We Can Only Be “Mine-Safe When We Are “Mine-Free

by Tamar Gabelnick [ International Campaign to Ban Landmines ] - view pdf

Despite the fact that the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction makes no mention of the term mine-safe,” it is still a frequent term used by mine-contaminated states. However, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines maintains that in order for states to be safe from the dangers posed by mines, all mined areas must be cleared—not only those areas which are deemed to pose an immediate threat.

In January 2011, Sri Lanka experienced its heaviest rainfall since 1917, bringing landmines and unexploded ordnance back into areas previously surveyed, partially cleared and deemed safe” for populations to return.1 These populations are again at risk from injury according to the Sri Lankan Army, a risk that could have been avoided if all mined areas had been cleared rather than only high-impact regions.

This example is just one of many reasons that the ICBL has insisted on the need for mine-affected states to fully clear all mined areas, not just those deemed to pose an immediate threat to the local population. Twelve years after the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (also known at the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention or APMBC) entered into force, some mine-affected states (both States Parties and others) maintain that reaching such a goal is neither possible nor necessarily a desirable end state. The ICBL strongly disagrees.


The Article 5 Framework

Deminers walk over land cleared of mines during a ceremony to hand land over to a local community in Yemen (2007).
Deminers walk over land cleared of mines during a ceremony to hand land over to a local community in Yemen (2007). Photo courtesy of Jackie Hansen.

Article 5 of the APMBC requires States Parties to make every effort to identify all areas under [their] jurisdiction or control in which anti-personnel mines are known or suspected to be emplaced” and to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in such areas as soon as possible but not later than ten years after joining the treaty.”2 This does not mean that states must search every square meter of their land in order to find and destroy the last mine. However, it does mean that reaching a mine-safe” or impact-free” state is not good enough. Instead, states must do their best to accurately identify mined areas through non-technical and technical survey, and subsequently ensure those areas are cleared of all minesreaching what we call a mine-free” state. Even for mine-affected states that are not parties to the convention, this simple and clear Article 5 framework shouldand in many cases does—guide their efforts to address their mine problem.

As we move along collectively in our fight against landmines, we should not abandon the goal of a mine-free world in favor of a lesser standard. Even when high- and medium-priority areas are completed, mine action must continue until all known mined areas are cleared. Reasons to continue demining range from legal and moral imperatives to enabling economic land development, building confidence among neighboring states and preventing reuse of buried mines. Two of the principal reasons why mine-safe” or “impact-free” are insufficient are described briefly below.


Demining activities in Albania. Albania declared completion of its Article 5 obligations in 2009.
Demining activities in Albania. Albania declared completion of its Article 5 obligations in 2009.
Photo courtesy of the author.

Completely Safe, for All Time

As shown by the Sri Lankan example above, one reason all mined areas need clearing is because while mine contamination might be a finite problem, it is not necessarily a static one. Mines can be displaced over time due to rain, flooding, mudslides or other climatic factors. Populations may seek to move into hazardous areas due to demographic pressures, a search for fertile land, displacement or to return home after conflict. States can never be sure that no one will walk through what they consider a remote contaminated area. As Croatia explained at the APMBC’s intercessional Standing Committee meetings in June 2005, For all of us to be mine-safe, we must become mine-free.”3

In the last year alone, several natural disasters have led to landmines being displaced to previously uncontaminated areas and threatening civilian lives. In June 2010, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Mine Action Center warned its citizens that mines had moved from marked mined areas due to floods and landslides in the north.4 Then, in early August 2010, North Korean landmines drifted along streams between North and South Korea due to heavy rainfall, causing the death of one man and injuring another.5 In mid-August, 2010, the Dera Ismail Khan region of Pakistan was devastated by floods, which dislodged mines and UXO that injured five civilians in three separate incidents.”6

Some states might not think there is a need to clear seemingly remote or uninhabited places because of an expectation that no one will cross or use such land. Yet many situations occur where people wander into isolated places or move into previously unpopulated areas. Some casualties in Croatia, for example, were reported on islands where tourists were not expected to travel. People often go into marked and fenced areas accidently or even intentionally, proving that marking and fencing is not a sufficient long-term solution. Information obtained under the United Kingdom Freedom of Information Act showed that many people, including several local children and tourists, have wandered into mined areas in the Falkland/Malvinas Islands over time, escaping disaster through luck alone.7


A Legal Commitment for the Majority

A second key reason that all States Parties to the APMBC must clear all mined areas is their legal responsibility under the convention. The APMBC has no exemption for areas that pose no immediate threat to the population, nor does it differentiate in any other way among mined areas, definitively stating they must all be cleared as soon as possible. Further, while authorities should prioritize clearance of high- and medium-impact areas, as Norwegian Ambassador Steffen Kongstad emphasized: Let there be no mistake, all mine-affected state parties are obliged to clear all mined areas … Only mine-free is acceptable.”8

The U.K. tried during the 1997 negotiation of the APMBC to include an exception for areas without a demonstrated impact on the population, but this was rejected in favor of Article 5’s unequivocal language. In 2008, the U.K. again tried to use similar arguments to justify a virtually open-ended extension to its Article 5 deadline, receiving strong criticism from a significant number of states. Instead, the U.K. agreed to begin immediate clearance of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, though the pace to date has been exceedingly slow.

