Colombo Telegraph

Finish The Job 2025: A Mine Free World & The Status Of Sri Lanka

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

Vidya Abhayagunawardena

Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

In anti-personnel (AP) landmine-contaminated countries every day some 10 people loose their life or limbs and that means every year around 4,000 people get maimed or killed. Those injured and killed include civilians and animals during and after the conflict. This victim-activated AP landmine is considered to be an outdated and outlawed weapon in the modern world and has never helped win any war since it came into use. Around 60 countries around the world are contaminated by AP landmines. The international mine action community has set a target make the world free of AP landmines by the year 2025 and much work needs to be done in this regard.

Against AP Mines – The Mine Ban Treaty

The Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) widely known as the Ottawa Convention adopted in 1997 and entered into force in March 1999. Twenty years ago the ICRC estimated approximately 20,000 individuals, mainly civilians, were maimed or killed each year due to AP landmines. That number has gone down drastically since the treaty entered into force.

The MBT commits to: never use antipersonnel mines, nor to develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer them and destroy mines in their stockpiles within four years, clear all mined areas in their territory within 10 year, in mine-affected countries, conduct mine risk education and ensure the exclusion of civilians from mined areas, provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims, offer assistance to other States Parties, for example in providing for survivors or contributing for mine clearance programs, adopt national implementation measures (such as national legislation) to ensure that the terms of the treaty are upheld in their territory and report annually on progress in implementing the treaty.

States Parties to the MBT

Up to date 162 States Parties to the MBT and this include the entire European Union (EU), developed Commonwealth member states and other developed nations around the world. The world should be thankful that these nations support banning this weapon and their support for a mine-free world by various means. Those 162 nations’ militaries should not use, produce or stockpile such weapons since they became state parties to the MBT and particularly during recent wars. They had no security related issues protecting their land borders or military installations due to non use of AP mines.

States Not-Parties to the MBT

Only 35 states remain outside the MBT. The biggest stockpiles of AP landmines are held by China, Russia, the United States, India and Pakistan and a small group of countries that still continues producing AP landmines, including India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea. The majority of the countries remain outside the treaty and keep stockpiles that collectively total around 50 million landmines. They also should not be able to profit by selling those stockpiles as 2/3 of the world countries (162) are states parties to the MBT.

The US, China, Russia, India and Pakistan should become states parties to the MBT without any delay. They argue that their borders are protected by AP mines (the US confirmed that they use AP mines in Korean borders only). This will not undermine their ambition to become a world military power or regional power when they ban inhuman and indiscriminate weapons such as AP mines. During war time countries like Afghanistan which acceded to both the MBT and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) and became exemplary to the world. Adhering to important humanitarian disarmament conventions they also have border armed conflicts but refused to use such weapons. Sri Lanka after its own internal conflict has no land boundaries (as an island) to protect it from the use of AP mines.

Sri Lanka as AP mine-contaminated Country & Mine Victims

During the three decade long armed conflict between government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) Sri Lanka’s land got contaminated with the AP mines. The Government security forces used AP mines as a defensive weapon and LTTE used them as an offensive weapon. The Government of Sri Lanka never produced them but used imported mines. The LTTE produced AP mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in their own factories and used them extensively during the war.

It believed that the LTTE introduced AP mines to the war in Sri Lanka. Since LTTE started to use AP mines the government security forces were not ready to use them. In the same manner the LTTE introduced suicide bombers to Sri Lanka and to the world. But the Sri Lankan military never used them. One reason that as soon as the war ended in May 2009, the government should have banned the AP landmines since it was introduced to Sri Lanka by the LTTE.

In 2014, UNICEF reported that since the 1980s some 22,177 AP mine/ERW (Explosive Remnants of War) casualties had been recorded, including 1,603 civilian casualties. However, from 2006 to 2009 accurate casualty information was difficult to access due to ongoing conflict, likely resulting in under-reporting.

Post-war Sri Lanka’s Mine Action

Post-war Sri Lanka is no exception and still civilian casualties are reported from AP mine contaminated areas of the country. Due to the AP mine-contamination civilians are hindered from going back to their land of origin to resettle and use lands for agricultural and other socioeconomic activities. As of 31st March 2016, Sri Lanka still needs to clear 55km2 of lands of AP mines and ERW contaminated lands in North and East regions including Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts. Still more than 10,000 families are yet to be resettled in those war-affected areas but are unable to do so due to AP mine and ERW contamination of their lands.

When analyzing the previous and current mine clearance statistics, it is evident that it will take many years to complete this task unless Sri Lanka becomes state party to the MBT. Sri Lanka’s new Mine Action Strategy 2016-2020 will target to clear AP mine and ERW contaminated land before 2020. The remaining 55km2 of mine fields are identified as highly contaminated with AP mines and ERW.

The Cabinet Decision that Sri Lanka Should Become a State Party to the MBT

Since the new government came into office in early 2015, the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) renewed its hope that Sri Lanka could become a state party to the MBT and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

On 2nd March 2016, the Cabinet took a decision on accession to the MBT. This news was welcomed by the local and international community particularly those who are supportive of a mine-free world and eradication of such inhuman weapon from the earth. On this the SLCBL already thanked the H.E. the President Maitripala Sirisena, Hon. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, Ministers Managala Samaraweera, D. M Swaminathan and officials who are involved in this.

