Tajikistan

by Geary Cox [ Mine Action Information Center ]

Nearly a decade after a civil war ravaged the Republic of Tajikistan, the country is still suffering the effects of contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war. Although the country has never produced or exported anti-personnel mines, Soviet and Uzbek forces emplaced them along most of its borders. Tajikistan is also the only State Party to the Ottawa Convention1 to declare APMs stockpiled in its territory by a non-State Party; Russian Ministry of Defense units deployed in Tajikistan control approximately 18,200 mines.2 All of these issues contribute to a crippling mine problem for one of the poorest countries in the world.

Mine Contamination

The Tajikistan Mine Action Centre, the national executive body for mine action, reports more than 150 mined areas contaminate approximately 25 square kilometers (9.6 square miles). Contamination from the 1992–1997 civil war is concentrated in central and western areas of the country as both sides in the conflict used mines. Soviet forces emplaced and maintained landmines along the Tajik-Afghan border and Uzbek forces deployed mines along the Tajik-Uzbek border. Both countries were active in laying landmines with the intent to stop cross-border infiltration.

Parviz Mavlonkulov, TMAC Operations Manager, says the contamination along the border with Uzbekistan is especially problematic because both countries contest the actual location of the border. Landmine Survivors Network reports the last mines were laid along the border by Uzbek forces as recently as 2000.3 Mavlonkulov, in a presentation to the United Nations Development Programme Senior Managers Course held at James Madison University in 2007, stated, "We don't get any cooperation from Uzbekistan. … They even mined our land."4 TMAC has not received records for landmine emplacement from Uzbek authorities; only Afghanistan has released landmine documentation.

Compounding the problem with mines and disputed borders is the prevalence of other explosive remnants of war,5 which has been addressed by the Explosive Demolition Centre, created by the government of Tajikistan and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The EDC oversaw the destruction of more than 77 tons of ERW by 19 October 2006, much of which was small arms and light weapons.6

Impact of Mines and ERW

Mavlonkulov says 325 mine deaths and 362 mine victims have been reported since 1992. Of these, children constitute about 20 percent and women constitute 10 percent. TMAC reports that most casualties are civilians engaged in income-generating activities entailing agriculture, animal grazing or wood collection.2 It is difficult to ascertain the total impact of mines and other ERW because there is no national data-collection mechanism in Tajikistan. Authorities must rely on healthcare providers and other means of data collection, but they estimate a 15 to 20 percent under-collection of information.

Aside from the impact to the populace, landmines present a unique problem to Tajikistan because of the country's terrain. Mavlonkulov reports that nearly 93 percent of the country is mountainous, which poses two problems: First, arable land, due to its scarcity, is placed at a premium; second, demining in mountainous regions must be conducted manually as mechanical demining cannot be conducted in such terrain. Manual deminers have worked at 3,000 meters (9,843 feet), Mavlonkulov says. "We have flat areas," he adds, "but they are not a priority—we can use machines in these areas."4 Mavlonkulov says that the ability to use machines in certain locations increases efficiency and frees resources for other, more problematic areas.

Of the 25 square kilometers (9.65 square miles) contaminated, Mavlonkulov says some 900,000 square meters (222 acres) have been cleared. This figure is comparatively low, he admits, "because clearance is very difficult for our minefields in the mountains."

Clearance Operations

Tajikistan acceded to the Ottawa Convention 12 October 1999, and the Convention entered into force for the country 1 April 2000. The Tajik government did not implement new domestic legislation to enforce the mine ban, deeming national laws sufficient.2 Tajikistan destroyed its stockpile of 3,074 APMs, inherited from the Soviet Union, between May 2002 and April 2004 in accordance with its Article 48 obligations.

The deadline for total landmine clearance in Tajikistan is 1 April 2010, but, as Mavlonkulov concedes, "Of course this is not a sufficient amount of time." A March 2007 workshop held by TMAC and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines concluded that Tajikistan has taken important steps to meet Convention obligations but has ultimately suffered due to a lack of support from other States Parties.2

TMAC serves as the coordinating agency for the Commission on the Implementation of International Humanitarian Law, an inter-ministerial body that oversees mine action in Tajikistan. The Landmine Monitor Report notes that TMAC, established in June 2003, receives assistance from one United Nations Development Programme Technical Advisor. The Fondation Suisse de Dminage provided national capacity-building services and managed mine-action operations; TMAC will assume responsibility for management in 2008.2

CIIHL's Strategic Mine Action Plan 2004–2008 called for most clearance activities to be completed by 2009. Priority has been given to settled high-risk areas, agricultural land, and land for infrastructure development and reconstruction.2 In 2006, the Tajik government handed 12 cleared areas over to local authorities.4

A lack of funding caused two survey teams to miss two months of an already brief operational period in 2006 (weather conditions make clearance and survey difficult or impossible for extensive periods of the year).2 The Fondation Suisse de Déminage provided 163 staff members—including four manual-clearance teams and six mine-detecting-dog teams. Unfortunately, FSD's four survey teams could not operate in 2006 for lack of funding.

