Presidential Statement Urges Including Mine Action in Ceasefire, Peace Agreements
Expressing deep concern over the high number of civilian casualties caused by landmines, explosive war remnants and improvised explosive devices, the Security Council today reiterated its call on belligerents to “immediately and definitively” end the indiscriminate use of such weapons, as senior Government officials debated ways to rid the world of a pernicious legacy.
In a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/8) issued by Viet Nam’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, who presided over today’s virtual ministerial debate as Council President for April, Governments called for strengthened implementation of resolution 2365 (2017), the 15-member organ’s first stand-alone text on mine action.
Through the statement — issued on the heels of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, on 4 April — the Council encouraged the continued inclusion of mine action in ceasefire and peace agreements. It stressed the importance of considering mine action in the earliest planning stages of both peacekeeping operations and special political missions.
It likewise stressed the need to enhance measures to combat the illicit procurement of components, explosives and materials for the construction of improvised explosive devices, recognizing that the United Nations and Governments must work together to ensure that missions are adequately resourced.
The day heard from some of the world’s leading advocates of mine clearance. Among them was Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh, Provincial Programme Manager and Manager of Project RENEW All-Women Demining Team in Viet Nam, who was born and raised in Quang Tri province, where the former demilitarized zone divided North and South Viet Nam from 1954 to 1975. The area experienced some of the heaviest bombing in world history.
While the war ended nearly 46 years ago, she said explosive ordinance can still be found in rice fields, schoolyards and residential areas. Since 1975, nearly 3,500 people have been killed and 5,000 injured by explosive remnants of war in Quang Tri province alone. Having worked in mine action for 12 years, she called on Governments to increase national capacity and ownership to ensure the success of results.
In addition, national and international actors should coordinate closely at operational, management and policy levels, she said, pointing out that such cooperation in Quang Tri led to real results: 600 villages surveyed, 21 million square metres of land cleared, 748,000 explosive items destroyed and 900,000 people supported. Frequent documentation and sharing of lessons learned, along with women’s involvement in all aspects of mine action, are similarly crucial. “I hope mine action remains on the agenda of the international community, and that the recommendations I have made are well considered,” she stressed.
Stefano Toscano, Director of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, said today’s conflicts typically feature multiple actors, agendas and risks. There has been an uptick in the use of and contamination from improvised explosive devices in urban and populated areas, and casings can range from soda cans and plastic bags to pressure cookers, shoeboxes and gas cylinders. “This makes them particularly dangerous to civilians,” he said.
With the adoption of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention in 1997 and the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008, a majority of States agreed to ban these weapons.
Noting that the International Mine Action Standards represent a unique feature in the field of conventional disarmament, he said the recent development of new Standards for addressing improvised explosive devices and urban contamination testifies to the sector’s ability to adjust to an evolving context. Innovations, such as remotely operated vehicles, are also increasingly used, ensuring greater safety for deminers. He underscored the importance for mine action to remain on the Council’s agenda, as it has proven to foster peace, notably in Colombia and Afghanistan. “Mine action is needed more than ever,” he said. “It saves lives and enables development.”
On that point, Michelle Yeoh, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), linked mine action to the Sustainable Development Goals, stressing the importance of looking at the issue “beyond square meters cleared”. UNDP is demonstrating the long-term development impact of mine action in the form of improved livelihoods, job creation, tourism and use of released land for agricultural purposes. Involved in mine action since 1993, the Programme has helped to create emergency jobs, rebuild damaged infrastructure, carry out repatriation plans and mend trust among people.
While UNDP and its partners can celebrate numerous achievements — Albania, Guinea Bissau, Jordan, Mozambique and Uganda have declared themselves free of known mine fields — there is still contamination in countries where war has long since ended. In Viet Nam, where nearly 20 per cent of the country is damaged by contaminants, women in particular are leading the clearance teams. She underscored the need for increased financing to accelerate such efforts. “It’s the human thing to do,” she added.
In that context, Secretary-General António Guterres urged Member States to ensure that all peace operations have the capacity to operate in environments of high explosive threat, particularly from improvised explosive devices.
“Peacekeepers must have the knowledge and the equipment they need to deliver on their mandates safely,” he emphasized. Improvised explosive devices represent the single greatest threat to African Union troops in Somalia and United Nations peacekeepers in Mali. In addition, new explosive threats are emerging in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while landmines continue to hinder peacekeeper mobility in South Sudan and Abyei.
