An Overview of Mozambiques Mine-free District Process

by Antonio Belchior Vaz Martíns [ National Demining Institute of Mozambique ] and Hans Risser [ United Nations Development Programme, Mozambique ] - view pdf

Local community leaders in Mozambique participate in a Mine Free District Survey.
Photo courtesy of Antonio Belchior Vaz Martíns, NDI.
Local community leaders in Mozambique participate in a Mine Free District Survey.
Photo courtesy of Antonio Belchior Vaz Martíns, NDI.

In the 1990s, Mozambique ranked among countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Iraq as one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world. At the time, experts estimated that clearing all landmines in Mozambique would take 50 to 100 years. Landmines were widely used by all sides during the conflicts that ravaged Mozambique from the mid-1960s until 1992. These nuisance minefields usually consisted of small numbers of mines in seemingly random or undefined areas mostly around paths, wells and rural infrastructure. Large-pattern minefields tended to be the exception rather than the norm in Mozambique. Given the widespread use of landmines and poorly defined minefields, how did the government and international partners identify and clear all mined areas in accordance with the country’s obligations under the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC)?

Article 5 Obligations

Article 5 of the APMBC states that “each State Party shall make every effort to identify all areas under its 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 mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible.”1 However, as with most laws, this text has been interpreted in several ways, leading some to believe the aim of the APMBC was to achieve a mine-free, mine-impact free or mine-safe status. Yet, none of these previous terms actually appear in the text of the convention. Seeking to clarify the interpretation of Article 5s intent, the state parties to the convention agreed that “the Convention does not contain language that would require each State Party to search every square meter of its territory to find mines.”2 However, Article 5 does require that state parties make every effort to identify all mined areas under their jurisdiction or control, and clear those areas without delay.

In a country such as Mozambique, where mine contamination was widespread and not in well-defined areas, what qualifies as every effort required to identify all known areas? The process of identifying all known confirmed and suspected hazard areas (SHAs) requires transparency and accountability to ensure that a reasonable effort is made to identify all areas, without aiming to clear every square meter of territory. In Mozambiques case, the answer to this dilemma and the question of how much effort is enough became known as the Mine-free District (MFD) Process.

Mine-free District Process

From 1993 to 2007, The HALO Trust was the lead agency responsible for demining the four northern provinces of Mozambique (i.e., Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Numpula and Zambezia). As HALO approached the end of its task list in 2004, it developed a district-wide survey concept, creating the necessary conditions for an end state and documentation as evidence that no further known mined areas existed in the districts within the four northern provinces. HALO called this district-wide assessment the Mine Impact Free District (MIFD) Survey, a comprehensive survey designed to be implemented toward the end of a demining operator’s engagement in a country or geographical area.3

Mozambique, 2008
Yellow: District without landmine contamination
Red: District with landmine contamination
All maps courtesy of IMSMA/CISR.
Mozambique, 2008
Yellow: District without landmine contamination
Red: District with landmine contamination
All maps courtesy of IMSMA/CISR.
Mozambique, 2010
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District in final phase of demining activity
Red: District with hazardous areas to be cleared following year
Mozambique, 2010
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District in final phase of demining activity
Red: District with hazardous areas to be cleared following year
Mozambique, 2012
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District in final phase of demining activity
Red: District with hazardous area to be cleared following year
Mozambique, 2012
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District in final phase of demining activity
Red: District with hazardous area to be cleared following year
Mozambique, January 2015 
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District nearing completion
Mozambique, January 2015
Green: District free of mines
Yellow: District nearing completion

