Challenges in Sri Lanka’s accession to Mine Ban Treaty

Mine Ban Treaty

On December 13, 2017, Sri Lanka acceded to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction (also referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty or MBT) becoming its 163rd State Party. Heralding the revival of Sri Lanka’s role as a champion of humanitarian disarmament, this step was taken by the Government of Sri Lanka under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena, towards which The Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) carried out advocacy for many years.

Mine Ban Treaty

The MBT also known as the ‘Ottawa Convention’ was adopted on December 3, 1997 and came into force in 1999. The purpose of the MBT is to end the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines through four core aims. The aims are, the universal acceptance of a ban on anti-personnel mines, destruction of stockpiles of anti-personnel mines, clearance of mined areas and assistance to mine victims.

The year 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of the MBT. At the 16th Meeting of the State Parties of the MBT held in Vienna, Austria, from December 18-21, 2017, Sri Lanka’s decision to accede to the treaty was welcomed by the international humanitarian disarmament community as a fitting birthday gift for the Treaty. The progressive decision by Sri Lanka was commended by the special envoys of the MBT, Princess Astrid of Belgium and Prince Mired of Jordan.

The 34 remaining states that have not acceded to the MBT, including India, Pakistan and Nepal from the South Asian region, were called upon to follow the example of Sri Lanka. In the wake of Sri Lanka’s accession, Palestine also joined the treaty on December 29, 2017.

1997 Nobel Peace Prize

The MBT is considered as a pioneer disarmament treaty in putting humanitarian concerns above all others. The Nobel Peace Prize for 1997 was awarded jointly to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its Coordinator Jody Williams “for their work in banning and clearing of anti- personnel mines”. The ICBL was foremost in mobilizing civil society in order to adopt the MBT. This recognition highlights the success of the MBT in reducing the use of anti-personnel mines, preventing landmine casualties and drawing attention to the plight of landmine survivors.

An inhumane weapon

Anti-personnel mines are considered inhumane because they are victim-activated and therefore indiscriminate. These mines affect anyone who steps on them without distinguishing whether it is a combatant or a civilian. The end result is that innocent children, women and even animals become victims. Furthermore, these mines can cause severe injuries which may lead to death or disability for life in addition to psychological trauma leading to dire socioeconomic circumstances.

Anti-personnel mines are a prohibited weapon in International Humanitarian Law (IHL) since they are indiscriminate and cause unnecessary and superfluous injury. International Human Rights Law (IHRL) recognizes the impact of these mines, especially via the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which details the rights of survivors of mines and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The provisions of the Child Rights Convention (CRC) prohibits discrimination of children on the ground of disability and emphasizes a child’s right to access comprehensive healthcare thus complementing the MBT. Since Sri Lanka is a signatory to all these conventions except the Refugee Convention, its accession to the MBT will enable the consolidation of the stipulations of these conventions for the betterment of landmine survivors. Even though Sri Lanka signed the CRPD on February 8, 2016, it is yet to pass the corresponding domestic legislation.

Challenges and opportunities for Sri Lanka

Mine action is made up of the five pillars of universalization of the treaty, stockpile destruction, victim assistance, mine risk education and advocacy. Sri Lanka’s existing mine action program includes demining, victim assistance and mine risk education in line with these elements.

Since the end of the 30-year armed conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has made good progress in terms of demining. There remains only about 25sqkm of land to be demined. However, as pointed out by the Mines Advisory Group, in order to meet its mine action strategy clearance deadline of 2020, Sri Lanka would need US$ 8 million on top of the funding that it had already received, which stands at US$ 4.6 million. The accession to the MBT will be an impetus for funders to take renewed interest in the Sri Lankan demining process.

Fast forwarding the completion of the demining process is important for the resettlement of the persons who used to live in currently mine-affected areas. The push given to the resettlement process by demining will aid reconciliation, with residents being able to resume their normal lifestyles and livelihoods.

According to the Landmine Monitor, there were up to 22,171 reported landmine victims in Sri Lanka as of 2014. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the state is obliged to extend assistance to the victims whose lives will go on long after even the last landmine is pulled from the earth. Child survivors require special assistance since, among other things, they need new prosthetic limbs with each growth spurt and also psychological support for personality development. Women survivors require special attention as they have to cope with societal and economic constraints in addition to the usual impact of being a victim.

Article 20 of the treaty makes allowances for states to withdraw from the treaty given that they can provide good reasons for doing so. Accordingly, there is no need to assume that membership of the MBT will be detrimental to the national security or state sovereignty of Sri Lanka. It is also widely recognized that anti-personnel mines are an outdated weapon which offer no concrete military advantage and therefore are not indispensable.

The next steps

Now that Sri Lanka is a State Party to the MBT, it is essential to ensure that mine action in Sri Lanka is effective. The trajectory from the accession should be used by the state to make Sri Lanka a secure country for its citizens and reinforce the international community’s belief in Sri Lanka’s commitment towards humanitarian disarmament.The target should be to make Sri Lanka landmine free prior to the 2025 deadline of the global agenda. Only then can all Sri Lankans tread this soil without fear and be content in the knowledge that no one in this island will fall victim to these horrendous prohibited weapons.