Poor funding has hampered clearance and other mine-action activities. By April 2007, the Landmine Monitor Report noted that only US$1.2 million of a total request of $3 million had been met. Despite these budget shortfalls, more than 300,000 square meters (74 acres) were cleared in 2006 and 1.2 square kilometers (296 acres) were cancelled or reduced.2 Mavlonkulov reports that 619 pieces of unexploded ordnance and 1,547 mines were cleared in 2007–all told, 1,290 pieces of UXO and 4,009 mines have been cleared. He says that various mine action-related tasks have been handled by implementing partners FSD, United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan.

Moving Forward

TMAC and its implementing partners remain committed to providing support and assistance to the Tajik people. A project called Assistance to Landmine Survivors provides prostheses and medical assistance at the Orthopedic Centre in Dushanbe and its three satellite offices.6 The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNDP fund these centers.4 Landmine survivors or landmine victims' families receive a government stipend of the equivalent of US$10 every month, although this is a comparatively small amount of assistance.6

The Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan implemented a small-scale livestock-enterprise program to deliver breeding pairs of sheep and goats to landmine survivors. This important income-generation program has helped more than 72 families in six districts.4

Mine-risk education is an important part of assistance that TMAC and its implementing partners plan for accident prevention. Although MRE has been hampered in mined regions along the Tajik-Uzbek border (where contamination is extremely problematic), UNICEF and the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan have provided MRE services elsewhere. Nearly 1,800 meetings in 87 communities, reaching about 20,000 people, were conducted in 2006.2 More than 460 teachers taught MRE to 15,000 children in 50 schools, LMR states. This MRE is important, Mavlonkulov says, because TMAC has placed more than 2,000 warning signs around suspected contaminated areas, but, without sufficient education, the populace may not comprehend or heed the signs.

Additional efforts have included child-survivor summer camps, supervised by TMAC, and the construction of eight safe playgrounds in four border districts with Uzbekistan, completed by the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan.4

Conclusion

The future for Tajikistan depends greatly on its ability to overcome the landmine situation with which it has been saddled due to years of conflicts and disputes. TMAC and the Tajik government have laid out important strategic plans for the future, but even the most unassuming plans require stronger support from international donors. The problem of landmines and other explosive remnants of war is a politically sensitive issue, one that threatens to hinder development in one of the poorest countries of the world. If increased donations and support from the international community can match Tajikistan's commitment to landmine eradication, the country will be poised for success. Bullet

Biography

Geary Cox is an Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Mine Action and a graduate student at James Madison University. Having received a bachelor's degree in English and political science from JMU in 2005, he will graduate in 2008 with a Master of Arts in English.

Endnotes

  1. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, Oslo, Norway. 18 September 1997. http://www.icbl.org/treaty/text/english. Accessed 17 December 2007. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  2. "Tajikistan." Landmine Monitor Report 2007. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2007/tajikistan.html. Updated 6 November 2007. Accessed 12 November 2007.
  3. "World Landmine News." Landmine Survivors Network. http://www.landminesurvivors.org/news_article.php?id=707 Updated 13 December 2006. Accessed 24 January 2008.
  4. Country presentation to the UNDP Senior Managers Course at James Madison University by Parviz Mavlonkulov, TMAC Operations Manager. 30 October 2007.
  5. Editor's Note: Some organizations consider mines and ERW to be two separate entities, since they are regulated by different legal documents (the former by the Ottawa Convention and Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the latter by CCW Protocol V). However, since mines are explosive devices that have similar effects to other ERW and it is often impossible to separate the two during clearance operations, some in the community have adopted a "working definition" (as opposed to a legal one) of ERW in which it is a blanket term that includes mines, UXO, abandoned explosive ordnance and other explosive devices.
  6. Jonmahmad Rajabov. "Explosive Remnants of War and Their Consequences." Journal of Mine Action 10.2 (Winter 2006). http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/10.2/focus/rajabov/rajabov.shtml. Updated 16 December 2007. Accessed 17 December 2007.
  7. Jonmahmad Rajabov. "Tajikistan Mine Action Programme." Journal of Mine Action 10.1 (August 2006). http://www.jmu.edu/cisr/journal/10.1/notes/rajabov/rajabov.shtml. Updated 3 August 2006. Accessed 16 December 2007.
  8. Article 4 obligations refer to the responsibility of States Party to the Ottawa Convention to destroy stockpiled anti-personnel landmines.

Contact Information

Geary Cox
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Mine Action
Mine Action Information Center
E-mail: maic@jmu.edu