Stressing that mine action is an essential first step towards peace and stability, he said deminers are often the first to enter cities and villages after ceasefires, clearing schools and hospitals, or allowing for critical repairs to water or sanitation infrastructure. Mine action also enables the safe and voluntary return of refugees and can support political and peace processes.
“I urge this Council to strengthen efforts to further integrate mine action into relevant resolutions, reporting and sanctions regimes,” he said, also pressing countries that have not yet done so to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. “Ultimately, mine action is a national responsibility.”
In the ensuing open debate, foreign ministers and other Government representatives from across the globe took the floor to denounce the ongoing use of weapons that have been banned for decades under the Ottawa Treaty, with many stressing that the majority of victims are innocent civilians, who are either killed or who lose limbs and are forever haunted by the trauma of their injuries.
BUI THANH SON, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity to stress that every year, these explosive devices claim nearly 10,000 casualties — mostly civilians and children in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, as well as in Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and his own country, where wars ended decades ago. “The wounds cut deep in the aftermath,” he said. Under resolution 2365 (2017), the Council stressed the importance of ensuring that peacekeeping operations are equipped, informed and trained to reduce such threats. However, the contaminated areas are vast, the number of victims in need of assistance is overwhelming and the resources allocated are dwarfed by the complexity and magnitude of the problem.
He stressed that decades of war in Viet Nam have left lingering effects, with almost one fifth of the land contaminated by unexploded ordnance. At their current pace, clearance efforts will take 100 years to complete. He called for victim assistance, awareness raising and the creation of sustainable livelihoods as part of a holistic approach that involves all stakeholders. At the international level, mine action requires stronger partnerships — notably among Governments, regional organizations and non-governmental organizations. For its part, the Council should build on resolution 2365 (2017), mainstreaming mine action in its relevant agenda items and country-specific discussions and considering it in the planning and mandates of peacekeeping operations and peacebuilding measures. Equipment, training and capacity-building for peacekeepers must all be improved, he added.
SIMON COVENEY, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland, said that while the world marked the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April, the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war “is not about one day”. It is a “grim continuing reality”, notably for people in Syria and Yemen, where a lethal legacy persists. The Council must redouble efforts to end the civilian harm caused by mines and address the consequences of their use. He advocated action on several tracks, insisting that the international community live up to existing commitments and obligations, and underscoring the enduring validity of resolution 2365 (2017), which “makes clear” the need for State leadership. It is also crucial to universalize the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. On the issue of explosive weapons in populated areas, Ireland is leading consultations to develop a political declaration to deliver behavioural change and better protect civilians. He also called for more funding to reverse recent declines — or otherwise leave the job of mine action unfinished — and for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in mine action activities.
OTHMAN JERANDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, welcoming the efforts of those working to remove land mines despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, said that continued humanitarian action is necessary to save civilian lives and clear thousands of acres of land from danger. Despite the importance of Organization and regional efforts in this area, however, the progress achieved so far has been outpaced by continuing challenges, and lives remain endangered around the globe. Further, the spread of terrorism limits the efficacy of these efforts, prevents achievement of peace and stability, impedes the international community’s ability to offer humanitarian relief and aid and prevents the return of internally displaced persons to their homes. He called on all Member States to abide by human-rights and international humanitarian law, to refrain from using explosive devices and to provide any maps detailing the location of such devices to facilitate their removal.
RAYCHELLE OMAMO, Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Kenya, noting the continued threat of explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices and insecure stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, pointed to an increasing number of civilian and peacekeeper fatalities — including women and children — caused by such devices. She called on all Member States to develop and implement mine-action strategies that respond to specific national situations and are sensitive to regional dimensions of the threat. She also urged that mine action be embedded in all peacekeeping mandates, and that all such missions be appropriately equipped, informed and trained thereon. Stressing the importance of adequate capacity-building, training and education to the success of mine action, she said that the International Peace Support Training Centre in Nairobi has provided specialized training to over 2,000 personnel from 22 countries since its inception and will contribute to building a critical mass of mine-action experts in Africa.
