In South and Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, North Korea; South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Taiwan have been confronting the curse of landmines. Afghanistan runs the oldest and largest demining program in the world. Afghanistan remains one of the states with the highest level of contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war. It has the highest number of casualties caused by landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.
Human rights are a desultory desire of universal utility, which is nurtured and navigated by the quality of justice system of a nation – state devoid of any political polemics, paradoxical pursuits, and gawky gobbledygook. The administration of criminal justice system gets activated if a person is inflicted with death in its various permutations by someone which is followed by an investigation to rummage and apprehend the culprit and is accordingly brought to justice in any civilized society committed to a desiderata of constitutionalism, rule of law, equality, fraternity, liberty, humanitarianism, social justice, transparency, accountability, good governance and human rights. But in the case of landmine explosions resulting in a mass human pogrom, the justice system is hamstrung. On the other hand, it becomes possible to prosecute the culprit and bring to book for a single act of criminality. But, unfortunately, persons who made people crippled and injured by landmines can never be brought to justice. There would never be an investigation. Even time would find it difficult to heal the whelming wounds and atrophic agonies sustained by victims. Permanent privation of limbs would never be substituted in a normal and natural way. The psychological trauma and diabolical effects received and experienced by the victims haunt them throughout their whole life, and they struggle for their existential survival. Nevertheless, they are not able to eke out an honorable existence in society and destined to drag on their parasitic identity. The magnitude of their suffering and severe disabilities is immeasurable by any yardstick in any form whatsoever developed by perennial human peregrination from avionics to genomics.
This excursus attempts sanities the issue of landmines and their excruciating effects on the human psyche and exhorts upon humanity to exscind its menacing presence for once and all so that posterity could be able to live in peace. The obviation of landmines must be the shibboleth in the 21st century based on a time frame. The international community must subscribe to pragmatism so for their eradication is concerned instead of making sibilatory overtures and resorting to minatory maneuvers with tectonic tendencies to perpetuate and justify their military necessity. Means of warfare must be devised on humanitarian premise while keeping in view broader possible transgressions of human rights during military engagements.
Landmine is a most dreaded, lethal and crippling device of modern warfare and devastates human limbs beyond any possible cue and care. It is the weapon of incendiary nature that once detonated would hurricane dirt particles, metal shards, plastic pebbles, and cordite fragments penetrate deep into the human body and resultant wounds necessitating further amputations. It is a weapon of mass destruction and does not discern between a horse do combat and civilians. It does not identify its targets. It is sardonic to aver that a landmine proceeds to swallow its target sat the pedestal egalitarianism. It does not discriminate between military personnel and or civilian. Consequently, the vast majority of its victims are innocent children and civilians. But the suffering does not bid a farewell here as the repercussions and ramifications of landmine explosion spread far beyond the victim who mules its scourge for rest his/her life.
Landmines are of various types with one commonality, i.e., destruction of genocidal dimensions. There are anti-personnel mines (designed to maim, kill and injure people), anti-vehicle mines (designed to destroy tanks and vehicles) and “smart” anti-personnel mines (mines which are capable of self-destruction or self-Deactivation). These mines are programmed in advance to explode automatically. However, the recent advancements in landmine technology have blurred the conventional dichotomy between anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Today, multi-purpose mines are being developed having diabolical and debilitating dimensions.
A landmine has been defined under Article 2, paras 1 and 2 of convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction, September 18, 1997, which is popularly known as Ottawa Treaty (hereinafter referred to as Ottawa Treaty) It defines a landmine as under:
“(1) Anti-personnel mine means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped.”
“(2) “Mines” means a munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle.”
It is axiomatic from the language of the definition that it is framed in general words, which make it comprehensive and inclusive.
There are some International Legal Institutions designed to achieve a landmine-free world through municipal legal jurisdictions. These international conventions envisaged various provisions and clauses by which state parties are made to adhere to it. There is United Nations Convention on the prohibition of Anti-personnel mines and on their destruction 1997, UN Convention of certain conventional weapons (CCW) with its Additional Protocols I,II,III,IV and amended Protocol II. This Additional Protocol concerns different aspects of means of warfare such as undetectable fragments, landmines, incendiary weapons, and blinding laser weapons respectively. There are only 72 countries that had acceded to the CCW so far.
On the other hand, the Ottawa Treaty was signed by 164 countries as of January 2018. However, 32 nation-states remain non-signatories including prominent powers such the US, Russia China and India, and these countries are also the producers and users of landmines. In South and Southeast Asia, countries like India, North Korea, South Korea, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, and Vietnam have not acceded to the Ottawa Treaty. Afghanistan and Bangladesh are the only two countries that have signed the Mine Ban Treaty on September 11, 2002, and May 07, 1998respectively in South Asia; however, 11 states have enacted national legislation. Therefore, II states have announced the destruction of stockpiles and no states so for published total clearance or demining of emplaced mines. There are around 25, 00,000 people globally disabled by landmines of which 600,000 were civilians including women and children who are either wood-hewers or drawers of water.
