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Landmines: a diabolical threat to humanity – lessons from Ukraine

Display of Mines in a Ukrainian museum

The horrific reports emerging from the battlefields in Ukraine bear witness to the cruel, devastating reality of landmines, a destructive weapon whose effects are indiscriminate and far-reaching. The Ukrainian forces, while engaged in a counteroffensive operation, are facing a deadly hurdle — a labyrinth of landmines, hidden and deadly, as depicted in the recent New York Times article by Andrew E. Kramer. This situation is a stark reminder of the dreadful legacy of landmines that continue to pose a threat long after conflicts have ceased.

Landmines are not a new phenomenon in conflicts, yet their usage in the Ukraine conflict by Russian forces illustrates the enormity of the issue. Kramer’s chilling account of a medic, who while rushing to aid his fellow comrades triggered a mine with his knee, highlights the ruthless and indiscriminate nature of these concealed killers.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) condemns, in the strongest terms, the use of landmines and other victim-activated devices. Such weapons are a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law, causing unfathomable human suffering and impeding socio-economic development in post-conflict regions. Landmines do not differentiate between a soldier and a civilian, a child, or an animal; they remain a fatal obstacle for decades, waiting to claim unsuspecting lives.

The mines laid in Ukrainian fields aren’t ordinary, they are intricately designed to cause maximum harm and demoralise the counteroffensive forces. With an array of devices like booby traps, anti-handling devices, and the so-called jumping mines, which pop up and spray shrapnel, the task of clearing these mines has become a painstaking and treacherous exercise.

Dr. Iain Overton, the Executive Director of AOAV, reflecting on the ongoing crisis, stated, “The indiscriminate use of landmines in Ukraine is a stark reminder of why these weapons are banned under the Ottawa Treaty. They sow terror and reap innocent lives. They are not just weapons of war, but of fear, transforming landscapes into killing fields and reducing homes to danger zones.”

The current situation in Ukraine underscores the importance of the global struggle against the use of landmines. The Ottawa Treaty, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, aimed to eliminate these dreadful weapons, but its objectives are yet to be fully achieved. Not all countries have signed or ratified it, and the continued use of landmines by non-state actors in various conflict zones is a chilling reminder that the struggle is far from over.

In addition to the human cost, landmines also cripple economies by rendering vast tracts of agricultural and productive land unusable, pushing communities into further hardship and impeding development. In Ukraine, whole fields are now filled with landmines, affecting not only military operations but also the livelihood of ordinary citizens.

The world must unite to condemn and eliminate the use of landmines. These small, hidden, deadly devices not only cause immediate pain and suffering but also leave a lasting scar on humanity. The plight of Ukrainian soldiers today is a stark reminder of the urgency and importance of this task.

AOAV calls upon the global community to reinforce their commitment to the Ottawa Treaty. We must strive towards complete elimination of landmines and provide necessary support to the victims and communities affected by them. In the words of Dr. Overton, “We owe it to future generations to clear the land of this scourge and hold those who use them accountable.”

The Ukrainian conflict is a painful testament to the indiscriminate, cruel, and long-lasting effects of landmines. Let us take this as a clarion call to renew our efforts against this diabolical instrument of warfare, to ensure that no more lives are shattered by the hidden, deadly threat of landmines.