The victim-activated vicious killer hidden under the ground which is called the Anti-personnel landmine or AP mine is still haunting the lands of North and East of Sri Lanka where many continue to be killed or maimed. It was believed that this vicious weapon was introduced to Sri Lanka by the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE) in 1980s that massively produced and used them in the North and East regions of Sri Lanka as an offensive weapon. Later, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) security forces imported and used AP-mines as a defensive weapon against the LTTE in the surrounding areas of their camps. It is believed that the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) also laid AP mines when they were in Sri Lanka.
During and after the conflict, these weapons could be found in places where people carried out their daily activities.The GoSL initiated a mine action programme in 2002 with the support of the international community and started removing mines from the ground due to the discriminatory nature of the weapon and its serious impact on civilians. Since the war ended in 2009 mine action became a high priority for the GoSL and with the support of the international community revived the comprehensive mine action programme to remove landmines and allow civilians to return to their original lands.
The New Democratic Front (NDF) Government came into office in early January 2015 and the Ministry of Resettlement was assigned as the line ministry to carry out Sri Lanka’s national mine action programme. The Cabinet paper on this issue was approved on 18th March 2015 at the Cabinet Meeting headed by President Maithripala Sirisena. The National Mine Action Programme co-ordinated by the National Mine Action Centre (NMAC) which was set up during the previous United Peoples Front Alliance (UPFA )Government was operated under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Development.
The new GoSL should be able to address all of the five pillars of mine action as a high priority with positive outcomes and pursue a 2020 deadline to become a zero mine-affected country. The five pillars of the mine-action programme include; I) De-mining, II) Mine Risk Education, III) Victim Assistance, IV) Stockpile Destruction, and V) Advocacy.
Post-war Sri Lanka’s mine action became a matter of high priority for the previous government. The international community heavily supported it in terms of de-mining. Post-war Sri Lanka was able to clear the ground for resettlement for approximately 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). In 2010, the government’s mine-action strategy paper set out the year 2020 as the deadline for clearance of all landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). As of 31st December 2014 the NMAC data shows that 78kmremain to be cleared in the identified mine- affected areas of North and East provinces. In previous years,annual progress of land clearance was at 53km in 2011, 22km in 2012, 8kmin 2013 and 5km in 2014. This data shows that clearance levels have come down drastically in the post-war Sri Lanka demining.
"Today very few countries in the world use cluster bombs and those that do come under heavy criticism from the international community. The GoSL vehemently rejected the allegations made against it by some parties at the last stage of the war on the use of cluster bombs"
There are still some areas to be surveyed in suspect mine-affected areas in the North and East. If the surveys find any additional mine and ERW affected lands, de-mining work should start immediately. The Department of Wildlife Conservation proposed 16 new wildlife reserves for the Northern Province but some of them are still mined. The deadline of mine clearance as set out in 2020 will not be achieved if the de-mining does not obtain the necessary support.
The GoSL must give priority to clearance. The GoSL should have a new approach to seek more funding from current donors as well as approach new donor countries as well. Some international governments which are not funding de-mining activities in Sri Lanka is due to the country being not a state party for the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT). Currently Sri Lanka’s Army Humanitarian De-mining Unit (SLA HDU), HALO Trust, MAG, DASH are working in de-mining activities in Sri Lanka.
II) Mine Risk Education
Due to well co-ordinated Mine-Risk Education (MRE) carried out in the war-affected areas post-war Sri Lanka was able to maintain a low victim rate. MRE activities are currently carried out by Sarvodaya, Sond, RDF, People Vision, Shade, Ehed Caritas and SLA HDUwith the support of UNICEF. MRE mainly educates civilians to keep away from landmines and suspected ERW. The Ministry of Education with the support of Unicef included MRE as a subject in the school curriculum in mine affected areas.
Due to the successful MRE activities post-war Sri Lanka is reporting lower number of mine and ERW victims than other countries.
III) Victim Assistance
Victim Assistance (VA) is an important pillar of mine action. This pillar directly works on assisting landmine and ERW victims of civilians. In conflict affected areas children and women are more vulnerable. Use of AP-mines totally violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of which Sri Lanka is signatory to since 1990. Due to AP-mine, ERW or other accident, if someone gets injured they need long-term comprehensive rehabilitation and inclusion. Access to basic needs without any hindrance (like child access to education) is a must and the relevant authorities should work towards meeting their requirements without any delay. Meeting their requirements must be a rights-based approach.
Still mine-related victims are reported from the mine affected areas of post-war Sri Lanka.The Ministries of Health, Social Services need to work together to meet their immediate needs. The laws on vulnerable people must be safeguarded by the law. Sri Lanka is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) but it still did not ratify this crucial Convention, the only country in the South Asian region not to do so. This will positively benefit the human rights record of Sri Lanka.
IV) Stockpile Destruction
When Sri Lanka becomes a State party for the MBT, security forces should destroy the remaining stocks of landmines within four years. Currently there are no stocks of AP-landmines produced by the LTTE.The government security forces destroyed all LTTE AP-mines after the war ended in 2009 and also unearthed hidden caches.