In many other instances, States Parties have reaffirmed the need to fully meet the obligations of Article 5, noting for example during the 7th Meeting of the States Parties that at least two States Parties [previously] referred to their end state under Article 5 obligations as 'impact-free' or having no new victims, terms which are neither in the convention nor consistent with [APMBC] obligations.”9 This notion that neither mine-safe” nor impact-free” could be equated to full treaty compliance has been repeated in several other progress reports.10


INTERSOS deminers inspecting marked land outside Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2005).
INTERSOS deminers inspecting marked land outside Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (2005).
Photo courtesy of the author.

Mine-Free, an Achievable Goal

Reaching a mine-free state may be time-consuming and expensive, but it is an achievable goal over the long term, especially with recent improvements in surveying efficiency and reinforced calls for sustained international cooperation and assistance. States are now encouraged to use all techniquesincluding non-technical and technical surveyto release suspected hazardous areas, leaving the deployment of full clearance assets to accurately defined mined areas. Such efforts are helping to avoid spending time and resources on clearing land with no contamination and to speeding up the release of land more generally.

In addition, while mine-affected states bear the ultimate responsibility for mine clearance, the right to receive international cooperation and assistance under Article 6 of the APMBC shows they are not meant to deal with this challenge on their own. The ICBL believes that virtually all states are in a position to contribute in some way, for example by providing technical assistance or sharing expertise. The strong demand for continued international support for affected states led to the creation of a new Standing Committee on Resources, Cooperation and Assistance in 2010, with the goal of exploring new and more efficient ways of mobilizing and using resources.

Some states’ efforts to carry out mine clearance will outlast the initial 10-year deadline, in which case they are allowed to seek a deadline extension. For states with extensive mine contamination, it is also crucial to develop the capacity to tackle the problem at the national level in order to ensure programs can be sustained for as long as is necessary. This will also help states keep a residual capacity to respond quickly to mines found occasionally after all known mined areas are cleared.

In 2009, the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor Report estimated that around 3,000 square kilometers (1,158 square miles) of remaining land need clearance globally. This is a large but manageable challenge. It will take time, resources and hard work, but it is doable and will save lives.11 J


Tamar GabelnickTamar Gabelnick is the Policy Director for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munitions Coalition. ICBL, a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is a global network of advocacy organizations, mine-clearance operators, victim-assistance organizations and dedicated individuals working in more than 90 countries toward the goal of a mine-free world. Gabelnick works with States Parties of the APMBC, U.N. agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other partners to pursue the convention’s full and timely implementation. She has previously worked on conventional-arms-export policy in Washington, as a Human Rights Officer with the United Nations in Croatia, and at NATO in Brussels from 1992–95. She has a Masters in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

Tamar Gabelnick
ICBL-CMC Policy Director
International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munitions Coalition
9 Rue de Cornavin
1201 Geneva / Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 920 0320
Fax: +41 22 920 0115
Mobile: +41 79 470 1145
E-mail: tamar@icblcmc.org
Website: http://icbl.org



  1. ABC Radio Australia, Landmines Unearthed by Floods in Sri Lanka,” http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/
    . Accessed 27 May 2011.
  2. Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction,” http://www.un.org/Depts/mine/UNDocs/ban_trty.htm. Accessed 27 May 2011. The document was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, 3 December 1997, and thus is commonly known as the Ottawa Convention.
  3. Statement of Croatia to the Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies,” http://www.the-monitor.org/custom/index.php/region_profiles/print_theme/908. Accessed 27 May 2011.
  4. Des experts mettent en garde contre le déplacement de mines,” http://www.meteocity.com/article/. Accessed 27 May 2011.
  5. The Guardian, South Korea: Man Dies as Floods Sweep Landmines South,” http://www.guardian.co.uk/
    . Accessed 27 May 2011.
  6. The Sydney Morning Herald, Pakistan Floods Increase Landmine Risk,” http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/pakistan-floods-increase-landmine-risk-20100901-14fsc.html. Accessed 27 May 2011.
  7. International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Statement to the Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies,” http://www.icbl.org/intro.php. Accessed 27 May 2011 .
  8. E-mail from the U.K. Ministry of Defence to Richard Moyes, Action on Armed Conflict, 16 February 2009. Request for information under the U.K. Freedom of Information Act 2000.
  9. AP Mine Ban Convention, Geneva Progress Report: 7th Meeting of the States Parties to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention,” http://www.apminebanconvention.org/fileadmin/pdf/mbc/MSP/
    . Accessed 27 May 2011.
  10. Cartagena Summit, Review of the Operation and Status of the Convention 2005–2009,” http://www.cartagenasummit.org/decisions-and-documents/. Accessed 27 May 2011.
  11. International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2009: Toward a Mine-Free World,” http://www.the-monitor.org/index.php/publications/display?url=lm/2009/. Accessed 27 May 2011.