|Sunday, 11 January 2004|
Geneva call to assist Sri Lanka :
Working in a minefield
Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. however, in the light of public statements made by the government indicating a move towards signing, the provisions of the treaty are being implemented. The LTTE, as a non-state party, may sign a Deed of Commitment, which is in the spirit of the Ottawa Convention and would be formally lodged in Switzerland.
by P. Krishnaswamy
Landmines laid in the war ravaged north and east have taken a high toll of life and limb. According to the UNDP mine action office in Colombo, over 200 civilians have been killed and over 1200 have been injured, a good percentage of whom were disabled for life due to amputation of limbs and other physical defects.
Thousands of displaced families are unable to return to their homes for fear of mines being detonated at their very door steps. Thousands of acres of fertile lands go uncultivated for the same reason. Roads, residential areas, infrastructure and access to waterways are contaminated with mines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXOs).
Civilians spontaneously returning to these areas risk being affected by these mines. Unfortunately and all too often, civilian men, women and children find these weapons before the proper humanitarian agencies and organisations which are involved in the de-mining process can remove them. The results are tragic. They get killed instantly or become maimed for life resulting in severe socio-economic consequences.
Two cases of mine victims, with names changed to protect their privacy, are reproduced below:
Having been displaced by fighting for two years, Ravi, a 45-year-old father of three children, decided to visit his home in Chavakacheri, an area previously occupied by both the Army and the LTTE, to find out its condition. He took the precaution of clearing a path to the house and got there safely. But when he walked over to the side of the house to pick up some coconuts from the ground, an explosion went off. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the Jaffna hospital. His leg was amputated above the knee. He has learned to walk again with a prosthetic leg from the Jaipur Foot Programme.
As refugees displaced due to the war, twentyseven-year-old Vanaja, five months pregnant with her second child, and her family were walking towards a welfare centre in Chunnakam in 1997. Walking on the side of a lane, she stepped on a landmine. Several hours later her leg was amputated below the knee. Vanaja has received seven prosthetic limb from the Jaipur Foot organisation since her accident and now rides a bicycle.
Her husband left to find work in Qatar shortly after the accident. She received a loan from Sarvodaya to establish a poultry farm. Her dream is for her two children to receive a good education and have successful jobs.
Nineteen years of conflict between the government forces and the LTTE have resulted in a currently unqualifiable number of mines and UXO abandoned or deliberately left in the northern and eastern districts which include Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar, Batticaloa and Trincomalee.
The conflict directly affected areas occupied by approximately 2,500,000 people, out of a total population of 19 million. The extent of the threat of both mines and UXO is the object of ongoing survey and analysis. It is estimated that a total of between one and 1.5 million mines contaminate vast tracts of lands in the North and East.
December 3, 2003 marked the sixth anniversary of the opening of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, for signature by State parties. It came into force on March 1, 1999. The treaty prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires the destruction of existing stocks.
Upto now Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty, however, in the light of public statements made by the government indicating a move towards signing, the provisions of the treaty are being implemented. The LTTE, as a non-state party, may sign a Deed of Commitment, which is in the spirit of the Ottawa Convention and would be formally lodged in Switzerland.
Geneva Call is an international humanitarian organisation dedicated to engaging Non State Actors (NSAs) - i.e., armed groups operating outside of government control - in a landmine ban and to respect humanitarian norms. Representatives of the Geneva Call have met several times with representatives of the LTTE.
The Government and the LTTE have recognised the mine and UXO problem in the country and have taken some steps towards ridding it of mines. The government is implementing a comprehensive humanitarian mine action programme with a target of achieving a mine free Sri Lanka by end of 2006.
Under the leadership of the National Steering Committee for Mine Action (NSCMA), a mine action media campaign was launched last week, titled 'Your Safety, Mine Action, Our Future' to provide the people in the country with a general idea of the Humanitarian Mine Action Programme. NSCMA is based in the Prime Minister's office in Colombo. This committee is chaired by the Secretary to the PM and Commissioner General of Triple 'R', Bradman Weerakoon.
The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), Danish De-mining Group (DDG), The Halo Trust, Norwegian People's Aid, Mines Advisory Group, Milinda Moragoda Institute for People's Empowerment (MMIPE), Humanitarian De-mining Unit (HDU), and the Sri Lanka Army are doing the mine clearance work. Mine risk education (MRE) is being provided by Sarvodaya, The Tamil Refugee Resettlement Organisation (TRRO), White-Pigeon (WP), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Community Trust Fund, Save the Children's Fund SL (SCF) and the National Institute for Education (NIE). The Jaipur Foot Programme, AROD, Family Rehabilitation Centre, White Pigeon, Shantiham, Jaffna Teaching Hospital and the Sarvodaya are functioning as victim monitoring and survivor assistance organisations, extending yeoman services to the victims.
The number of incidents has dropped to four to seven per month at present as against 15-20 incidents immediately after the ceasefire. Supported by the UNDP and UNICEF, the government launched a comprehensive mine clearance and Mine Risk Education (MRE) programme this year.
Approximately 17.5 million square metres of land has been cleared of landmines and UXOs since March 2001. Around 150,000 of the estimated 1.5 million mines contaminating the war affected areas have been cleared. Much progress has been made and mine clearance activity has picked up, both with the expansion of existing operators and the entry of new operators.
Produced by Lake House