Issue 7.2, August 2003
The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) provides operational assistance to mine action programmes and operators, conducts research, and provides support to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (MBC).
The GICHD has recently published a study titled The Role of the Military in Mine Action. The issue of the use of the military in general humanitarian relief activities has been debated for some time. In 1994, the United Nations and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) produced the so-called “Oslo Guidelines,” setting out when and under what conditions the military could be used. These included the following:
In 1997, the Disability Action Council/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (DAC/OECD) produced a similar report, which concluded “the military’s involvement in the provision and support of humanitarian assistance is not a subject that lends itself to simple or universal answers.” However, it tentatively concluded that the military “has a few unique capabilities and it has the capacity to respond to large-scale need. The civilian sector is more competent and experienced with most relief tasks, is more reliable (being free from political constraints) and is more effective at connecting relief to longer term development work.”
The GICHD study into the use of the military specifically in mine action found that over the past 15 years military forces—both local and visiting—have made a significant contribution to mine action. However, their effectiveness is greatly enhanced when they are employed within, and under the auspices of, a planned national mine action programme, and operate according to the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). The use of individual visiting military “technical advisers” was found to be useful in the initial startup phase of a programme, particularly for the training and transfer of technical demining skills. As a programme develops and issues such as prioritization based on socio-economic factors and linking mine action to broader development activities become more important, the military adviser was found to be less appropriate. In general, military forces have not represented current trends in mine risk education (MRE), such as using community-based methodologies. The uses of engineer troops that form part of a formal UN peacekeeping operation were seen to be an under-utilized resource in the mine action sector.
Local military forces, deployed directly after a conflict to undertake humanitarian demining with little training and equipment, have typically produced poor results and suffered high casualty rates. Their performance was found to improve with proper training and assistance, but at times this has been controversial if it is perceived as enhancing a combat capability. On the other hand, the use of the local military can contribute positively to community confidence in them. The study also found that in almost every case, the local military played a significant role in stockpile destruction activities undertaken by States Parties meeting their AP MBC obligations.
Full details of the study are available on the GICHD website at www.gichd.ch, or hard copies can be ordered from the Centre (see contact information below).
In the last issue of the Journal, the GICHD provided an update of the current negotiations in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) process dealing with the issue of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). The GICHD has observer status at the meeting and is also called upon to provide technical advice. In this latter context, the Centre released two new publications to support the current negotiations. The first, ERW: Information Requirements of the Clearance Community, was based on a survey of the operational mine action community, and explains that information plays a significant role in facilitating the clearance of ERW and enabling effective, targeted MRE to be implemented. This information assists in establishing the size of an operation, identification of the assets required, training requirements, resource mobilization and prioritization of tasks. The second report, ERW: Warnings and Risk Education, discusses the main issues and challenges concerning warnings and risk education programmes in general. It presents examples from the field as illustration, before concluding with lessons learned based on operational experience.
Finally, the GICHD undertakes all its work with a view to providing practical applications to assist mine-affected countries. As an example, an earlier study, titled “Communication in Mine Awareness Programmes,” has been followed up with a field handbook. Also, the Centre staff has recently conducted training workshops in Colombia using the material from the report. Further training sessions are planned for the near future.