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Mine action in the era of the SDGs and sustaining peace

Mine action in the era of the SDGs and sustaining peace
Landmine clearing in Siem Reap. Photo: Flickr / ILO / Khem Sovannara.


The impact of mines, cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) on security and development came to be widely recognised in the late 1980s. Throughout the 1990s, collective efforts to raise the issue on the international stage increased. During this time, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was established among global civil society to urgently address the humanitarian devastation of landmines and push for a ban on the weapons, which led them to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. In the same year, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty was created. It is one of the world’s most widely ratified treaties with 162 states having signed and has been regarded as an important piece of international humanitarian law for its aim to ban the use, production, transfer and stockpile of anti-personnel landmines (APM), and to provide assistance to the victims. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of its adoption.

After two decades, however, there are continuing struggles against mines/ERWs and their effects on human security and development. Some countries such as India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Myanmar are still actively producing APMs, and the indiscriminate mines/ERWs have killed or maimed over 100,000 people over the past 17 years – a great many of these being civilians. Over 60 states/territories are contaminated by landmines and every day in 2015, an average of 18 people were killed or maimed by landmines.

casualties map
In 2015, 6,461 mine/ERW casualties were identified including at least 1,672 killed – this was a 75% increase from the previous year and the highest annual casualty rate since 2006. 78% of them were civilians and the highest casualties were seen in the ongoing conflict settings. Graphic: Landmine Monitor 2016, ICBL.

Despite the constant devastating threat to people living in conflict and post-conflict settings, landmines seem to have taken a backseat to other priority security and development issues and international attention. Lately, funding for mine action has decreased and as a result, recorded mine clearance world-wide in 2015 also significantly declined compared to the previous year.

Moreover, there has been no further progress to eradicate other mine types not covered by the Mine Ban Treaty, such as anti-vehicle mines (AVM). Widely produced and used without legal restriction – but only regulated under Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – AVMs have caused a great number of casualties with particular impact on civilians. In 2015, Cambodia recorded more AVM incidents and casualties than APM’s and all AVM casualties were civilian. According to the new SIPRI-GICHD report, in 2016, 46% of 423 world-wide casualties from AVMs were civilians.


Mine action and the 2030 Agenda

Mine action is defined as ‘activities which aim to reduce the social, economic and environmental impact of mines and (other) ERW including cluster munitions’. It has been linked to humanitarian action such as saving lives and limbs by providing response to hazards, but it has not been so long since development actors began to recognise it. According to the UN, there are five pillars of mine action: Mine/ERW risk education, mine clearance, victim assistance, stockpile destruction, and advocacy. As such, mine action is not only about physical removal of mines or saving lives in emergency but also about restoring livelihood capacities and building resilience. As landmines/ERW are reported as a significant hindrance for sustainable recovery, mine action has the potential to be the foundation for sustainable development to be built as well.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development explicitly recognises through its own goals the nexus between peace and development – this was absent from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the newly released report by GICHD-UNDP, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 to ‘Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies’ provides the most direct entry point for mine action, particularly in target 16.1 which seeks to ‘significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere’. The report also demonstrates that 12 SDGs have direct relevance to mine action and an additional four have an indirect link (see the figure below). As such, mine action not only contributes to achieving the SDGs, but can also be pursued as an objective of the 2030 Agenda.  

mine action and SDGs
Major direct and indirect links between mine action and the SDGs. Graphic: GICHD-UNDP report: Leaving no one Behind: Mine Action and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mine action in sustaining peace framework

Landmines are typically listed as part of the security domain, alongside disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration. However, considering its cross-sectoral nature, mine action needs to be understood with a more holistic approach and can be applied in a comprehensive peacebuilding framework such as sustaining peace. Sustaining peace is a new overarching UN framework that was affirmed through dual resolutions by the Security Council and the General Assembly. As noted in the (forthcoming) SIPRI Yearbook 2017, sustaining peace is interlinked with the positive peace concept as well as human security: positive peace is both the conceptual basis and the objective of sustaining peace, and has all of the elements reflected in the concept of human security.

