The Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Karunasena Hettiarachchi has recently made statements to the media regarding the use of landmines in the protection of military camps in post-war Sri Lanka. In a related statement, he also said that there is no link between reconciliation and Sri Lanka’s acceding to humanitarian disarmament conventions such as the Mine Ban Treaty.
The Government of Sri Lanka has declared “National Integration and Reconciliation Week” from 8th to 14th January 2017 on the eve of completion of the President’s second year in office. The above statements were made by the Secretary of Defence when the media inquired about the importance of Sri Lanka’s accession to the Convention on the Cluster Munitions (CCM) and Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) during the declared week.
The Secretary’s statement creates serious questions on the sincerity and genuineness of the Sri Lanka’s ongoing reconciliation programme; particularly at the end of the second year of Presidency of Maitripala Sirisena government’s theme of “good governance.” Concerned parties have criticized and denounced these moves by the government. In the month of August 2016, the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines sent a petition to President Sirisena asking for accession to both the CCM and MBT in post-war Sri Lanka without a delay; this petition was signed by former diplomats and senior government officials, academia, civil society, ex-military officials, mine-action operators and the business community.
According to the Secretary’s statement, Sri Lanka will be the first and only country in the world to say that the military camps need to use landmines for their protection in the civilian-populated areas during the post-war setting and ongoing reconciliation. Sri Lanka’s military camps are located in highly civilian-populated areas throughout the country. A few countries that do use landmines in the world today mention that they are used only in land-borders where there is zero civilian population. Such countries always deny that they use mines to protect their military camps and Sri Lanka will be an exceptional case in this regard.
A new fear will now arise among civilians who live near military camps in post-war Sri Lanka. Children that live near the camps will need to be extra vigilant due to the threat of maiming or death. During rainy times, mines that are buried in military camps will surface with flood water and float into civilian-populated areas. No doubt this will create a serious threat to civilians and particularly to children. This situation has been already experienced in the past by civilians who live near minefields. In addition to human life, there is the threat to wildlife – particularly with respect to elephants where camps are located near or in jungle areas.
Human rights defenders say that the use of cluster munitions and landmines violate the International Human Rights Law (IHR), International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Child Rights Convention (CRC) and UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which Sri Lanka ratified recently. They also pointed out that accession to such conventions is a key factor to bring meaningful and true reconciliation and many other benefits to post-war Sri Lanka. This includes Sri Lanka’s current position on the Global Peace Index (GPI) which will increase and also help investor confidence and political stability in the country. Victim-activated weapons such as landmines and cluster munitions are considered inhuman weapons due to their inherently indiscriminate nature and are outlawed by the global community. Further, Sri Lanka will be able to meaningfully contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal (No. 16 of SDGs) which emphasize that “peace building” is an important theme to make the world a happier place to live in.
The new use of landmines by security forces of Sri Lanka to protect military camps also creates concerns for the ongoing humanitarian mine-action programme in Sri Lanka which is supported by the international donor community. Post-war Sri Lanka is yet to clear over 40sqkm of mine-affected land area in the North and East regions. Around 50,000 people are yet to be resettled and are unable to do so until lands are cleared of mines. Sri Lanka’s three-decade long armed conflict ended in 2009 between the Government security forces and LTTE. (By Kalana Nawaratna)