added that it provides intensive training and technical expertise before deployment as well as in the host country.
He went on to highlight evidence that mine action enables post-conflict reconstruction, sustaining peace and sustainable development, while emphasizing that recent conflict trends and diminished resources present new challenges, including limited data and the shortage of the economic and public-health resources needed to respond. The United Nations is focused on supporting national capacities in that regard, he stressed.
With the floor open for discussions, Egypt’s representative said the explosive remnants planted in 1942 during the Second World War remain in El Alamein, on the country’s coast, and continue to threaten local lives. Egypt has about 22 million mines, making it home to one fifth of the world’s mines, he noted. Recalling his country’s participation in the preparatory process of the Ottawa Convention, he explained that Egypt has not yet signed the instrument because it makes no mention of the legal obligation of the countries that planted the mines to provide maps and mine-removal assistance. The treaty also fails to strike a balance between humanitarian considerations and legitimate security uses of landmines, especially for countries with long geographical borders, he added, while pointing out that Egypt suspended the production and export of landmines in the 1980s, long before the Ottawa Convention.
Libya’s representative called for further international support to combat anti-personnel mines. Noting that the remote management of mine-action programmes has negative effects on follow-up and other actions, he called upon United Nations entities to engage more effectively at the country level.
Afghanistan’s delegate said his country is proud to have taken over ownership of its mine-action programmes but has fallen short of clearance targets for the past few years due to lack of funding and a build-up of explosive devices over several consecutive years. To implement the work plan for upcoming years, financial support from partners is critical, he emphasized.
Cameroon’s representative emphasized the impact of Boko Haram and other asymmetric threats on his country, appealing for international partners to increase his country’s mine-clearance capacity.
China’s representative observed, in that regard, that demining activities and efforts must enable the affected country to transition from foreign assistance to self-reliance.
Also speaking today were representatives of Mali, Sudan, Iraq, Thailand, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Ukraine, Iran, Australia and Poland.
An observer for the European Union delegation also addressed delegates.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 24 October, to take up the effects of atomic radiation.
Introduction of Report
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, spoke in his capacity as Chair of the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordination Group on Mine Action. Presenting the report of the Secretary-General on assistance in mine action (document A/74/288), he noted that 2019 marks the beginning of a new five-year strategy focused on protection, assistance for victims and national capacity. He went on to recall that until 2015, there was an encouraging global decrease in the number of casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war. However, that trend has reversed, he said, adding that the recent spike in casualties is driven by a small number of intense conflicts fought in urban and residential areas, and children comprise half of those killed and injured. Most such casualties are caused by explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, many of which are anti-personnel mines, he noted, adding: “The challenging task of disposing of these unpredictable improvised weapons, often buried in large amounts of rubble, presents unprecedented challenges for the mine action sector.”
The report details the United Nations response to these challenges, including the development of guidance and policy on disposing of explosive devices and mitigating threat, he continued. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) improves the performance and safety of peacekeepers by supporting safe and secure storage of ammunition and reducing their exposure to the risks posed by improvised explosive devices, he said, adding that it provides intensive training and technical expertise before deployment as well as in the host country. The number of peacekeepers killed by such devices in Mali has dropped from 24 in 2016 to 8 in 2018, he pointed out. He went on to state that casualties in such mine-affected States as Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam have fallen dramatically in recent years, pointing out that in 2018, there were no civilian casualties due to mines and explosive remnants of war in Sri Lanka for the first time in 30 years.
Highlighting evidence that mine action enables post-conflict reconstruction, sustaining peace and sustainable development, he said UNMAS mine-clearance operations in Iraq enabled the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to carry out more than 1,200 rehabilitation projects. In Afghanistan, the first-ever mixed-gender demining team cleared one of the last remaining minefields in Bamiyan Province, in accordance with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality, he added. Emphasizing that recent conflict trends and diminished resources present new challenges in terms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, he noted that 58 out of 60 mine-affected countries are parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, yet they struggle to ensure respect for the rights of victims and survivors. The challenges include limited data and the shortage of economic and public health resources needed to respond, he reported, stressing that the United Nations is focused on supporting national capacities in this regard.
The representative of Mali, describing his country as one of the “hot spots” for improvised explosive devices, commended the efforts of the entire United Nations country team, noting it comprises 13,000 staff. UNMAS is saving lives in Mali, he added, calling upon the international community to support its activities even in the face of budget cuts.
