the war on landmines
By Mary-Anne Andersen
Landmines must be stopped. Under this
unequivocal slogan, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
has waged a public campaign to bring about a global ban on landmines.
Progress towards a ban is now irreversible, but there is still
much more to do before the battle is won.
"You have to accept amputations as the only way to help
people. And you have to find ways to evacuate your feelings
when you’re doing it,” explains Dr Bernard Vermuelen.
A Swiss surgeon who worked for the ICRC in 1987 in Peshawar,
Pakistan, and four years later in Khao-i-Dang, Cambodia, Vermuelen
today works at the trauma unit of the Cantonal hospital in
Geneva. But the images of the landmine victims he treated
remain clear in his mind, clearest of all being that of a
boy the same age as his own son, who needed both legs amputated.
“He was not at war,” says Vermuelen, “but
the victim of a weapon used to terrorize civilians.”
Vermuelen was just one of many war surgeons sickened by the
steady stream of mine-injured people arriving on the operating
table. They began reporting their experiences back to ICRC
headquarters in Geneva, urging the institution to take action.
Among them was Dr Robin Coupland, who started to collect
information on mine injuries from ICRC hospitals. His study
offered a glimpse into the huge number of lives and limbs
destroyed by anti-personnel (AP) landmines in dozens of countries
worldwide. He found, too, that the impact of mines went beyond
the direct killing and maiming. For instance, treating mine
survivors exerted a huge drain on hospital resources, often
already in scarce supply in a current or former conflict zone.
Another disturbing result of his study was that the majority
of mine victims were civilians, not soldiers. “We found
that the mine problem did not equate with the military attitude.
While their targets were soldiers, we treated many women and
Recognizing that the problem had reached epidemic proportions,
the ICRC convened a symposium of medical, military and legal
experts in Montreux in April 1993 to examine solutions to
the landmine crisis. “We had been aware of the problem
for years, but during the Cold War it was hard to make much
headway on weapons issues. In 1993, the ground was fertile,
and we could finally bring public attention to the human costs
of this weapon,” says Dr Coupland.
In view of the extent of the problem, only one course of
action seemed possible: to call for a global ban on the production,
use, stockpiling and transfer of AP landmines. The arguments
in favour of this are rooted in three basic principles of
international humanitarian law: that the use of weapons of
a nature to cause unnecessary suffering or
superfluous injury is unlawful; that indiscriminate weapons
and the indiscriminate use of weapons are prohibited; and
that weapons which violate the “dictates of public conscience”
should be prohibited.
In February 1994, the ICRC went public in its call for a
ban. President Cornelio Sommaruga declared: “From a
humanitarian point of view, we believe that a worldwide ban
on anti-personnel mines is the only effective solution.”
He appealed to governments to seek a total prohibition of
AP mines at the Review Conference of the 1980 United Nations
Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), of which Protocol
II specifically regulated landmines.
But, when the time came for the Review Conference to meet
in September 1995, as a result of the need for decisions by
consensus, the States party to the CCW Convention were not
able to agree on amendments to Protocol II. At the conclusion
of two further sessions of the Review Conference, held in
Geneva in early 1996, and on 3 May, States party to the CCW
finally adopted a revised Protocol II, including limited prohibitions
and restrictions on the use and — for the first time
in a humanitarian law treaty — the transfer of AP landmines.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was particularly
disappointed at the restrictions imposed on use. “A
weak and complex set of rules, that would be hard to implement
in war,” says ICRC legal expert Peter Herby. The results
of the Review Conference reinforced the view that only the
stigmatization, prohibition and elimination of AP mines would
put an end to the humanitarian scourge they have caused.
This point was graphically made by Margareta Wahlström,
Under Secretary General for Operations at the International
Federation, at the end of the Review Conference.
“We will definitely ask the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies to continue to promote a total ban on all anti-personnel
landmines. They will ask you, as we do now: to ratify the
1980 Convention and its new Protocols today; to establish
a national ban tomorrow; to develop bilateral, regional and
international initiatives the day after; and finally start
preparing the annual consultations next week.”
The ICRC officially launched its campaign mobilizing the
Movement in November 1995 under the slogan “Landmines
must be stopped”. The campaign’s distinguishing
feature was the use of advertising.