It is remarkably relevant to note that the initiative to have or ban treaty on landmines was taken by the government of Canada independent of any role of the United Nations. Earlier in 1990, the ICRC and some other non-governmental humanitarian organizations like national Red Cross societies, Red Crescent societies and International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) began dissemination of awareness of started documenting the higher incidence of landmines casualties of civilians. Consequently, on October 5, 1996, the conference adopted the Ottawa declaration which committed the participants to execute a plan of acting directed to the enhancement of resources and building-up an infrastructure to clear mines, assist victims and rehabilitating them.
Ultimately, the government of Canada invited all national governments to come to Ottawa in Canada in December 1997 to sign a treaty banning the production, stockpiling transfer and use of anti-personnel mines. It is known as the Ottawa Process resulted in a global ban on landmines. This treaty came into force on March 3, 1990. UN Secretary-General has been entrusted with the power to investigate, with prior consent of state parties to the convention, the possible misuse of the convention. The treaty envisages a comprehensive ban, reintegration of victims, their social rehabilitation, dissemination of information and mobilizing national and international public opinion. Although it is heart-wrenching that Ottawa Treaty received only 133 signature and 66 ratifications on March 1, 1999. Unfortunately, India, Pakistan, Russia, and China have not acceded to this important treaty intended to save humanity from 100 million mines in over 60 countries.
When military engagement and hostilities come to an end leading to a state of ceasefire and envisage usually, and the civilians resume routine life, the presence of landmines poses a threat of gravest nature as the cost of dismantling and obliterating them is colossal beyond the resources of the war-ravaged country. Moreover, as landmines do not identify its target, its presence does not make any difference between pre-state of war or post-war situations. It has the same devastating prowess unless pulverized which remains a distant dream, in some locations across the world. Consequently, in a post-war scenario in many countries, civilians become the victims of landmines despite having passed many years in peace and tranquility.
On the other hand, a country impregnated by the landmines cannot resume its economic activities on a healthy footing. Mines make direct bearing on transportation, roadways, waterways, agriculture, industrialization and reconstruction activities leading to unemployment, starvation, malnutrition, low birth rate, mendicancy, poverty and a sudden spurt in crime. Every twenty minutes a landmine maims or kills a person. It is challenging to engage in demining activities. Biting insect’s inaccessible terrain, impenetrable bamboo thickets, and thorn bushes – mine clearance everywhere in the world is a hot, sweaty business at the best of times. Because tripwires hidden in the undergrowth could trig explosions, the vegetation and verdancy have to be uncluttered by hand before mine detection can start. It is a tedious matter and can occupy two-thirds of a mine clearer’s working hours in a day. In the dry season, the land can be indestructible, and deminers must move forwards scrupulously, prodding with a prodder and digging with a small trowel. Only one in a thousand of the searches likely to be an explosive, but we cannot let our concentration slip for a moment. The majority of deminers who undertake this uphill asks are not experts but generally local persons who have gone through a training course of two or three weeks.
In South Asia, India, and Pakistan are two important countries which experienced the scourge of landmines warfare. India is confronted by the acts of non-state actors in insurgency infested Kashmir, and northeast region where mines were laid by the militants, Kargil aggression by Pakistan is a case in sight while retreating mercenaries and army regulars laid landmines. Recently institute of peace, Disarmament and environmental protection and global green peace organized a seminar on “Ban Anti-Personnel Landmines” in Srinagar highlighted the growing incidents of landmines use by the insurgents in the Kashmir.
In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger has indigenously developed “Jonny Mine” considered to be the most competent in the world of explosive devices and using them devoid of any humanitarian norms of warfare. There is also a problem of detection of these mines. It has become very difficult mines of plastic and low content of metal. The Indian army has four types of mines. Two of them are anti-personnel, and two are anti-tank mines. M-14 and M-16 are two anti-personnel mines which are similar to M-14 of the U.S. having shallow metal content which is virtually undetectable and highly determined. Pakistan also has some mines and use them in the war of 1965 and recently in Kargil also.
Regional co-operation must form an essential and kernel part of any future legal regime for banning and demining in the South Asia region. SAARC countries have already acknowledgment the dangers and repercussions of landmines. Moreover, efforts are already on the anvil to arrive at a formidable legal regime. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal may become a party to the banning regime soon. India is already a party to 1980 U.N. Convention on certain conventional weapons (CCW) with its additional protocol. Although this convention does not entirely ban landmines even then no other south Asian country acceded to this convention.
India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have expressed identical views on not to use landmines in internal conflicts. Recently the government of India has agreed in principle to be a party to Ottawa Treaty by the end of 1999,but it still lacks a regional consensus on evolving a regional legal regime to deal with the menace of landmines. South and Southeast Asia must enhance its pro-disarmament position in the global politics of banning landmines. Everything, in war, is brutal, brazen and barbaric but the worst barbarity of war is that it compels men collectively to comment acts against which individually they would revolt with their whole existential being. Therefore, it is axiomatic that there is an urgent need to have a thin-tank of lawyers, jurists, defense experts, academicians, NGOs and policy institutions, etc. for evolving and shaping concrete and pragmatic mechanism for a vibrant, vital, legal regional protection regime about landmines. Moreover, Indian Human rights movement must be sensitive enough to incorporate and discourage the non-ethical and immoral use of mines.
Writer: Lawyer and Law Academic