The pillars of mine action can be interpreted in the sustaining peace concept: a ban on the use of mines and a focus on demining activities could be understood as a form of negative peace, that is the absence of violence; while more collaborative and inclusive mine action would tend more towards positive peace, that is transforming conflict in a peaceful and constructive manner. In other words, the absence of mines could lead peace, but the peace achieved in that way would be negative peace rather than positive peace. The peace will remain fragmentary or temporary as peace is not simply the absence of violence. Furthermore, mine action has the potential to be a best practice of sustaining peace. Sustaining peace calls for better linkages between the UN’s foundational pillars: peace and security, development, and human rights–in addition to humanitarian action. Mine action is closely associated with all of these dimensions.


For human rights, universal inclusivity and gender equality

landmine survivor
Landmine survivor Koe Kan in the village of Chrok Porn in Cambodia. Photo: Flickr / Kevin Evans.

Sustaining peace and the 2030 Agenda are complementary and mutually reinforcing in promoting respect for human rights, inclusion and gender equality. Especially as its tagline ‘leave no one behind’ shows, inclusivity is the core principle of the 2030 Agenda. Sustaining peace envisions inclusive societies by identifying inclusivity as key to ensure peace to be maintained over time.                                                     

Inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWD) is notable as mine/ERW incidents injure and maim thousands of people each year and PWD have been easily left behind in development and humanitarian fields. However, there have been improvements in a recent global framework to ensure PWD benefit equitably in the fields. For example, PWD or disability are mentioned 11 times in the 2030 Agenda (specifically referenced in SDGs 4, 8, 10, 11, and 17) whereas they were not included in the MDGs at all. At the World Humanitarian Summit held in May 2016, the charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action was endorsed to improve the living conditions of the PWD population. However, it still needs to be further examined if mine action programmes are being implemented to ensure PWD enjoy full human rights by seeing them beyond a victim frame, providing them access to equal opportunities and encouraging them to participate in the process. Attention should also be paid to whether data is being disaggregated by disability in order to monitor progress.  

Furthermore, mine action needs to go beyond direct victims who are injured or killed by mines/ERW and reach indirect victims as well. Once mines/ERW incidents occur, they not only create casualties but also have an impact on members of the victims’ families and communities with physical, psychological and economic ramifications. However, given that no substantial data is available on the number of indirect victims and that there is no mention of indirect victims in the recent strategy of the UN on mine action, more systematic and inclusive strategies and implementation to support the population of landmine affected regions are required.

Gender mainstreaming in mine action is also aligned with the core values of the 2030 Agenda and sustaining peace framework as mine incidents have a gendered impact in terms of demography of casualties as well as assistance accessibility. According to Landmine Monitor’s data, in 2012-2014, 88% of casualties where the sex was known was male (this figure was 86% in 2015). Women, in many cases, are the largest group of indirect victims. Among casualties, women are more likely to experience greater difficulty in obtaining medical care than men as well as more isolation, stigmatisation, and risk of poverty. There have been a few developments to respond to this gendered impact: UN Gender Guidelines for Mine Action Programmes and the Swiss Campaign to Ban Land Mines put great emphasis on gender mainstreaming in mine action and Serbia’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 including support for female landmine/ERW victims is on its way.

Landmine clearance in Colombia. Colombia has one of the highest percentages of trained female deminers. Photo: Flickr / HALO Trust.

Looking ahead

In April 2017, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Ottawa Convention, two leading UK-based organisations on mine action launched a campaign called ‘Landmine Free 2025’ based on the commitment made by State Parties in the Third Review Conference in 2014 on eradicating mines by 2025. If landmine issues are reinvigorated by mine action being integrated into the 2030 Agenda and sustaining peace framework so that collective efforts can be made by all stakeholders, this could be a similar breakthrough to the achievements of the Ottawa Convention. This collaborative action will also eventually be a stepping stone towards positive peace.


Yeonju Jung was a Research Assistant with the SIPRI Peace and Development Programme.