“This step was a revolution in many ways for the Movement,”
says Johanne Dorais-Slakmon, the coordinator of the ICRC’s
landmines campaign since it started. With a solid background
in communication, she regards advertising as a particularly
effective tool when the target is public opinion. “It’s
the only way to reach a worldwide audience and cut across
cultures; it has the additional advantage of presenting the
message in a nutshell. But for the ICRC, using advertising
as part of a communication strategy was unprecedented and
raised considerable controversy between traditional- and progressive-minded
officials within the organization.”
An advertising agency was commissioned to develop the creative
concepts, which had to be both disturbing and informative,
yet within acceptable limits. Gian-Battista Bacchetta, Deputy
Director of General Affairs at the ICRC, admits the campaign
in many ways has been a giant step forward for the Movement.
“It’s innovative and goes against ingrained cultural
attitudes of the ICRC, and that certainly caused a lot of
initial reluctance. But it has been successful in convincing
governments to face their responsibilities.” In 1996,
the ICRC public service announcements, which ran in advertising
space donated by the international print and television media
and worth more than Sfr 3 million, reached an estimated 745
million people worldwide.
“Doubts about whether the use of advertising in the
campaign could jeopardize operations or compromise neutrality
has proven wrong, because we were very careful to keep it
within certain constraints. It was always carried out in a
very responsible and controlled manner,” says Johanne
Providing the evidence
While the advertising campaign has mainly been aimed at keeping
the horrific effects of the weapon permanently in the public
eye, several hearings and conferences have served as opportunities
to provide decision-makers with data and statistics. “We
need to inform as well as confront, and to balance those two
elements correctly. We can’t just complain about mines
being a terrible weapon. We need to shift the burden of proof
by impressing upon the decision-makers the human cost of mines.
It’s left up to them to justify the need for such a
weapon,” says Dr Coupland.
The evidence gathered by the ICRC’s medical division
and the work of its legal advisers has been crucial in the
advocacy work of the Movement. Added weight was given to the
campaign by an ICRC-commissioned study on the military effectiveness
of AP landmines conducted by British Brigadier Patrick Blagden,
published in March 1996 under the title, Anti-Personnel
Landmines: Friend or Foe?* The study found that the humanitarian
consequences of landmines far outweighed their military advantages,
a conclusion that was endorsed by 50 senior officers from
NGOs campaigning for a ban, grouped together under the title
International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL, see p.11),
have been instrumental in mobilizing public opinion and denouncing
specific countries which produce or export AP mines. For its
part, the Movement has concentrated its efforts on stigmatization,
awareness-raising and influence.
“Whereas the NGOs can act as ‘pressure groups’,
the Red Cross has a different role. We contribute our expertise,
our field experience and our credibility. And governments
turn to us for advice, orientation and information,”
says Johanne Dorais-Slakmon.
In the thick of it
More than 30 years of civil war between guerrillas and government
troops has caused AP landmines to be scattered across various
parts of the country. Mines are used by the guerrillas to
prevent attacks on their camps and by the government to protect
the pipelines carrying one of the country’s most valuable
exports, oil. Even though there are no hard and fast statistics
on the number of victims or mines planted, it is believed
that most victims are children.
The Colombian Red Cross launched an awareness campaign in
May 1996, using posters, booklets, TV and radio spots. In
less than six months most of the Colombian Red Cross’s
40,000 volunteers were involved in the campaign, teaching
children and adults how to protect themselves against the
dangers of mines and what to do if someone is injured by one.
In addition to the work done by Red Cross volunteers, the
media has supported the campaign by providing advertising
space free of charge.
“Mines are so nasty, it is easy to get people involved
in awareness. But preventing mines from being laid has proved
much more difficult with the ongoing fighting,” says
Dr Guillermo Rueda, the President of the Colombian Red Cross.
“Both parties involved in the fighting are too busy
to be able to worry about civilians being blown up by their
mines. That’s what we’re there for.”
The international advocacy campaign against landmines has
in many ways proven to be a unique opportunity for the International
Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to demonstrate its strength
and potential. While the ICRC has approached international
media and arranged several meetings and conferences to raise
awareness and stigmatize the use of AP landmines, many National
Societies have been a driving force at the national level,
adapting the campaign to their culture and needs.
