Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: On May 16, President Clinton ordered the U.S. military to destroy 4 million "dumb" landmines by the end of the century. No restrictions were placed on so-called "smart" mines, which are supposed to self-destruct after a certain time.]

"Woefully Inadequate" U.N. Actions to Ban Landmines

Estimated 26,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, killed or injured annually

(IPS) GENEVA -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has condemned the efforts of a U.N. Review Conference to face up to the "devastating effects" of landmines as "woefully inadequate."

The review conference to the 1980 U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) did amend its key Protocol II on landmines, but fell well short of heralding the global ban the ICRC and aid agencies have demanded for years.

While today's amendments put responsibility for clearance on the countries that plant the devices, "the limitations adopted on use of landmines are, from the ICRC's point of view, very modest," said the world agency in a statement.

"The vast majority of landmines stockpiled and in use today around the world have no means of self-neutralization or self-destruction," a recent U.S. State Department report to Congress noted. "These mines remain active and deadly long after conflicts cease, killing and maiming an estimated 26,000 people, mostly innocent civilians, every year."

Yet over two years after the introduction of an international voluntary moratorium on the export of landmines, there are still many more mines being laid than cleared.

U.N. policy permits continued use and implicitly promote the use of new models

The CCW conference delegates from 55 governments did formally agree to prohibit undetectable "dumb" anti-personnel mines and place future controls on "remotely-delivered" devices -- mines dropped from aircraft, or fired from a cannon. These will now have to be designed to self-destruct or be fitted with a back-up self-deactivating device after a suitable time period.

However the ICRC's concern was for the cheaper and far more common conventional mines that are untouched by the new protocol.

"The ICRC deeply regrets," said the agency, "that for the first time in a humanitarian law treaty, measures have been adopted which, instead of entirely prohibiting the use of an indiscriminate weapon, both permit its continued use and implicitly promote the use of new models that will have virtually the same results."

The protocol change came six months after Vienna talks on the issue ended in failure and a 10-day negotiating round here, ending today with minute of silence for the victims of landmines.

The review conference will not meet again until 2001. The ICRC said it would be working with governments, the military and NGOs "to unite with them at the next review conference with a single purpose: the total prohibition of anti-personnel mines."

Estimates of 100 million landmines worldwide

According to the ICRC 35 governments have backed an outright ban on anti-personnel mines, of which 16 have unilaterally banned their use, for have suspended use and at least five are destroying their stocks, believing them to be too indiscriminate and of doubtful military effectiveness.

It said it would be working to encourage other nations to adopt unilateral bans and to destroy their own stockpiles.

A NATO report prepared at the end of last year said the number of uncleared landmines is conservatively estimated by governments, NGOs and the private sector as 100 million, scattered around some 65 countries worldwide.

U.N. data shows that some long-established and recently-initiated new mine clearance efforts managed to extract some 80,000 mines worldwide in 1993. However, the U.S. State Department has revealed that during this same period some 2.5 million new mines were planted.

According to Patrick Blagden, a retired British Army brigadier and now a mine expert at the U.N.: "We're losing the battle. At the current rate we will still be clearing mines in a thousand years."

"The problem is getting worse because the international community is still using basic mine clearing methods developed in the 1940s. Mine clearance would have to increase by a factor of 50 by the end of the decade if the problem is to be solved within a sensible time scale."

The U.S. State Department has estimated the economic costs of uncleared landmines which it says are "a continuous impediment to the world economy."

Mines which cost $3 each on the open market cost up to $1,000 each to clear. If uncleared, the cost of injuries inflicted is even higher.

In Afghanistan, it is estimated that $5,000 is required for treatment and rehabilitation of each survivor.

For many mine amputees the price of an artificial limb is far beyond reach. According to the ICRC, a prosthesis for a child should be replaced every six months, and for an adult every three to five years. A 10-year-old child with a life expectancy of another 40 or 50 years will need 25 prostheses, each costing $125 each.

Overall the child will need $3,125 for artificial limbs in his or her lifetime. But in many of the worst affected countries, average incomes are only $10 to $15 a month.

U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali noted: "Surgery and lifetime support programs for the current number of victims could cost the international community a further $50 million."

Newer models intended to maim rather than kill their victims

There are about 200 different types of landmines manufactured in some 36 countries ranging from crude wooden boxes loaded with dynamite to sophisticated magnet-sensitive mines that can be calibrated to explode under the weakest part of a vehicle.

Mines are designed to be hand-buried, dropped from aircraft, or fired from a cannon up to 30-36 meters, according to the industry reference company Jane's Military Vehicles and Ground Support Equipment.

It is not easy to identify landmine manufacturers. Many types are produced by several different manufacturers, and the most popular ones are regularly copied.

For instance, different versions of the Claymore mine are manufactured by the U.S. firms Thiokol, Mason-Hanger and Day & Zimmerman. Anti-personnel mines are either blast or fragmentation mines, based on the types of injury that they inflict.

Blast mines produce a single upward explosion that destroys part of the leg and drives dirt and debris into the wound, often leading to infection after the initial dismemberment and necessitating amputation of more of the leg over a period of time.

These mines include the M-14, a U.S. mine with a plastic casing, and the Soviet models PMN and PMN2. These "dumb" mines cannot be disarmed and their plastic components make them hard to detect. Both were used extensively in Cambodia.

Fragmentation mines are detonated either by exerted pressure or by trip wire. Metal or plastic projectiles shoot out over a "killing radius."

Trauma, loss of limbs and slow or quick death can follow, depending on the power of the mine and the distance of the victim. These include the Soviet model POMZ-2, the U.S. M-18 Claymore and the Valsella Valmara 69 mine, produced in Italy and Singapore. The Claymore has a killing radius of 50 meters, and the Valsella shoots more than 1,000 metal fragments over a 25-meter radius.

"Bounding mines" -- those that spring upward -- include the OZM-3, a Soviet model with a killing radius of 25 meters, and the M-16 mine, which is manufactured in the U.S.

These have two charges connected by a wire. The first, smaller charge propels the mine upward for a meter or so before it explodes. It is designed to do maximum damage to the genitals.

These anti-personnel mines, few of which are covered by the changes to Protocol II today, are smaller and harder to detect than anti-vehicle mines. They are intended to maim rather than kill their victims.

The rationale for this is that a maimed soldier is a much greater burden to himself and to his colleagues than is a corpse. It takes two soldiers to bury a comrade; it takes four to transport him to the rear for medical care.

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Albion Monitor May 27, 1996 (

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