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A latent danger: The impact of anti-vehicle mines in modern conflict

A latent danger: The impact of anti-vehicle mines in modern conflict
Demining team clearing an approach to the Kransohorivka gas distribution station at the entry-exit check point near Mariinka, Ukraine. Photo: Flickr / OSCE / Mariia Aleksevych.
Ursign Hofmann, Emma Bjertén-Günther and Yeonju Jung

 

Anti-vehicle mines (AVMs) have significant humanitarian and development impacts. Not surprisingly, AVM-related incidents occur predominantly in conflict settings. Among conflict-prone countries, Ukraine has been particularly affected, with 37 recorded incidents in 2016 and a high-profile incident in April of this year that pushed the AVM threat onto the international agenda. This blog sheds light on the impact and context of AVMs in Ukraine in order to highlight an important but often neglected humanitarian issue.

 

First fatal OSCE Special Monitoring Mission incident in Ukraine

On the morning of 23 April 2017, six unarmed monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM) were patrolling routes declared to be safe of mines. These routes are regularly used by the OSCE SMM as well as local citizens from the Pryshyb area of Luhansk. However, that morning, one of the armored vehicles set off an explosion, likely a mine, killing one monitor and injuring two others. This was the first fatality incurred in the line of duty since the establishment of the OSCE SMM in 2014. Circumstances (explosion on a road involving a vehicle) suggest that the explosive device was an AVM.

On the ground, the incident has curtailed the monitoring mission of the OSCE SMM. Among other risk mitigation measures designed to improve monitors’ security and prevent such incidents in the future, the OSCE SMM has limited patrols to asphalt and concrete surfaces. It regularly documents new mine hazards that restrict its freedom of movement. Together with other international actors in the area, the OSCE has raised concerns about the urgent situation for the population in eastern Ukraine and pointed to UN Security Council resolution 2365 (2017) that calls upon all parties to armed conflicts to end any indiscriminate use of mines and explosive devises in violation of international humanitarian law. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also expressed concern for civilians, especially during the summer, a time when hostilities usually spike. Places like checkpoints, where people and vehicles queue for hours, are more exposed to the dangers of mines.

 

Conflict settings and AVM casualties

Since SIPRI and GICHD started systematically collecting data on AVM incidents in 2015, Ukraine has been the state most affected by incidents from manufactured AVMs. Last year, Ukraine alone accounted for 20 per cent of all recorded incidents (37 out of 181) and 24 per cent of all casualties globally (101 out of 423). Compared to the previous year, the situation had not improved. On the contrary, incidents increased by 48 per cent between 2015 and 2016.

However, Ukraine is by far not the only state or territory suffering from the impact of manufactured AVMs. Last year, incidents were recorded in 22 states and territories, as illustrated by the figure below.

Figure 1: Heat map of all states and territories with recorded incidents in 2016. Infographic: GICHD–SIPRI.
Figure 1: Heat map of all states and territories with recorded incidents in 2016. Infographic: GICHD–SIPRI.

AVM contamination is not simply a legacy of past conflicts. On the contrary, the vast majority of incidents in the last two years occurred in present-day conflict settings. On average, four out of five AVM incidents and almost nine out of ten AVM casualties were recorded in such situations in 2015 and 2016.

The security environment influences the extent to which civilians or non-civilians are impacted by AVM incidents. Last year, civilians accounted for 40 per cent of casualties in conflict settings and 87 per cent in post-conflict situations. For instance, 4 per cent and 31 per cent of casualties were civilians in Mali and Ukraine respectively. On the other hand, all recorded casualties in Cambodia, Afghanistan and Angola were civilians. The high ratio of non-civilians in conflict settings may be expected since the number of military personnel is likely to be higher in conflicts.

Figure 2: Casualty demographics in conflict vs post-conflict settings in 2016. Infographic: GICHD–SIPRI.
Figure 2: Casualty demographics in conflict vs post-conflict settings in 2016. Infographic: GICHD–SIPRI.

 

The impact of AVMs on livelihoods and long-term development

Further to its humanitarian impact, AVM contamination also seriously affects livelihoods, including during ongoing conflicts. Ukraine serves again as a powerful illustration: according to OHCHR, residents in conflict-affected areas are unable to carry out farming and agricultural activities due to contamination. Indeed, SIPRI-GICHD data demonstrates that in close to 40 per cent of all recorded incidents in 2016 involving a civilian vehicle, tractors triggered the device. AVMs also obstruct the repair of critical infrastructure in Ukraine, such as water and gas supplies.

The negative impact of AVMs potentially increases in particular when a state progresses during post-conflict recovery and development. Due to higher-pressure thresholds for detonation, AVMs can go unnoticed in the immediate post-conflict phase and only become detected once construction efforts, infrastructure development or other mechanised work take off.

Cambodia is a case in point. As it seeks to rehabilitate land formerly contaminated by mines for agriculture or large infrastructure projects, AVM threats have become a great impediment. Tractors and heavy machinery increasingly replace traditional, non-mechanised agriculture practice. SIPRI-GICHD research indicates that more than 80 per cent of the total 16 AVM incidents in 2016 were triggered during mechanised farming activities, including in areas where traditional farming had not previously revealed AVM presence.

 

Reaching critical will to address AVM impact?

Unlike anti-personnel mines, banned by the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, AVMs are not prohibited. A handful of technical restrictions on their use were agreed back in 1996 in the frame of Amended Protocol II of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). States discussed additional restrictions between 2001 and 2005, but no further arrangements emerged. In the aftermath, some states adopted unilateral, voluntary measures going beyond the provisions contained in Amended Protocol II.

Now that the effects of these weapons have become better documented, further efforts to mitigate their impact are needed. The 2016 CCW Review Conference, which assessed achievements and considered remaining challenges to the scope of the CCW, did not bring a breakthrough despite a notable increase in political support for the issue. This notwithstanding, states have agreed to keep AVMs under review. An informal meeting of experts, bringing representatives from states, the UN, international organisations and civil society together at the end of August, might be another small step towards a better understanding of the problem and provide possible ways to address the questions that were raised in the wake of the Ukraine incident in April. 

Mine sign and trench in Kruta Balka, Ukraine, July 2017: Photo: Flickr / OSCE / Mariia Aleksevych.
Mine sign and trench in Kruta Balka, Ukraine, July 2017: Photo: Flickr / OSCE / Mariia Aleksevych.

Evidence on the impact is critical in this diplomatic endeavor; SIPRI and the GICHD will continue providing data analysis of trends in conflict situations like Ukraine as well as in post-conflict settings. In light of the evolving nature of current conflicts, it has become impossible to only consider devices that were manufactured by states. To the contrary, the increased use, especially by armed non-state actors, of so-called 'home-made' AVMs – functioning and falling under the same legal regime like any AVMs – pose a growing threat to civilians, military personnel, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers alike in places such as Afghanistan, Mali and Syria. It is essential to also understand their impact.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Ursign Hofmann is a Policy Advisor at Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).
Emma Bjertén-Günther is a Researcher within the SIPRI Peace and Development Programme.
Yeonju Jung is a Research Assistant with the SIPRI Peace and Development Programme.