_0012_gichdDenise Garcia is the Sadeleer Research Faculty and Associate Professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Ursign Hofmann is Policy Advisor at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in Geneva.

Pascal Rapillard is the Head of External Relations and Policy at the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in Geneva.

Ambassador Stefano Toscano is the Director of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining in Geneva.


What is the common denominator between a farmer in Cambodia ploughing land, a humanitarian aid worker delivering food in South Sudan, United Nations peacekeepers protecting civilians in Mali and military forces patrolling in Ukraine? They all have hit an anti-vehicle mine (AVM). These weapons are bigger in size than anti-personnel mines, contain several times more explosive and detonate through the contact of a vehicle. Even though AVM might be emplaced to target military vehicles, they do not discriminate between a military and a civilian vehicle. In the first half of 2015 alone, a total of 86 accidents have been recorded by the GICHD and SIPRI, killing and injuring more than 300 people.

AVM are “time bombs”. Their impact can significantly increase when a State starts to resurge from the scourge of violence and conflict, and to progress in its post-conflict recovery and development. Differently from anti-personal mines, AVM are unlikely to be triggered by people on foot or traditional, non-mechanised farming. They typically go unnoticed over many years and remain a latent threat to future development efforts.

Cambodia is a striking, though tragic, example. As development takes off, the number of vehicles for transportation and farming increases. Indeed, in an effort to improve agricultural productivity, Cambodia has been promoting the use of agricultural machinery. Mechanised farming with tractors and heavy ploughs are progressively replacing manual labour – until the “time bombs” detonate. In 2012, AVM have caused more casualties in Cambodia than that of anti-personnel mines.

Evidence on the consequence of AVM contamination, scattered for a long time, has only in recent years been gathered systematically. The United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, expert organisations like the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, have made significant efforts to generate a comprehensive assessment and analysis of the extent and the impact of AVM contamination. We now understand better that AVM contamination is a global issue that affected more than 59 countries and territories between 1999 and 2013, causing more than 6,000 casualties according to the renowned Landmine Monitor. In developmental terms, the impact has been equally significant.

AVM are not simply legacies of timely-remote wars. On the contrary, various international and non-governmental organisations have meticulously documented that AVM are being used in current conflicts: Ukraine, Yemen, Libya and Syria. In Mali, their increased use in the ongoing conflict suggests that AVM have become one of the weapons of choice of insurgents. Besides harming civilians, they represent a major threat to the UN peacekeeping mission.

The presence of AVM also seriously hamper efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance, endangering humanitarian operators and denying civilian populations the assistance they need and have a right to expect. A recent grave accident affecting the World Food Program in South Sudan is but one example. The logistical challenge to find other routes and means to deliver critical assistance is enormous. Air dropping sometimes remains the only option – at a cost up to 100 times more per kg/km.

The 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention outlawed the use of anti-personnel mines. AVM, however, were not included in that Convention. In the case of anti-personnel mines, States Parties agreed that the humanitarian concerns stemming from them heavily outweighed their military value. This balance was not as clear for AVM at that time. Relatively limited evidence was available on the impact of AVM back then, compared to the well-documented data concerning anti-personnel mines.

The international community did not remain inactive though. Some technical restrictions on their use were agreed back in 1996, in the frame of Amended Protocol II of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). The latter prohibits, for instance, AVM with an anti-handling device, designed to detonate when the mine is removed. Additional restrictions were discussed between 2001 and 2005, but no further arrangements emerged as a result. Still, some States, adopted unilateral measures going beyond the provisions contained in Amended Protocol II. The significance of these measures – and especially their political signal – is not to be underestimated. Their nature however, remains voluntary.

Possible pathways to consider and address the humanitarian and developmental impact of AVM are by far not lacking, ranging from technical solutions to political processes. There is much room left for exploring “simple” technical measures. For example: many AVM contain little metal, which renders their detection and clearance a highly difficult, sometime impossible, task. Ensuring that AVM produced in the future include features to enable detectability would represent a considerable improvement. Old AVM could be refurbished to meet such requirement. Adding self-destruction or self-neutralisation mechanisms would help as well. Further, the use of sensitive fuses, which are aimed to prompt the detonation of the mine at minimal ground vibrations, could be restricted. Another measure would follow neatly: the transfer of mines not meeting these technical features could be prevented.

More targeted risk education of affected communities would have the most immediate positive impact on the ground, and tangibly reduce the harm caused by AVM in the first place. Technical fixes and risk education measures would help mitigate the impact of AVM on lives and livelihoods. More might be warranted, though, given the impact, now well documented, of these weapons. An opportunity in that regard might offer itself in the frame of the CCW. The upcoming review conference of that Convention in 2016 aims to assess achievements and devise responses to remaining – and new – challenges to the scope and relevance of the CCW. Some States have signaled their interest to revitalise political discussions on AVM.

The humanitarian and developmental impact of AVM is regrettably significant and ever better documented. It is the responsibility of States to find the most feasible, yet tangible, response to it, be it technical, political, or both. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon, it is up to States to “explore all possible avenues for ensuring that these weapons no longer harm civilians, impede the delivery of humanitarian aid or obstruct social and economic development”.

Feature Image Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino