Every day, in the course of our humanitarian mine action operations, MAG sees the widespread, enduring and devastating impact of explosive weapons.
The 1997 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, of which MAG was a founding member, for its work in bringing about the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC). The title of that year’s Nobel Lecture, delivered by MAG’s founder Rae McGrath, referred to these collective efforts as “a matter of justice and humanity”.
More than 25 years on, ‘justice and humanity’ remain the touchstone for our work. That is why the current global context is a cause for deep concern, with a growing number of conflicts involving the indiscriminate use of weapons, including weapons that are inherently indiscriminate or disproportionate in their impact.
We have witnessed in recent years – and continue to witness as we write – the use of cluster munitions and landmines and the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas in contexts including Syria, Sudan, Ukraine, Myanmar and the State of Palestine.
Such use inflicts misery and suffering on millions of ordinary people.
MAG’s position is clear. Together with our fellow members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC), we condemn the use, production and transfer of cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines, including improvised mines, by any actor at any time. We encourage – and provide technical support towards – the destruction of all stockpiles of these items as the only means to prevent their future use.
And, along with other members of the ICBL-CMC, we advocate for all states to adopt and abide by both the APMBC and Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). It is heartening, amidst a bleak global outlook, to see the progress made by countries including South Sudan and Nigeria in their ratification of the CCM this year, as well as accession to both conventions by Sri Lanka in the past five years.
MAG is also a member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), a coalition whose work contributed – together with Ireland’s leadership – to a Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA), with the aim of strengthening humanitarian norms that protect civilians in conflict. To date, the EWIPA Declaration has 83 signatory states, marking another crucial step in humanitarian disarmament. These international frameworks are critically important to ensure the protection of people and communities and respond to the challenges and humanitarian impact of conflicts.
The achievements in addressing the consequences of armed conflicts cannot be undermined.
The APMBC and the CCM are part of a broader framework of principles and norms that address the human suffering caused by armed conflicts, including customary International Humanitarian Law, binding on all parties.
These principles and norms are unambiguous, and the international community has repeatedly confirmed that the freedom to choose the type of weapon to use in an armed conflict is limited by considerations of humanity, including those protecting civilians or limiting ‘superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering’.
The lack of precision and the failure rate of cluster munitions, heavily dependent on weather and soil conditions, can spread unexploded bomblets across large areas, leading to long-term and indiscriminate risk and presenting a significant technical challenge in terms of survey and clearance. Landmines, likewise, are widely stigmatised for their inherent inability to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and their equally protracted impact. Both weapons deprive people and communities of full enjoyment of their human rights, and impede recovery and development for years, or even decades.
It is essential to recognise that international norms go well beyond instruments such as the APMBC and CCM. Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions also prohibits indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and objects, and destruction of food, water, and other critical means of survival, and this determination is confirmed in the preamble to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
The preamble to the UN Charter commits the international community to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights” and “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.
The use of weapons such as cluster munitions and mines – including anti-vehicle mines – affecting civilians and civilian objects, as well as all use of explosive weapons in populated areas, is fundamentally indiscriminate.
Punitive attacks against civilian populations, such as those perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine or by Syria against its own people, cannot be borne and must not be normalised.
States must hold one another to account – and the United Nations and civil society must fulfil their part in calling upon them to do so.
As things stand, these fundamental principles and norms face being eroded and undermined. It is time for the international community to reflect on this worrying trend and to take steps to turn the tide.
Above all, we must stand firm to ensure the core principle of humanity is preserved, protected and upheld everywhere.