Advocacy mainly looks at the ban of landmine and cluster bombs.The Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines, other civil society organizations and concerned citizens voiced and campaigned to ban landmine and cluster bombs in Sri Lanka.
Everyone must encourage the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to join with world peace initiatives instruments of disarmament treaties and conventions that will directly have a positive impact on the on-going reconciliation process in post-war Sri Lanka.
- Mine Ban Treaty
The MBT, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of AP mines and on their destruction is the international agreement that bans AP-mines. The MBT, also known as the Ottawa Treaty was adopted outside UN auspices on 18th September 1997, following concerted efforts of like-minded governments, the ICRC, international organizations and NGOs. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) played a key role in the adoption of the convention, and it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts in 1997.
As of 31st March 2015, 162 states had formally joined the treaty to which Sri Lanka is not yet a state party.
- Convention on Cluster Munitions
Cluster Munitions are conventional munitions, each of which is designed to disperse or release multiple sub-munitions (in some cases called bomblets) over an area that may extend to several hundred square metres. Some sub-munitions remain unexploded, but still lethal. Much like AP mines, cluster munitions are a threat to civilians both during and after deployment.
Today very few countries in the world use cluster bombs and those that do come under heavy criticism from the international community. The GoSL vehemently rejected the allegations made against it by some parties at the last stage of the war on the use of cluster bombs. So far de-miners did not come across any cluster bombs in their clearance sites. De-miners working in Sri Lanka are not trained to clear cluster bombs.
The CCM addresses the humanitarian consequences and harm to civilians caused by cluster munitions and prohibits all use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. The CCM was brought into existence through the efforts of like-minded states, the ICRC, international organizations, NGOs and civil society, led by the Cluster Munition Coalition and was adopted on 30th. May 2008. The GoSL is not a state party for the CCM yet.
-Convention on Conventional Weapons
The purpose of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) is to ban or restrict the use of specific weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately. It is also known as the “Inhuman Weapons Convention.”
Sri Lanka is signatory for the CCW I to IV Protocols only. But Sri Lanka can still sign and ratify the Protocol Vof CCW on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) which was adopted on 28 November 2003 by the Meeting of the States Parties to the CCW. The State Parties for the Protocol V regarding victim assistance was an agreement on a Plan of Action on Victim Assistance, addressing the needs and rights of victims.
Sri Lanka to Reveal the Position on Disarmament Conventions
In the last decade (2004-2014) Sri Lanka has totally failed to join any disarmament initiatives by the United Nations or Civil Society. In the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and early 2000 Sri Lanka was a champion of disarmament and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was at its best, maintaining positive relations with the world and particular supportive for the world’s disarmament initiatives. Sri Lankan foreign policy there was in line with non-aligned foreign policy. But during the last decade Sri Lanka completely lost its image in positive foreign relations.
Currently Sri Lanka chairs the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The developed member states of the Commonwealth signed and ratified the MBT, CCM and CCW. But the Chair of Commonwealth has not signed and ratified any of these conventions or treaties so far. The Charter of the Commonwealth says that; we support those international efforts for peace and disarmament at the UN and the other multilateral institutions (Annex I p.5). With the new government which came into the office in early this year and as a chair of the Commonwealth it must give a high priority for signing and ratification of such important treaties and conventions. Otherwise Sri Lanka will be further isolated from the map of world disarmament.
There will be a good opportunity for the GoSL to convey the message of signing of such treaties and conventions with the visit of the Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in June this year. Prince Mired Bin Ra’ad Al-Hussein of Jordan (brother of Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein) is the Special Envoy of the MBT along with Princess Astrid of Belgium. Prince Mired has been travelling around the world to promote banning of AP mines by encouraging states that have not joined the treaty to do so. He has been keen to also visit Sri Lanka to invite the GoSL to join 162 other nations in getting rid of AP mines. The previous UPFA government, however, has rejected his two requests. The new NDF government should welcome Prince Mired to visit Sri Lanka and share his messages and recommendations regarding the MBT.
If Sri Lanka became a State Party for the MBT, the country would be able to secure more international funding on clearance, MRE as well as victim assistances. The GoSL should be able to allocate a considerable amount of funding through its national budget for national mine action and could support international de-miners in terms of funding or material support or both which will show that the GoSL commitment towards a zero mine-affected country is well before its deadline. The sooner Sri Lanka joins both the Conventions of MBT and CCM, the country will be able to host both the Conventions and State Party Meetings which are held on an annual basis in a country of a State Party. So far the South Asian region did not host any of the State party Meetings of MBT or CCM. Sri Lanka has all the capacities for hosting such an event under the current circumstances which will bring international fame to Sri Lanka and also help to regain its image of being as in the past, a champion of disarmament. This year Sri Lanka launched a campaign on “Our UN”, “Apey UN” and “Engal UN” with regard to mark the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on October 24, 1945, and the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka becoming a member-state of the UN on December 14, 1955. This campaign will be more meaningful and practical when Sri Lanka accedes to the remaining treaties and conventions on disarmament starting in 2015.
The writer is the Country Researcher of Sri Lanka for the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. His latest publication is on “Commonwealth States on Disarmament and Development, A Socio-economic Analysis.”
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org