The representative of the United States said that “landmines are a solvable problem.” Stressing that the United States and Viet Nam have developed a thriving partnership to address the legacies of war and unexploded ordinance, she said her country is working to ensure that Vietnamese can be safe from all explosive remnants of war. In Quang Tri — one of the most heavily contaminated areas along the former demilitarized zone — not one person has died in the last 3.5 years from unexploded ordnance, she said, noting that “this is the product of the partnership we have developed.” The goals for assistance provided by the United States centre on protecting civilians and creating an environment for people to live safely, notably through clearance, education and rehabilitation efforts. The United States has provided more than $4 billion to support the clearance of landmines and improvised explosive devices around the world. In 2020, it funded conventional weapons destruction efforts in 49 countries, and cleared more square miles of land in the last five years — covering more area than New York City and Baltimore combined. It also has reached out to communities, partnered with teachers and spread the word through non-governmental organizations and social media — “whatever it takes”—— from Viet Nam to Somalia, Iraq to Lebanon. The United States also supports injury rehabilitation and integrates women’s experiences and empowers their leadership, she added.
JENS FRØLICH HOLTE, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said there is no acceptable use of anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions. Whether against civilians or combatants, children or soldiers, in conflict or post-conflict settings, they do not discriminate in unleashing their deadly payload. They hinder the return of refugees, render agricultural land unusable, increase the risks of food insecurity and terrorize communities, often for decades, creating needs for lifelong assistance. They also pose a severe threat to peacekeeping operations, which is why mine action has been a longstanding priority for Norway. Success requires full implementation of the obligation not to use anti-personnel mines; strong national ownership and commitment; international support — including from donors, mine operators, civil society, the United Nations and regional organizations; and targeted programmes that prioritize people’s diverse needs in affected communities. “Survivors and victims must be heard”, he said, stressing that ensuring women’s inclusion is likewise crucial and will benefit society at large. He called on States that have not yet done so to accede to the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. He also urged the Council to reaffirm the obligation to not use such weapons, to condemn their illegal use and stockpiling, and to hold perpetrators to account.
VIKAS SWARUP, Vice-Minister and Secretary (West) for External Affairs of India, said that Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons strikes the right balance between humanitarian concerns and States’ — particularly those with long borders — legitimate defense requirements. India has placed a moratorium on the export and transfer of landmines and is committed to reducing its dependence on anti-personnel mines. He also detailed Government efforts to address the concerns of persons with disabilities — including landmine survivors — with initiatives that have provided more than 6,500 artificial limbs across 12 countries. These limb-fitment camps aim to provide physical, economic and social rehabilitation for those affected, helping them to regain their mobility and dignity. Noting that India is a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations and provides specialized mine-removal training, he said it is willing to share its best practices with Member States and contribute to capacity-building and victim assistance.
ERKI KODAR, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said that fear of the presence of landmines and other explosive ordinance prevents people from using potentially valuable land for agriculture and from rebuilding infrastructure, and this resulting impediment to economic and social development makes further tensions and conflicts more likely. Noting the growing threat posed by improvised explosive devices that equally affect security forces, peacekeepers, providers of humanitarian aid and civilians, he said that efforts to counter these devices should not be limited to neutralizing those devices already placed, but should also encompass identifying and disrupting the networks that create and initiate them. He pointed out that women, girls, boys and men are affected differently by explosive hazards and stressed the importance of addressing the concerns and needs of all age and gender groups, including in priorities for clearance, post-release land use and survivor access to health-care systems. He further urged increased awareness pertaining to the environmental impact of these devices, as the adverse effects of climate change — such as intense rain and flooding — can move mines and contaminate new areas.
KEISAL M. PETERS, Minister of State with the Responsibility for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, drew attention to the cross-border challenges of terrorism, organized crime, health crises and climate change to underscore the urgent need for the peace and security, humanitarian and development aspects of mine action to be fully considered. Mine action facilitates free movement for peacekeepers, streamlines the delivery of humanitarian assistance and facilitates agriculture in areas recovered from landmines. Commending the United Nations Mine Action Service for its provision of technical and financial assistance, she said these capacities should be transferred to host countries to strengthen national ownership, with ammunition stockpile management and explosive ordnance disposal incorporated into security sector reform programmes. Meanwhile, all States, regional and subregional organizations must work together to improve transparency and accountability across supply lines to manage the traceability of explosive ordnance, she said, underscoring the importance of information sharing at the regional and international levels to dismantle complex networks of terrorism and transnational organized crime.
The representative of China said people in nearly 30 countries, including Syria, Afghanistan, Mali and Yemen, face serious risks from landmines and unexploded ordnance. In South Sudan and Western Sahara, in particular, United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian workers are exposed to such risks. As such, he pressed the international community to step up its efforts and do its utmost, ensuring the safety of civilians and upholding the State-driven principle that the countries concerned bear the primary responsibility for such efforts. The parties concerned must do their best to keep a record of the mines laid, and remove them at the end of hostilities, or take other measures to protect civilians from harm. It is also important to help affected countries build their capacity to sustain mine action. For its part, China has extended demining assistance to 40 countries, including through training programmes, he said, recalling its announcement in 2015 that it would undertake 10 demining assistance projects in 5 years. Since that time, China has carried out 24 projects totalling 55 million renminbi, notably in Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. He went on to advocate respect for the balanced-approach principle, addressing both the humanitarian concerns and legitimate security needs of countries.
