By Vidya Abhayagunawardena
Since independence in 1948, Island nation of Sri Lanka has faced two types of internally originated human destruction and debacles which were the Southern insurgencies (in 1971 & 1988) and a nearly three decade long North and East conflict which ended in 2009.
Sri Lanka could have avoided both the conflicts with political will with correct mechanism to address the root causes for the conflicts that time that left to the strife. After 1948 no country from outside world had tried to invade or take control of Sri Lanka. But in today’s world, many countries engage in different scales of protracted wars and conflicts and taking control of territories illegally by using lethal weapons destroying humans, animals, nature and properties in an unaccounted and unprecedented way. Sri Lanka is lucky enough to be devoid from present day international conflicts and wars.
Sri Lanka is now entering into a new era after the internal strife and attempting to address many issues and related root causes for the conflicts, socially, economically and politically. As Sri Lanka grapples with the issues of the post-conflict situation, it is necessary to look at the legacies left behind by the conflicts and the lessons to be learnt. Sri Lanka should emerge with a new hope and guaranteed concrete solution for future generations saying, that scale of conflicts will never happen again in the Island. All concerned parties should work towards a permanent peace for coming generations. One possible positive step is to “Ban Landmines in Sri Lanka” by acceding to the “Mine Ban Treaty”. With this Sri Lanka can ensure for the future generations that land will never again be contaminated with antipersonnel landmines, that the rights of present victims of landmines are respected and their needs fully addressed, and stockpiles of landmines get destroyed. The ultimate goal is that innocent civilians will no longer lose their lives or limbs to these hidden killers, landmines.
The war is over but Sri Lanka is now busy fighting a new type of war to unearth hundreds of thousands of landmines, unexploded and abandoned ordnance and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) scattered all over the war ravaged North and East Provinces. The two provinces are not yet safe to live and people eke out economic and development activities. The situation on the ground reflects the brutality of the war. The danger and viciousness of victim-activated landmines when compared with other weapons is their destructiveness is indiscriminate and that they last for longer periods. Landmines and explosive remnants of war kill humans and animals alike or can make them permanently disabled and a pose threat to the environment. Landmines ultimately bring only human misery. This issue can be looked at from religious point of view and being a Buddhist country and with other religions it is all more imperative for Sri Lanka to accede to the Treaty. Further, to what extent can religions tolerate and allow the use of landmines as a weapon without considering human and animal lives, and socio-economic and environmental consequences?
The Government of Sri Lanka with the support of the international community in 2002 began a large scale humanitarian de-mining programme with the goal of creating a mine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) free environment in support of resettlement and development programmes. It has targeted a mine threat free Sri Lanka in 2020 and this means it will take at least another ten years to clear the land. The Official Government News Portal of Sri Lanka has reported that over 640 villages have been affected by the mines. In September 2010 The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka was shared among mine action stakeholders by the government: according to an estimation done by the Sri Lankan Army 1.6 million landmines have been laid in Sri Lanka of which 366,870 mines have been cleared through military de-mining and humanitarian de-mining. Further, this leaves the country with an estimated number of 1.23 million mines still to be cleared. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sri Lanka since January 2009, 309sqkm have been cleared in the North, while an estimated 396sqkm in all five Northern districts are still littered with mines. In the Eastern province approximately 552sqkm to be cleared and still the mapping survey is going on.
The government and the international community has spent millions of dollars so far for the mine action programme in Sri Lanka. In 2008 alone, US$ 8,173, 696 (in 2007 US$ 7,586,350) support was provided for mine action program in Sri Lanka by the international community according to the Land Mine Monitor. Still, there is no correct figure how much money has been spent so far and how much money is to be spent in the future. Any how we can think and figure out that an enormous amount of money is needed for this task and if during war time nobody had used landmines the country could now use this money for other development purposes in those areas.
Since the 1980s, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) website (Landmine Monitor, Country Profile, 18 October 2010) “there were a total of 21,993 landmine casualties, including 1,419 civilian returnees”. Ninety percent of Sri Lanka’s estimated 160,000 amputees, many disabled by land mines and explosions linked to the war, do not have proper artificial limbs according to the Sri Lanka School of Prosthetic and Orthotics, a project of Cambodia Trust. The country’s health system and very few victim assistance programmes are in place for support for mine victims and other people with disabilities but majority of victims are unable to fulfill their basic needs and their rights today. This is due to inadequate financial resources, lack of human expertise in the field and inadequate institutional support.
According to the latest Landmine Monitor report of ICBL, “Sri Lanka’s Government has voted in favor of the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution calling for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty, UNGA Resolution 63/42, on 2 December 2008, as it has for every annual pro-ban General Assembly resolution since 1996. Further, Sri Lanka provided voluntary article 7 report in 2005. It subsequently indicated it would provide an update, but has not yet done so. In December 2008, an official told the ICBL that due to the security situation and other priorities, Sri Lanka was not in a position to provide an update, but would endeavor to submit a report, including information on stockpiles during 2009”. Acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty Sri Lanka will have many benefits such as extra funding support for ongoing mine action programme which is much needed today and it has to be expedited due to many reasons mainly in safer human re-settlement, livelihoods developments and victim assistance.
Since Sri Lanka is not a country that produces land mines and with the end of the conflict it does not need to use them, it is much easier to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. When we are looking at countries that have not yet acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty they mainly do so because they still want to posses, use or produce them. As few as three countries may have been producing anti-personal mines in 2008 (LM), India, Pakistan and Myanmar, as well as some Non State Armed Groups. For the sake of the future generations the island nation should ensure that its geographical territory is devoid of indiscriminate weapons hidden inside the ground. Landmines pose particular dangers for children. According to UNICEF, landmines and unexploded ordnance violate nearly all articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC): a child’s right to life, to a safer environment in which to play, to health, clean water, sanitary conditions and adequate education. A landmine is a morally outlawed weapon and should never be used again. Security forces know best how horrible the effects are as far too often they got injured and killed from these hideous devices during the war time.
There are hundred and fifty six countries (States parties) in the world today who have acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Only thirty nine countries (States not parties) including Sri Lanka remain outside the Treaty according to the ICBL. The State parties to the Treaty put in place very sophisticated human security systems to protect civilians and boundaries without using landmines. Now Sri Lanka needs to have a public debate on the ban of landmines because the war is over and there is no need to use mines or posses them either. Sri Lanka should be an example to the world; it needs to become a greener nation and a safe place to live anywhere in the country for humans and animals without threat from landmines.
A protracted deadly war is over in Sri Lanka, time has come to join the club of Mine Ban countries and ensure the people of Sri Lanka that security is guaranteed in the country without using anti-personal mines and in the mean time there is no need to have another weapon system to replace landmines. His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka and the Government should see the Treaty as an opportunity and make all the efforts and support towards acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty. Sri Lanka is now working hard towards becoming an “Emerging Wonder of Asia”. One step towards that definitely would be the accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. This will pave the way not only to become an “Emerging Wonder of Asia” but also beyond that to become a “Wonder of Asia” too.