Fifteen years after the landmine ban the number of new casualties halves

The number of reported new landmine and unexploded ordnance casualties has reduced dramatically since the banning of landmines was agreed, say UK anti-landmine campaigners today on the 15th anniversary of the treaty to outlaw the weapons.

In 1999, two years after the ban was signed, there were 8,807 reported new landmine casualties, by 2011 that figure has reduced by over a half to 4,286 reported new casualties. The rate of reduction is likely to be much higher as in later years there have been better methods of reporting leading to relatively higher numbers of casualties being reported.

“There has been remarkable progress in saving lives from landmines since the treaty to ban them was signed in 1997. This shows that international treaties do not end up as just words on paper,” said Anna MacDonald, Head of Arms Control at Oxfam. “The fact that even those countries that have so far not joined the treaty are abiding by it is strong evidence that setting high standards in international agreements is the right approach. When lives are at stake we should not be compromising for the sake of bringing on board a handful of sceptical countries.”

Challenges remain however, with a few countries responsible for the majority of landmine casualties. The country with the worst record of new landmine casualties is Afghanistan. Between 1999 and 2011 there were 14,951 new victims. Second worst is Colombia, which suffered 8,448 new casualties over the same period and Cambodia is third with 8,041. Casualty rates in these countries are still declining, however, with Cambodia seeing a significant reduction in new casualty figures thanks to clearance work.

“From November 1992 to July this year, MAG’s operations in Cambodia released 560km2 of land back to communities, and found and destroyed more than 64,000 landmines and in excess of 185,000 items of unexploded ordnance,” said Nick Roseveare, Chief Executive of the Mines Advisory Group. “Since peaking at more than 1,200 casualties per year in the late 1990s we have seen a steady drop in the country to just 211 by the end of last year.[1]”

The work to ensure the rights of victims, however, requires sustained engagement. “The long term consequences on survivors and their families can be devastating. Action on Armed Violence's 2012 survey of over 900 survivors in Western Sahara found that a quarter had no income,” said Steve Smith, Chief Executive of Action on Armed Violence.

Before the ban treaty was signed it was estimated that 65 million anti-personnel landmines had been laid between 1978-1993. This use has all but ceased, with only a few non-signatory states using the weapons over the past decade. In the past year only Syria has used antipersonnel landmines and last year only Israel, Libya and Myanmar used the weapons.

The number of countries producing anti-personnel landmines since the ban has also declined from 54 before the ban to just 12 countries today. Of these 12, only four, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea, are thought to be actively producing the weapons. With estimated stocks of over 140 million between them, China, Russia and the US have the largest stockpiles and while they have not signed the treaty, they are not using or transferring the weapons. Landmine Monitor notes that the trade and transfer in anti-personnel landmines between states has effectively ended with no documented state-to-state transfer of the weapon since the ban treaty was signed in 1997.

The UK has played an important role in the efforts to ban landmines and is one of the world’s leading donors to mine clearance. The engagement of Diana, Princess of Wales helped raise the profile of the issue and British NGOs have been influential within the international campaign and the development of humanitarian mine clearance.

"Diana, Princess of Wales encouraged the UK to use its leadership in support of the global effort to ban landmines. This British leadership continued with the ban on cluster bombs and future UK leadership on other issues related to banning weapons which cause unacceptable human harm and encourage the protection of civilians would be a fitting way of continuing the Princess' legacy," said Dr Astrid Bonfield, Chief Executive of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

“We must not let up to ensure the founding principle of a world without landmines does not just remain a utopian vision but a concrete reality. State Parties must not give up on the final objective: to return a land free of mines to civilian populations,” said Aleema Shivji, Director of Handicap International UK.

Eight UK members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – Action on Armed Violence, Amnesty International UK, Article 36, Handicap International, Mines Advisory Group, Oxfam, Power International and the Soroptimist International UK Programme Action Committee – call upon the international community to finish the work to eradicate antipersonnel landmines by honouring the commitments of the treaty they have signed, stepping up mine clearance and victim assistance work, and pressing remaining states to join the ban.