The MIFD survey required survey teams to visit every community within the northern provinces to interview a cross section of the people who lived there and determine if they knew of any remaining mines or other explosive remnants of war (ERW) threats. Any SHAs identified by the communities required further technical survey and possibly clearance if the presence of mines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) was confirmed. In each district, at both the beginning and end of the process, district authorities were briefed on the findings. As a final step in the process, each community leader and district official accompanying the HALO teams signed a report to acknowledge that as far as they were aware there were no more known mined areas in their respective districts or communities. All reports were carefully archived in both hard and soft formats. The results of the MIFD surveys were shared with the National Demining Institute (NDI) for their consideration and liaison with other governmental bodies.4 According to the report submitted to the NDI, the MIFD survey teams visited 6,395 communities and interviewed 401,007 people in the four northern provinces. Through the MIFD survey, 74 previously unknown SHAs were identified. HALO conducted technical survey and clearance in these 74 areas discovering and destroying a further 176 mines.5

NDI recognized the MIFD survey concept as a useful means for operators to exert a reasonable amount of effort to identify all possible hazardous areas in a district. However, while the HALO Trust’s MIFD survey standard operating procedures (SOPs) became the SOPs outlining the responsibilities of the humanitarian demining operators in the process, NDI recognized that the local government, district government and provincial governments also needed to be formally brought into the process to ensure that the approach could become more accountable and comprehensive.

The MFD Process adopted by the government became an integral part of its National Mine Action Plan and the district-by-district approach that the government used to ensure all known SHAs in a district were completed before operators moved on to another district or area of operations. The government defined the term ‘mine free’ as the absence of any known mined areas or SHAs. In Mozambique, the term ‘mine free’ therefore does not rule out the possibility of unknown areas or even unknown landmines or other ERW.6 The MFD Process became a means to ensure the implementation of Article 5 obligations in Mozambique while recognizing the need to improve the visibility, transparency and recording of demining results in the country.

Implementation of the Mine-free District Process

Given this framework, the government established six main objectives for the MFD Process:

The MFD Process consisted of four primary steps:

The primary tools utilized in the MFD Process include NDI’s guidelines for the classification of mine-free districts; demining reports—i.e., survey, area reduction, demining completion and quality-assurance (QA) reports—NDI’s procedures and SOPs for QA in Mozambique; the complete list of all administrative divisions in Mozambique; as well as the national mine action standards.

In order to implement the MFD Process, roles and responsibilities were defined for four main actors or groups of actors at various administrative levels:

The various actors’ responsibilities and actions are outlined here:

NDI and QA teams

The humanitarian demining operators

The local community authorities, district governments and provincial government through its appointed representatives

Benefits and Results of the MFD Process in Mozambique

Nguyen Dinh Thu is a Vietnamese farmer and UXO survivor living in Quang Tri. While working in the fields one day as a teenager, he saw a shiny object that appeared after a heavy rain. As he tried to excavate it, the UXO exploded, throwing Thu forward and causing the loss of both of his arms. After several surgeries, he had no option but to return to the same land where he was injured. Despite his injuries, he forged ahead to pursue an agrarian livelihood on his family farm. 
ROP offered Thu the opportunity to participate in the SHADE program, as pepper is a traditional crop in Son Ha village where he lived. MAG and ROP cleared the land of 11 more pieces of UXO, enabling Thu and his family to plant pepper trees and safely earn a living. In total, MAG cleared 9,721 sq m (2.40 ac) of land at 17 ROP SHADE pepper farms from May to August 2012, finding and destroying 69 pieces of ERW.
An NDI QA officer checks coordinates of a survey report for a
suspected hazardous area.
Photo courtesy of Antonio Belchior Vaz Martíns, NDI.

Implementation of the MFD Process in Mozambique resulted in clear advantages and benefits to the overall national mine action program in Mozambique. The process allowed better management of the overall mine-contamination problem in Mozambique with progress tracked clearly in the status of each individual district. In the absence of written information from former combatants, documentary evidence or military maps with data on mine contamination, the local communities became the most reliable source for information on mine contamination. Moreover, many former combatants with relevant information on mine contamination could be found and interviewed in the local communities. Thus, the interaction and survey process of all local communities within a district provided a means for the government and national mine action program to exert all reasonable effort to identify and clear all known mined areas in a manner meeting the obligations of the APMBC’s Article 5. Another clear advantage of the MFD Process was the documentation generated with formal signatures required from NDI QA teams, local community leaders, police commanders and demining operators. The paper trail generated by the process allows for a transparent and accountable manner of ensuring that all known mined areas in each district were identified and cleared, removing the need to search every square meter of its territory.