The representative of Sudan said the Mine Action Service’s activities in his country helped to rid eastern Sudan of landmines so that people could return to their homes and towns in that region.
The representative from Iraq said his country and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) conducted joint visits to many mine-affected areas and urged the Organization to continue its efforts so that more internally displaced people can return to their homes.
The Under-Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Department of Peace Operations, acknowledging the representatives of Mali, Sudan and Iraq, and pledged the Department’s dedication to the mine action mission. He also called for continuing cooperation between UNMAS and host countries.
EDUARDO FERNÁNDEZ-ZINCKE, observer for the European Union delegation, said all the bloc’s 28 member States are States parties to the Ottawa Convention and co-sponsors of the General Assembly resolution on mine action. The Oslo Review Conference offers an opportunity to review progress, reaffirm commitment and generate a push for universalization, he added. Describing the European Union as a leading donor in terms of mine-action support, he said the international community must reinforce partnerships and collaboration between States, the United Nations and other relevant international institutions as well as the African Union and other regional organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Regarding the draft resolution before the Committee, he said it reaffirms the normative framework for the humanitarian mine-action work of the United Nations system, addresses the impact of mines on populations and emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach. Member States must remain committed in promoting respect for international humanitarian law, he stressed. Crucially, the resolution recognizes the contribution of mine action to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he noted.
SUPARK PRONGTHURA (Thailand) said that despite the milestone represented by the Convention banning mines and the consequent decline in casualty numbers, the horror of landmines continues. Assistance in mine action must therefore continue, he said, emphasizing that it must be integrated into a broader agenda of humanitarian and development assistance. As a State party to the Convention, Australia is set to become mine-free by 2023, with 86 per cent of formerly contaminated area already cleared, he said, adding that in fulfilment of further obligations, it destroyed its remaining stockpiles in August and no longer retains any anti-personnel mines. Support for mine victims is comprehensive and integrated into the framework of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he said. Mine risk education, provided through close joint efforts with communities, remains the cornerstone of Australia’s preventive approach, he said, reaffirming its commitment to working with the international community to realize the vision of a world free of the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war.
MARWAN A. T. ABUSREWEL (Libya) said anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordinance constitute a major obstacle to his country’s development activities. Expressing support for local United Nations training programmes in this regard, he called for further international support to combat anti-personnel mines. In order to coordinate national efforts with international organizations, the Government of Libya is prepared to ensure effective long-term cooperation to free the country from mines. He commended the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), saying it has cared for people affected by anti-personnel mines in Benghazi and Misrata, providing long-term support to those who have lost limbs and require permanent care. However, remote management of mine action programmes has negative effects on follow-up and other actions, he noted, calling for United Nations bodies to involve themselves at the country level to be more effective.
ANDRÉS JOSÉ RUGELES (Colombia) condemned the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel mines which has caused suffering in his country. As such, humanitarian clearance of anti-personnel mines is required to enable affected communities to exercise land use and socioeconomic development. Mine contamination in Colombia results from the use of improvised explosive devices by non-State actors protecting their areas of influence in terms of illegal mining and drug trafficking, he said. The devices should be understood within the framework of the Ottawa Convention, he said, adding that they should be seen as an extension of anti-personnel mines. Meanwhile, 75 municipalities in Colombia have been declared free from anti-personnel mines, he reported, noting the benefits for one million people living in those areas.
Mr. FAISAL ALBISHI (Saudi Arabia) said Houthi militias planted tens of thousands of mines along his country’s border with Yemen that were indiscriminate and easily hidden in the local environment, leading to thousands of casualties. Saudi Arabia attempted to save Yemen from collapse by dispatching field missions, including demining assistance, intended to clear Yemen’s coast, he said, reporting that one such initiative eliminated 100,000 mines and other unexploded ordinance. Saudi Arabia also operates a centre for artificial limbs that offers hope for victims of mine attacks, he said.
Ms. SHAIKHA AL SUWAIDI (United Arab Emirates) said terrorist groups continue to manufacture mines locally, adding that her country is engaged in regional mine action activities to protect civilians, ease humanitarian activities, help prevent conflict and build peace. The United Arab Emirates undertakes demining activities in Yemen by securing the targeted areas, enabling the entry of humanitarian assistance and by ensuring that life can return to the demined areas. Those efforts have helped more than 700,000 Yemenis, she said. Emphasizing the importance of building local capacities through awareness campaigns, she reported that her country participates in such awareness campaigns in 270 schools across Yemen. In Lebanon, she added, the United Arab Emirates has implemented projects to rid the south of cluster bombs and, after significant investment and effort, normal life has resumed to those demined areas. She went on to report that her country has cleared 72 minefields in Afghanistan.
