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Taking action:
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 children.”





No alternative

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.”

Introducing advertising

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 Dorais-Slakmon.


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 19 countries.

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.


Colombia: 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.”

A Movement exercise

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 Societies
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 and Sweden.

“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 Hedlund Thulin.

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 landmines”.

“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.

Balancing act

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 act.

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.”


Regional networks

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 region.

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 (see box).


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.


Ottawa process

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 end.


Mary-Anne Andersen
Mary-Anne Andersen is a liaison officer
in the ICRC’s Mines Unit, seconded
by the Danish Red Cross.


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