While the process itself may be misunderstood due to its use of the term mine free, the government clearly defined the term in its national context: A mine-free district no longer contains any known CHAs or SHAs, and is supported by documentation with signatures from each community in the district that they are satisfied with the results. The government of Mozambique is under no illusions that a residual risk remains of finding previously unknown ERW or even landmines, and is taking appropriate action to prepare a sustainable national capacity for such an eventuality. The ultimate success of the process is Mozambique’s formal declaration in 2015 of compliance with Article 5 of the APMBC. Hopefully mine-affected states in similar situations will find these lessons learned from Mozambique useful. c

 

Biography

Antonio Belchior Vaz MartínsAntonio Belchior Vaz Martíns joined the National Demining Institute of Mozambique in 2001 and is now chief of the operations department. He manages NDI staff responsible for quality assurance of demining conducted by independent operators in Mozambique, and for the coordination of education activities to prevent accidents with landmines and other explosive remnants of war. He has a degree in education, and has worked in teaching and training environments. In 2005, Martíns participated in the United Nations Development Programme’s Senior Managers’ Course delivered by the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery.

Hans RisserHans Risser worked as the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) chief technical adviser on mine action to the National Demining Institute in Maputo, Mozambique, from 2011 to 2015. Since 2004, he served as a UNDP project manager and technical adviser for a variety of projects in small arms control, mine action and armed-violence reduction. Risser holds a Master of Arts in international policy studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California (U.S.) and a Bachelor of Science in foreign service from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (U.S.)


Contact Information

Antonio Belchior Vaz Martíns
Chief of Operations Deparment
National Demining Institute of Mozambique
Avenida de Angola Nr.746
Maputo / Mozambique
Tel: +258847677308
Email: blchior@gmail.com

Hans Risser
Chief Technical Advisor for Mine Action
United Nations Development Programme, Mozambique
Avenida Kenneth Kaunda Nr.931
Maputo / Mozambique
Tel: +46723006312
Email: hans.risser@undp.org

 

Endnotes

  1. “Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.” Article 5, paragraphs 1 and 2. Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention. Accessed 28 October 2015. http://bit.ly/1w99Ek7.
  2. “Final Report Sixth Meeting of the States Parties to the APMBC.” Part II, paragraph 62, Zagreb, Croatia 2005. United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Accessed 28 October 2015. http://bit.ly/1GJo6HU.
  3. “The HALO Trust: Getting the Survey Right.” The HALO Trust. Accessed 28 October 2015. http://bit.ly/1LC7yk6. Further details of the HALO Trust’s Mine Impact Free District Process are available in the HALO Trust’s SOP for the MFID Surveys.
  4. Rebelo, Pamela. “Transitioning Mine Action Programmes to National Ownership: Mozambique.” GICHD. Accessed 2 November 2015. http://bit.ly/1iy0Bpz. Since 1999, the National Demining Institute of Mozambique or Instituto Nacional de Desminagem (IND) serves as the National Mine Action Center for the country, responsible for coordinating all mine action activities in Mozambique and formulating policy and strategies for the implementation of the APMBC.
  5. The HALO Trust. “The Mine Impact Free Survey of Northern Mozambique Final Report. October 2004–June 2007” submitted to the IND, Maputo, Mozambique, 2007.
  6. “Understanding Mine Clearance in the Context of the AP Mine Ban Convention.” Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining. Accessed 28 October 2015. http://bit.ly/1kRMm0J. This use of the term “mine-free” is in line with advice provided by the APMBC’s Implementation Support Unit which stated, “For public relations purposes, ‘mine-free’ may be used as a short reference to communicate that there are no areas in a particular location or country are considered dangerous, due to the presence or suspected presence of mines.”