The representative of the United Kingdom, underlining her country’s commitment to tackling the threat posed by mines, said it has provided more than $65 million to the United Nations Mine Action Service and invested more than $165 million through the Global Mine Action Programme. As of December 2020, the latter had cleared and confirmed safe nearly 400 million square meters of land, delivered risk education to over 3.1 million people and supported countries in improving their own national coordination efforts. Calling for more efforts to address the significant funding gap in mine action, she said the United Kingdom is funding research into innovative financing options, to be shared with other States and stakeholders. It also advocates for research on how to prioritize clearance efforts to ensure programmes are targeted in a way that maximizes benefit to people and supports development goals. Voicing support for the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and its humanitarian goals, and calling on States not party to it to accede without delay, she added that the threat of improvised explosive devices can be tackled even before they emerge by disrupting the networks that provide the necessary raw materials and technical know-how.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that his country has historically accorded significant attention to mine action due to its importance in settling regional crises and combating terrorism. Many States need professional assistance with mine clearing to rebuild their infrastructure and economies and, to this end, the United Nations Mine Action Service plays an important role. Noting the involvement of Russian experts in the service’s work of developing international standards for tackling improvised explosive devices, he said that his country also works to build the technical and operational capacities of its partners. Further, Moscow has prioritized clearing mines in Syria and, since 2016, Russian specialists have cleared mines and assisted civilians in areas liberated from terrorists and extremists, including the cities of Aleppo and Palmyra. These efforts have cleared more than 6,500 hectares of Syrian territory and have disposed of 105,000 explosive devices. Noting that Moscow will soon host the fourth international conference on humanitarian demining, he urged all Member States to actively participate therein.
The representative of Mexico said that mine action is crucial to facilitate humanitarian responses around the world and contributes to sustainable development, peace and the safe transfer of refugees. Noting that many consider anti-personnel mines and explosive remnants of war issues of the past, he pointed out that this view was incorrect as at least 55 States — more than a fourth of the Organization’s members — still live with the threat posed by such devices. In 2020, anti-personnel mines claimed 7,000 civilian victims — many of them children — and these devices also kill United Nations personnel in peacekeeping missions and humanitarian operations around the world. He stressed the importance of providing relevant training and equipment as necessary in such missions and operations. He further called on all parties to armed conflict to end the use of indiscriminate weapons, weapons activated by victims and those that do not distinguish between military and civilian targets, and urged all Member States to declare a moratorium on the production, use and transfer of anti-personnel mines.
The representative of France said improvised explosive devices are responsible for the highest number of civilian deaths in modern warfare today, randomly wreaking havoc long after being laid. Daily mine action by civilian and military mine clearers protects the most vulnerable. “Mine action is indispensable,” she stressed, not only for the return of refugees but for post-conflict stabilization efforts. With improvised explosive device threats on the rise, she called for equipping peacekeeping and other actors with the resources they need, stepping up training and outreach, tackling criminal networks and combating the unlawful procurement of components used to manufacture such devices. Drawing attention to France’s support for clearance programmes in the Middle East and Africa, she said strengthening resources on the ground must go hand-in-hand with implementing a universal legal framework.
The representative of Niger, noting that peacekeeping operations often take place in areas that lack roads and feature porous borders, said non-State actors have stepped up their mine attacks, threatening local populations. Parties to conflict must address the need to attenuate these risks to civilians. Provisions to end the use of mines must be included in ceasefires and similar agreements, he said, pressing States to fully implement the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction — known as the Ottawa Convention. Citing recent attacks on Blue Helmets in Mali, which underscore the danger of landmines and improvised explosive devices, he said Niger ratified the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention in 1999, and based on its experience with armed rebellions in the 1990s, launched a programme to collect illicit weapons and carry out mine clearance. It has intensified such work recently, given the growing risks in the Lake Chad Basin region. He urged the Council to systematically include demining in peacekeeping mandates and humanitarian planning. It must also implement recommendations in the Secretary-General’s reports, especially for the sharing of information and technology and help to improve countries’ capacity to respond to emergencies and address the issue of under-financing.