Mr. WISAM ALQAISI (Iraq) commended efforts by UNAMI, UNMAS, UNDP and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to clear anti-personnel mines from his country. More than 26 million mines, as well as unexploded ordnance, are spread across Iraq’s territory, including populated areas and vital facilities liberated from Islamic State in Iraq and the levant (ISIL/Da’esh). In the first month after liberation, 320 people were affected by mines in the north of the country, he said, adding that there are 8 to 10 casualties from unexploded ordnance every day. They hinder reconstruction, economic development, tourism, investment in agricultural areas as well as urbanization efforts. Anti-personnel mines left behind by ISIL/Da’esh have also undermined the safe return home of internally displaced persons and caused material damage to infrastructure, he continued. Despite those challenges, the Government continues to launch national strategies and campaigns to raise awareness, he said, adding that the enactment of a special law is also under consideration.
MOHD SARWER BAHADURY (Afghanistan), associating himself with the statements delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said his country remains one of the most heavily contaminated, with hazards covering some 666 square kilometres in 33 of its 34 provinces. Much progress has been made in meeting the 2023 deadline for mine clearance, but an unknown rate of new contamination continues to add to the threat as improvised mines remain the weapon of choice among anti-Government elements, he noted. On average, 125 civilians are killed or wounded by explosive devices every month, 59 per cent of them children, he said. He went on to state that Afghanistan is proud to have taken over ownership of its mine-action programmes but has fallen short of clearance targets for the past few years due to lack of funding and a build-up of several consecutive years. To implement the work plan for upcoming years, financial support from partners is critical, he emphasized.
GENKI YAMAURA (Japan), expressing strong support for the draft resolution before the Committee, noted that 2019 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty — a historic achievement in the fight against mine contamination. Today, 164 countries and regions have joined that instrument and the “Ottawa spirit” has been steadily universalized, he said, while nevertheless expressing concern that the threat from explosive hazards is far from declining as the use of anti-personnel landmines — especially those of an improvised nature — continues. Calling for urgent collective action, he pointed out that Japan is the world’s third largest contributor to assistance on mine action, having provided $235 million from 2013 to 2017. He went on to urge comprehensive support for victims of mines and explosive remnants of war; increased raising of awareness; national ownership of mine-action efforts; and greater innovation in mine-clearance methodologies.
SOMSANOUK KEOBOUNSAN (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) recalled that during the war in Indochina, more than 270 million sub-cluster munitions were dropped on most parts of her country and up to 30 per cent of them failed to detonate upon impact. The explosive remnants of war remain a major challenge to national socioeconomic development, hampering efforts to eradicate poverty, she noted, emphasizing her country’s essential need for support in clearing them and in providing education and help for victims. As such, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is developing a national standard in terms of mine-risk education with support from development partners, including donors and international organizations. In 2018, she recalled, several countries pledged to increase their assistance to her country through international non-governmental organizations until 2022 at least, with six donors making contributions to the relevant UNDP programme.
ZHANG XIN (China) said demining activities must take the needs of recipients into consideration and be carried out in coordination with host Governments. The affected country must also be enabled to transition from foreign assistance to self-reliance, he added. He went on to state his country has taken part in long-term, systematic international demining assistance programmes since 1998. Recalling that in September 2015, China announced that the country would complete five demining projects in five years, he said China is currently surpassing that goal, including by offering training courses in demining as well as equipment and humanitarian assistance to both Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
SOBOTH SOK (Cambodia) said past conflicts left her country with large contaminated areas that routinely claimed lives and held back development efforts. However, in the past decades, Cambodia has successfully cleared most of those lands, in collaboration with international partners, and returned them to local communities. She said the Government has made efforts to provide social protection schemes for victims of landmines, adding that the National Mine Action Strategy (2018-2025) encourages all actors to deliver measurable results and to address the gaps in review systems. Cambodia also hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional Mine Action Centre, established to address the humanitarian aspects of unexploded ordnance and explosive remnants of war, she added.
