Afghanistan: Mine Action in Afghanistan – Looking for Hope

20 Years Supporting Landmine Victims

Over 20 years have passed since AAR Japan first began our mine clearance activities in Afghanistan, using the net proceeds from the Anti-Personnel Landmine Removal Campaign picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers”, (illustration by Shomei YOU, story by Fusako YANASE, 610,000 copies published by Jiyukokuminsha). It has been 18 years since we established an office in the capital city of Kabul, in January of 2002. During this time, of the many humanitarian aid needs in Afghanistan, AAR Japan has continued its mine clearance, victim assistance, and mine risk education activities. The reason for this is simple: so long as there are land mines, people will not be able to live their lives in peace.
Mine action taken by the international community, including AAR Japan, have played a large role in reducing the number the victims of landmines or unexploded ordinance (UXO). When one looks back at the “Landmine Monitor”, an annual report published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), of which AAR Japan is a member, the number of casualties steadily decreases up to a certain point in time.


Commemorating the 20th year since the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) took effect Mine action 1

On March 1, 1999, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) entered into force, prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and calling for the destruction of all stockpiles, the clearance of all mined areas. This Convention is also called “Ottawa Convention” after the name of the city where it was signed. Since this marks the 20th year since it took effect, Seiji KONNO, Program Coordinator, who has been in charge of Mine Action at our Tokyo office, gives you general information on mine action.

What is mine action?

Anti-personnel landmines are inhumane weapons in that, once planted, they remain active for decades and indiscriminately kill or injure civilians.

Landmines are inhumane weapons in that, once planted, they remain active for decades and indiscriminately kill or injure civilians. They pose such a threat to the safety of civilians even after conflicts that they not only inhibited the repatriation of refugees but also deprived the residents of the land that could be put to productive use, such as agriculture. Thus, landmines have obstructed restoration and the economic development of the affected area.

According to United Nations Mine Action Service (UNIMAS), mine action consists of the following five objectives:
    1. Total abolition of landmines
    2. Destruction of all stockpiles
    3. Support for the victims
    4. Clearance of mines
    5. Education on how to avert landmines

1. Total ban of landmines

With the sales of “Not Mines, But Flowers” series, we have successfully cleared 26,520,000 square kilometers of landmine fields since its publication in 1996.
     So far, only military experts have been discussing international issues of weapons, such as personnel mines. However, citizens have started to voice their opinions on serious issues concerning landmines. For instance, they pointed out that landmines could kill or injure even civilians who are not involved in conflicts. Not only that, landmines remain active for a long time, once planted. International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a global network of non-governmental organizations addressing the landmine issues as a representative of global community, finally succeeded in trying to involve several nations and getting these nations to sign the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (Ottawa Convention). In recognition of their efforts, ICBL, of which AAR Japan is an active member, shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with Jody Williams, the Coordinator.

     20 years have passed since the Ottawa Convention entered into force, and as of February 26th, 2019, as many as 164 countries have signed it. However, 32 countries, including influential countries such as the US, China and Russia have not sign it yet.

     One of the most important things in mine clearance action is to involve as many people as possible in this action and raise awareness among the public. In addition to giving lectures and providing the general public with a learning opportunity by their visit, AAR published a picture book “Not Mines, But Flowers”, which sold as many as 610,000 copies. (Published by JIYUKOKUMIN-SHA , Story by YANASE Fusako, Illustrations
by YOH Shomei) As you can see, AAR Japan has been trying to get more and more people to become interested in landmine issues and to start action where possible.

2.  Destruction of stockpiled anti-personnel mines

Cleared landmines are either exploded on the spot or exploded with other mines
    after they are defused.
Article 4 of the Ottawa Convention dictates that “each State Party undertakes to destroy or ensure the destruction of all stockpiled anti-personnel mines it owns or possesses, or that are under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than four years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.” On February 8th, 2003, Japan completed the destruction of anti-personnel landmines that it had owned, and
then-Prime Minister Junichiro KOIZUMI attended the ceremony.

Unfortunately, not all the nations destroy all the stockpiled mines as Japan did. Among the several countries I have visited, there were countries where the government did not keep track on where anti-personnel mines were still planted especially because it was right after the conflict. This is very risky. Destruction of mines is a crucial action that should be taken, because the number of mines is sure to decrease if the ones planted are destroyed and no more mines are made.

3. Giving assistance to victims

AAR has been giving assistance to landmine victims. This is a picture of a man (on the left) having an artificial leg installed. He had to have his lower leg amputated because he had stepped on a landmine.
 Of all the concerted international efforts to ban landmines, supporting the victims is an area that should be paid more attention to. In doing so, it doesn’t matter whether someone is a victim of landmines/UXO or whether someone is a person with disabilities.
We must bear in mind that helping victims means helping people with disabilities. AAR has been committed to giving assistance to people with disabilities regardless of cause.

Our assistance is composed of the following:
   ・Assistance in terms of urgent and continuous medical service, such as a surgery after the injury
  ・Physical rehabilitation, such as the kind of rehabilitation wearing prosthetics
  ・Psychological/Psychiatric support、such as counselling and treatment for patients with traumatic experiences, which is necessary for those with acute stress disorder after falling victim to landmines.
  ・Economic inclusion, for instance, vocational training so that victims can get income
  ・Gathering of information, which is crucial in getting appropriate and necessary support
  ・Acting on legal systems and institutions
     There are countries where people with disabilities are not guaranteed their rights
     as much as they should.

AAR became aware of the existence of landmine victims while supporting Indochina refugees, and started to give assistance to people with disabilities. We are now supporting them across the globe.  Click here for details:

     Victim Assistance

I will write about 4. Clearance and 5. Mine risk education in the next issue “Mine
Action 2”.

Click here for AAR’s mine action.
     Mine action

Seiji KONNO, Tokyo Office

For ten months, starting in April 2000, he was on assignment with the mine clearance NGO “HALO Trust”, engaged in UXO/mine clearance work. Afterwards, he oversaw mine action, public awareness training, and emergency aid at AAR Japan until March of 2008. After leaving AAR Japan, became a certified Social Worker and certified Psychiatric Social Worker. After working at an international NGO overseas focused on support for those with disabilities, domestic social welfare, and support for children, he returned to AAR Japan in February 2018. He is from Ibaraki Prefecture.
 (Profile as of the date of the article.)