A total of 83 National Societies have been active in the
campaign so far (see map p.6-7), and their efforts have been
vital to the worldwide progress towards a ban. Since the Movement’s
campaign was launched, more than 80 States have declared their
support for a total worldwide ban on AP landmines, bringing
the total number of States supporting a global ban up to 109**.
An added benefit for the Movement’s campaign has been
the promotion of international humani-tarian law at a crucial
time. “It has been a tremendous tool to raise awareness
of the relevance of international humanitarian law at all
levels: government, military and public,” says Peter
Herby. Thus, in many countries the mines issue has given National
and ICRC delegations an excellent opportunity to approach
government and military officials to discuss the wider implementation
of international humanitarian law.
This has certainly been the case for the Austrian Red Cross,
which took the initiative to draft a law banning landmines
and present it to Parliament, which later adopted it as Federal
law (see box).
Ideas and initiatives
Besides making use of material provided by the ICRC, several
National Societies approached the whole issue with great ingenuity.
“Shoe mountains” symbolizing the 24,000 people
estimated killed or maimed by AP mines every year were built
on the steps of parliament buildings and churches in many
countries, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany
“Advertising was important to raise public awareness
and it led to more media attention on the issue,” says
Kristina Hedlund Thulin, the legal adviser from the Swedish
Red Cross, “but a different approach was needed for
politicians.” The Swedish Red Cross got all local branches
involved in the campaign by encouraging them to enter into
a dialogue with their representatives in parliament, informing
them about the problem, and distributing postcards with printed
information on mines, which many people mailed to the politicians.
The success of the Swedish campaign went beyond achieving
a national ban. It also resulted in attracting many new members
in the youth section, “basically because the campaign
promoted the credibility of the Red Cross,” says Kristina
In October 1995, the International Law Committee of the Danish
Red Cross published a comprehensive report on AP landmines,
focusing on the legal, military and humanitarian aspects of
the issue. Since the committee consists of some of Denmark’s
most prominent doctors and lawyers, the study led to a national
debate and eventually a suspension of the use of AP landmines.
National Societies in countries directly affected by mines
have also taken part in the campaign, with a focus on prevention
and mine-awareness. In Mozambique, a country which continues
to suffer from the legacy of 16 years of civil war, civilians
fall victim to mines every day. The Mozambique Red Cross has
trained a large number of volunteers to conduct mine-awareness
activities, using drama, songs and radio to inform people.
Youth volunteers have also been drawing maps of mine-infested
areas and registering mine incidents. In Afghanistan, Colombia
and Bosnia AP mines are still being used in ongoing internal
conflicts, raising an acute need for awareness programmes.
Austria: Matters in hand
There is no recipe for a perfect campaign against landmines.
But by making the principle of “visibility through credibility”
a motto for the Austrian campaign, the Austrian Red Cross
achieved some remarkable results.
“If we want to accomplish more than just raising concern,
we need to act. That’s why our aim was a law right from
the beginning,” says Christian Marte, Deputy Secretary
General at the Austrian Red Cross. In order to transform the
public concern for the victims into a concrete call for a
ban on landmines, the Austrian Red Cross used advertising,
collected signatures and arranged information meetings for
all interested groups. It also made the public aware that
Austrian companies were offering AP landmines to other nations
through Jane’s Military and Logistics catalogue,
without denouncing companies as producers. This was picked
up by the media and generated into the headline “Austria
makes its contribution to the worldwide slaughter caused by
“Collecting signatures was new for us, but an unexpectedly
big success,” explains Marte. Being confronted by 60,000
signatures prompted the Austrian Federal President to come
out in support of a ban.
The legal division of the Austrian Red Cross then drafted
a law and managed to get parliamentarians in favour of a ban
to introduce it in the Federal Parliament, which passed a
law introducing a total ban on AP landmines in December 1996.
The law entered into force on 1 January 1997.
“Taking the initiative to draft the law made people
realize that the Austrian Red Cross is not just making a lot
of noise, but is serious about this issue,” says Marte.
“As a result of the campaign, the Austrian Red Cross
and its role are better known among the public as well as
politicians. In a constitutional State, passing laws and implementing
them is the only way to prevent people doing things that harm
other people. Since this is a humanitarian matter and we have
the legal expertise in that field, it’s been an honour
for our legal advisers to draft it.”