Now the peace loving people of Sri Lanka and the world community are eagerly waiting to see the moment Sri Lanka would deposit the necessary legal instruments for accession to the MBT at the UN Secretary General’s Office in New York before the next State Parties Meeting to the MBT. This is to be held in Chile in November this year when Sri Lanka will becomes the 163th State Party to the MBT.

It is appropriate that after a long-term civil war a country like Sri Lanka should adhere to disarmament conventions as many nations did in the past. In the same manner SLCBL believes that the Government will work towards becoming a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) without any delay to clear the allegations leveled against the government for using cluster bombs during the last stage of the war by the security forces.

Government’s Statements on Acceding to the MBT

Particularly during the war and post-war period Sri Lanka, has made several statements on accession to the MBT. In July 2012, meeting with the diplomatic community in Colombo, the then Secretary of the Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, said that the Defence Ministry was ready for Sri Lanka’s accession to the MBT.

In September 2010, the Ministry of Economic Development published a plan (the National Strategy of Mine Action Sri Lanka -2010) that would “advocate for a ban of landmines and cluster munitions.”

In October 2009, Sri Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya, stated (as a key note speaker) at a seminar organized by the UNICEF and SLCBL, that “In the current post-conflict phase in Sri Lanka, it is timely that we focus our attention on the international legal instruments that limit or ban certain weapons based on humanitarian grounds” referring to the MBT and the CCM.

In October 2002, at the UN General Assembly Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam announced that “My Prime Minister (Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe) has announced that Sri Lanka will be reviewing its position on the MBT with a view to becoming a party to it, as confidence in the peace process in my country gradually builds up”.

Benefit for Sri Lanka to Been a State Party to the MBT

It is of paramount importance for various positive reasons and under the current circumstances that post-war Sri Lanka should become a state party to the MBT and the CCM. The sooner Sri Lanka becomes a state party to the MBT it will help to accelerate the ongoing mine action programme and particularly receive more international support for clearance and victim assistance and at the same time mine action become a high priority in the national development agenda. It will ultimately help to resettle the displaced people of war-affected areas soon, saving lives and rebuilding communities. No doubt that Sri Lanka will be able clear the AP mine and ERW contaminated lands well before the world deadline year 2025 and perhaps its National Mine Action Strategy 2016-2020 deadline. Mine clearance agencies currently work in Sri Lanka which have recently been suffering from scarce donor funding, could subsequently lobby donor funding.

Acceding to the MBT will guarantee to future generations that Sri Lanka’s land will never again be contaminated with AP mines. Sri Lanka can inform the world that the LTTE introduced the weapon of AP mine to Sri Lanka which will not tolerate such weapons. No doubt acceding to the MBT and the CCM will enhance Sri Lanka’s military image as a professional army in the world and could join as supporter of humanitarian disarmament and international humanitarian law.

Sri Lanka should be rid of remaining contaminated areas which continue to take lives and stifle development and avoid possible AP mines and ERW related incidents. Sri Lanka is considered a heavily AP mine and ERW contaminated country and reduce the death and suffering of humans and animals due to such accidents. A comprehensive Mine Risk Education programme under civic education and disaster preparedness can be implemented. Since the MBT is a legally binding international instrument, Sri Lanka will have the commitment to clear the AP mines and ERW affected lands within an agreeable time frame. The cost in clearance of AP mines and ERW and economic loss of non-productive lands due to contamination could be avoided.

Acceding to the MBT will strengthen the ongoing reconciliation efforts in post- war Sri Lanka, human rights record and help for bid for GSP plus from the European Union (EU). As post-war Sri Lanka looks forward to building a sustained peace, there is no strategic necessary for the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to use, produce, stockpile or transfer AP mines as other 162 state parties to the MBT. This shows to the local and international humanitarian disarmament community and demonstrates Sri Lanka’s commitment towards world peace and becoming a neutral country. This can be achieved by maintaining the Non-aligned foreign policy.

Ban of such inhuman weapons of AP landmines and cluster bombs by post-war Sri Lanka will help to regain its image as champion of disarmament in the past and thereby start to become a “Soft Power” in the South Asian region and join for universalization of the MBT and the CCM. Sri Lanka is not a military power in the region and has a smaller military except for the Maldives.

At the same time, Sri Lanka does not a produce arms nor does it engage with the international arms trade. Sri Lanka has never engaged in any wars with the region in the past and present and does not intended to do so in the future. The sooner Sri Lanka becomes a state party to all the disarmament conventions it makes a pathway to becoming a “Soft Power.” If Sri Lanka becomes a “Soft Power” in the South Asian region, it would easily achieve higher socioeconomic indicators and become a safer, peaceful and strong economic hub in the region.

Sri Lanka would be able to host the Meeting of the State Parties (MSPs) held annually or the periodic review conference of the MBT and the CCM and other disarmament conventions held once in five years. If so, it will be the first country to host an event of that magnitude in the South Asian region which will no doubt bring international fame to Sri Lanka.

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