20 years of the APMBC: A mine-free world by 2025?

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20 years of the APMBC: A mine-free world by 2025?

Julian Karssen

04 Dec 2019

5min min read
  • Land mines
  • Security, International

wenty years after entering into international law, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) reflects a momentous achievement by a broad coalition of committed governments and civil society organisations, ushering in a revolution in global attitudes towards landmines. 

Since its first ratification by 40 states in 1999, an additional 124 countries have signed on, signifying almost universal acceptance of the norms outlined in the convention. The treaty itself imposes a prohibition on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of victim-detonated anti-personnel (AP) mines. States party to the convention have the obligation to destroy existing stockpiles, clear their own territory of mines, as well as to create mine awareness programmes and assist victims, their families, and affected communities.

In 2014, at the APMBC’s Third Review Conference in Maputo, Mozambique, signatories committed to achieving a world free of landmines by 2025. On 25 November 2019, representatives from over 100 states, international organisations, civil society groups and landmine victims met in Oslo, Norway, for the treaty’s Fourth Review Conference, to assess progress towards this goal.

Progress towards a mine-free world by 2025

In the two decades since the APMBC entered into force, 31 states have declared the fulfilment of their treaty obligations, with Mozambique the latest to be declared mine-free in 2017. Since 1999, there has been a steady year-on-year reduction in the recorded number of new victims in the  majority of affected countries, and global landmine stockpiles, which in 1999 stood at 160 million devices and are now estimated at below 50 million. International exports of AP mines have also ended, including from non-signatories such as Russia and China. Moreover, international funding for mine action has reached record levels, amounting to USD 771.5 million and USD 699.5 million in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

However, despite these signs of progress, according to a 2019 report by the Mine Action Review, more than half of affected states party to the APMBC are at present not likely to fulfil their obligations by 2025. The issue is particularly critical amongst African states, which continue to feature some of the highest global levels of landmine contamination. Out of 12 African states with ongoing de-mining activities, only Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are on track to complete all clearance operations on time.

As such, the 2020-2024 Oslo Action Plan, which emerged from the Oslo Review Conference, includes a commitment to accelerate efforts to meet the 2025 deadline, as well as a renewed focus on mine risk education, victim care, and measuring and recording progress. 

Nonetheless, some significant challenges lie ahead.

Non-state actors and improvised mines

One of the primary obstacles to meeting the 2025 goal is the growing proliferation of improvised mines, which have swiftly overtaken the use of factory-made AP mines in the last decade. According to the 2019 Landmine Monitor Report, in 2018, recorded casualties caused by improvised mines reached an unprecedented high of 3,789. In large part, this shift is due to the prevalence of non-state armed groups capable of fabricating improvised mines en masse from locally-available components, circumventing the need for other methods of acquisition, such as raiding state stockpiles or illicit arms transfers.

"Out of 12 African states with ongoing de-mining activities, only Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo are on track to complete all clearance operations by 2025."

While improvised mines are most prevalent in Afghanistan and Syria, their increasing use also threatens to reverse de-mining successes in many African states. For instance, in Nigeria, which declared itself mine-free in 2011, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has employed improvised mines since mid-2014 in the north-eastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, leading to the contamination of new areas. 

In the past five years, the use of improvised mines by non-state groups has also been reported in Cameroon, Chad, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Libya, and Tunisia.

This issue is compounded in that the most severely affected African states have ongoing civil conflicts, which slows the pace of mine clearance and survey activities, restricts access to critically affected areas, and exposes mine action workers to extreme personal risk. Before mine clearance operations can take place, security and stability needs to be restored to affected areas. 

In the meantime, mine casualties continue to mount.

Victim support remains on the periphery

While there has been considerable progress in terms of improving emergency assistance and rehabilitation services for landmine victims in the past 20 years, victim care is still lacking. For instance, donor support remains weighted overwhelmingly towards clearance efforts: in 2017, only two percent of identifiable donor funding was allocated towards victim care.

Across much of Africa, which continues to host the highest number of states with significant victim populations, care at all stages remains inadequate. This is most evident in fragile or conflict-ridden states, such as South Sudan, where casualties often occur in remote rural districts with no access to adequate emergency medical services. Moreover, rehabilitation centres suffer from staff and equipment shortfalls and insufficient space for victims.

Renewed commitments needed in Africa

In Africa, many of the countries most affected by landmine contamination, such as Somalia, Chad and Nigeria, face severe resource constraints and limited government capacity, meaning that mine action relies almost exclusively on the support of foreign donors. However, while international support for de-mining operations continues to climb, donor focus has recently shifted towards the Middle East, and funds earmarked for African operations have correspondingly dwindled. The impact has been felt immediately across the continent: in 2018, a lack of funding almost led to the total cessation of all mine clearance operations in Angola.

However, while increased funding is essential to getting African mine clearance efforts back on track, donor commitments need to be matched by the resolve to support mine action from affected states themselves. This has proven challenging, as reflected in the repeated failure by many African signatories to comply with the clearance and reporting requirements of the APMBC. For instance, Chad, Eritrea, Niger, and Senegal have not carried out any clearance operations in the past five years. Eritrea has also not submitted any annual reports during the same period.

The way forward: Tying mine action to development goals

Renewing the commitment of affected states and foreign donors is clearly needed to meet the 2025 deadline. However, resource allocation in many African states often reflects a set of competing priorities given multiple humanitarian crises. In this context, landmine contamination is often not viewed as necessitating immediate action. 

Elevating de-mining efforts to compete on an even footing with other national priorities may require a re-framing of landmine contamination, viewing it as not only a security and public health issue, but as a major impediment to economic development. A 2019 paper by researchers from the London Business School and the Centre for Economic Policy Research argues precisely this point, stating that landmine contamination not only constrains development, but de-mining efforts themselves in fact have the potential to significantly bolster economic growth, allowing transportation networks to re-open and local markets to expand. Such a re-framing may not only precipitate the increased prioritisation of de-mining operations by affected states, but could open up new rationales and avenues for funding by the international community. 

This approach would also ultimately contribute to a more holistic view of the effects of landmine contamination, where victims are increasingly seen as not only those with physical and psychological scars, but also those whose quality of life is diminished through the daily impact of living alongside landmines.

(Main image: A demining agent, working for the French non-governmental organization Handicap International, toils in a minefield on December 3, 2009, in a village near Kaguit, in the southern Senegalese province of Casamance - SEYLLOU/AFP via Getty Images)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA or CIGI.