“Even though this has been a very unusual way of ‘marketing’
the organization, it has been a very successful one. But of
course we are no longer seen as everybody’s ‘harmless
darling’”, Marte adds.
Austria is now a member of the core group behind the Ottawa
process. The Austrian government has drafted the treaty which
is used as a basis for international negotiations at governmental
level, and Austria’s former mine-exporting industry
is now importing mines from Bosnia for destruction instead.
Many National Societies have been active in the advocacy
campaign against mines despite some obstacles. For them, finding
ways of getting the message across has been a delicate balancing
The British Red Cross chose to focus its campaign on the
humanitarian needs of victims so as not to jeopardize its
charity status; under British law charities such as the Red
Cross are prohibited from becoming involved in political matters.
But by involving celebrities like Diana, Princess of Wales,
whose Angola trip was extensively reported in the British
media (see p. 25), as well as other prominent figures, the
National Society has succeeded in attracting a lot of attention
to the mines problem.
The Finnish Red Cross is often met with the argument that
the military needs landmines along the Russian border. Recently
it had to postpone a scheduled hearing with the military and
representatives from a wide spectrum of civil society because
people were “too busy” to participate.
“We have to tread carefully. The military aspect is
very strong here and it is not for us to get into a debate
on military doctrine. While the need to defend our borders
is clear in many people’s minds, the plight of civilian
victims in other parts of the world are not,” says Helena
Korhonen, director of organizational policies and resources
at the Finnish Red Cross. “That makes it difficult for
us to keep the discussion at a global level. But despite these
difficulties, I do think raising these issues is a matter
for the Red Cross. We should learn to see how these issues
reach across borders.”
The Japanese Red Cross encountered its own difficulties campaigning
for a ban. “More than 40 per cent of the Japanese population
has no knowledge of war-related issues,” explains Otohiko
Hori, assistant director in the planning division of the international
relations department. “That’s why our campaign
mainly has been informative. Many people are unaware of the
fact that mines maim civilians long after a war is over. And
once they realize that, Japanese people tend to support assistance
to victims and mine clearance rather than call for a ban.”
To support progress at the international level, there has
also been a process of national and regional initiatives.
In May 1996, the ICRC organized a regional seminar on AP landmines
in Managua, Nicaragua, with the help of the Nicaraguan government
and National Society. The seminar, which brought together
representatives of Central American States and Mexico, subsequently
led to an initiative to establish a regional AP mine-free
zone by the year 2000 and to the adoption of a resolution
by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States
calling for the establishment of a mine-free zone in the Americas.
The Central American initiative also resulted in the provision
by donors of the resources for clearance of all mines in the
In February 1997, at an international conference convened
by the ICBL in Maputo, 12 southern African National Societies
formed a regional network in order to assist each other in
advocating for national prohibitions on AP mines and to work
together towards the establishment of a regional mine-free
zone. Encouraged by the Namibian Red Cross Society, the Namibian
Foreign Minister declared his country would join “the
worldwide crusade for an immediate and total ban on AP landmines.”
Meanwhile, in Europe, National Societies from 14 European
countries have formed a Legal Support Group, through which
legal advisers exchange information and assist each other
on mine-related matters.
The Canadian Red Cross has been working closely with the
Canadian government since January 1996, when the government
an-nounced its support for a total global ban on AP landmines
Canada: Joint forces
When asked what it feels like when your government literally
takes over your landmine campaign, David Pardoe from the Canadian
Red Cross chuckles: “It’s been great, wonderful.
How often do you see a government behave the way it should
on a humanitarian matter?” he asks. “Mind you,
they haven’t always supported a ban.”
The Canadian Red Cross launched its national campaign against
landmines at the same time as the ICRC in November 1995. A
Canadian war surgeon, Chris Giannou, kicked off the campaign
by giving a number of presentations on the landmines issue.
Just two months later, on 17 January, the Canadian government
declared a comprehensive unilateral moratorium on the production,
export, and operational use of AP landmines. Having already
achieved its aim with regard to the government, the Canadian
Red Cross turned its attention to promoting increased assistance
to landmine victims and mine clearance.