JEAN LUC NGOUAMBE WOUAGA (Cameroon), while highlighting the notable drop in the number of anti-personnel mine victims over the past 20 years, nevertheless expressed regret that the number of victims increased by more than 43 per cent in 2018. Urgent measures are needed to combat improvised explosive devices, which constitute the primary cause of the rise in victims in post-conflict situations. Noting the impact of Boko Haram and other asymmetric threats on his country in that context, he emphasized the importance of international cooperation and assistance, appealing for international partners to increase Cameroon’s mine-clearance and to enable the country to conduct basic studies and technical surveys in that regard. He also called for technological assistance to develop effective, viable and appropriate techniques in mine clearance.
OLENA SYROTA (Ukraine) said her country continues to deal with a drastically increased number of dangerous explosive devices due to the Russian Federation’s armed aggression and Russia-guided illegal armed groups operating in her country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Some 2 million Ukrainian men, women and children in the east face constant insecurity due to landmines and contamination by explosive remnants of war, risking their lives to gain access to markets to schools, hospitals and farmlands. Landmines have also significantly curtailed people’s ability to move freely through checkpoints, where one million crossings occur each month. She went on to note that about 6,000 hectares have been cleared in eastern Ukraine and more than 26,200 explosive devices and mines destroyed to date. In addition, the armed forces have defused almost 100 objects and destroyed about 23,000 units of explosive devices. In close cooperation with international partners, she said, Ukraine’s national authorities and armed forces are performing practical measures to decontaminate and destroy explosive devices in liberated areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, providing mine-risk education for civilians in conflict-affected areas. However, comprehensive demining will only be possible after the end of hostilities, she stressed.
MOHAMMED REZA SAHRAEI (Iran) said peace, security and development are impossible when a community is contaminated by anti-personnel mines. Mine-clearance projects have been ongoing in Iran since 1980, he said, recalling that the Iran Mine Action Center was established in 2005 as a result of the urgent need to excavate 16 to 20 million anti-personnel mines and provide clearance in five provinces. The invasion of Iran by Iraq’s Saddam regime lasted eight years and the anti-personnel mines it used left an estimated 42 million acres contaminated, he said, adding that his country used indigenous technologies to clean them up on its own due to the lack of international assistance. Given its four decades of experience, Iran welcomes multi-stakeholder coordination of humanitarian de-mining, having acquired considerable knowledge, he said. As such, the Iran Mine Action Center hosted an international seminar in March, attended by 13 countries and international organizations, including UNMAS and ICRC, he reported, suggesting that the United Nations organize meetings between Iran, private or governmental stakeholders and others suffering from mine contamination.
KIRSTEN HENDERSON (Australia) noted that mine action has saved thousands of lives over the past two decades, clearing hundreds of square kilometres of contaminated land and returning them to productive use. In moving forward, the international community must strengthen and align its efforts to ensure mine action is appropriate as well as gender- and age-sensitive, he said, emphasizing that it must also meet the needs of survivors throughout their lifetimes. Australia supports multiple mine action-related conventions, he said, adding that it also assists international agencies working globally across all mine action areas, including clearance, maintenance of standards, risk education and assistance to victims. The country also funds mine action through contributions to multilateral programmes as well as to specific projects in Cambodia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, he added.
ABDULLAH IBRAHIMABDELHAMID ALSAYED ATTELB (Egypt) said the explosive remnants of mines planted in 1942 during the Second World War remain in El Alamein, on his country’s coast, and continue to threaten local lives. He noted that Egypt has about 22 million mines, making it home to one fifth of the world’s mines. The unexploded ordnance undermines the development of an area rich in natural resources, he said, calling upon the States which planted the mines to help assist in their removal. The Egyptian armed forces continue to conduct demining activities that have led to the removal of around one million mines, he reported. Recalling his country’s participation in the preparatory process of the Ottawa Convention, he explained that Egypt has not yet signed it because the instrument does not mention the legal obligation of countries that planted the mines during the Second World War to provide maps and mine-removal assistance. The treaty also fails to strike a balance between humanitarian considerations and legitimate security uses of landmines, especially for countries with long geographical borders. Egypt, for its own part, suspended the production and export of landmines in the 1980s, long before the Ottawa Convention, he pointed out.
Action on Draft Resolution
The representative of Poland introduced the draft resolution “Assistance in mine action” (document A/C.4/74/L.5), noting that it has been improved by strengthening its humanitarian dimension and reaffirming the normative framework for the Organization’s mine action activities.
The Committee then approved that text without a vote.