On 3 May 1996, at the closing session of the Review Conference
of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons,
the Canadian government took a leading role by inviting States
to Ottawa to discuss future strategy towards a ban. The conference
held in October brought together 50 States already committed
to a ban, 24 observer States and representatives from eight
international organizations and agencies. The 50 States signed
a declaration committing themselves to seek the earliest possible
conclusion of a legally binding agreement to ban the production,
stockpiling, transfer and use of AP mines and to increase
support for mine-awareness programmes, mine-clearance operations
and victim assistance. A date was set to reconvene in Ottawa
in December 1997 to sign a treaty.
The Canadian Red Cross has worked closely with the Canadian
government by supplying information and general guidelines,
but steering clear of foreign policy.
“In the last year, our biggest challenge has been to
keep up with them,” says David Pardoe.
Concerned to push forward momentum towards an international
prohibition of AP mines, the government of Canada invited
50 pro-ban States as well as the ICRC, the Federation, the
United Nations and representatives of the ICBL to Ottawa in
October 1996 to discuss future strategy. The conference adopted
a politically binding statement, known as the Ottawa Declaration,
and drafted an Action Plan, which sets out the steps to be
taken at global and regional levels in pursuit of a worldwide
prohibition on landmines.
At the end of this conference, the Canadian Foreign Minister,
Lloyd Axworthy, surprised the participants by issuing an open
invitation to all governments to come to Ottawa in December
1997 to sign a treaty totally prohibiting AP landmines.
“This important step by the Canadian government has
taken the mines issue out of the context of negotiations by
consensus, producing the lowest common denominator, and into
a context of moral and political leadership by like-minded
States,” explains Peter Herby.
Following the Ottawa Conference in October 1996, a resolution
proposed by the United States of America at the United Nations
General Assembly and calling for a new legally-binding treaty
to ban the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of AP
landmines to be concluded “as soon as possible”
was supported by 156 States.
“The ‘Ottawa process’ is surely the swiftest
way to implement this resolution,” adds Peter Herby.
However, even if a global ban is achieved in Ottawa, the
deadly heritage of landmines will remain. Civilians who encounter
the devices in the rice paddy or along the road, while collecting
firewood or herding cows, will need care and assistance for
many years to come regardless of a ban. For this reason, the
ICRC proposed a comprehensive approach to victim assistance,
integrating curative and preventive measures, to governments
and intergovernmental organizations at the Tokyo conference
on AP landmines held in March 1997.
“Providing improved and sufficient victim assistance
remains the ICRC’s biggest concern,” explains
Dr Coupland. “This is where we have our expertise. But
we need cooperation from other partners in order to minimize
the suffering mines are inevitably going to cause in the coming
20 to 30 years.”
A central feature of the proposal is to set up mine-information
systems for all mine-infested countries. By centralizing all
information available, it will become possible to improve
the treatment of victims, and for assistance to reach a greater
proportion of them. The data will also act as a tool to better
target mine-clearance efforts and awareness programmes.
“Some argue that the campaign for a ban has taken attention
away from the victims, but this is not true,” says Johanne
Dorais-Slakmon. “We have managed to give mine victims
an identity by putting their experience at the centre of this
campaign. Before, they were just casualties of war. Today,
they are recognized as patients who require special treatment
and who have long-term needs.”
The campaign may have increased public awareness for the
need to provide mine-victim assistance, but treatment of mine
victims remains an urgent task. To date, the ICRC surgical
database has registered more than 26,000 patients from five
ICRC hospitals since 1991. Of these, 27 per cent are mine
victims, and the vast majority civilians. The ICRC is currently
running 19 prosthetic/orthotic programmes in eight countries
affected by mines. Twenty-six former ICRC programmes in 16
other countries have been handed over to the Ministry of Health
or to the National Society, but are still receiving technical
and material support. Since 1979, the ICRC has manufactured
more than 100,000 artificial limbs for 80,000 amputees.
The ICRC launched a special appeal on 6 June to raise funds
to maintain and improve assistance to mine victims. Despite
the best efforts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent
Movement and other humanitarian organizations, too many people
injured by mines are left to fend for themselves, placing
an extra burden
on families and communities whose re-sources are already stretched
to the limit.
For millions of innocent civilians living in mined areas,
and faced by the daily prospect of death or mutilation, and
for the hundreds of thousands of mine amputees worldwide,
a total ban on AP mines will only be the beginning of the
Mary-Anne Andersen is a liaison officer
in the ICRC’s Mines Unit, seconded
by the Danish Red Cross.
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