Posted on December 5, 2017 9:26 am
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Categories: Transitions

The Toll of Landmines — Humanitarian Demining and Conflict Prevention: Lessons from Colombia’s FARC Peace Process

“Humanitarian demining is often presented as a technical component of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding, a painstaking and slow process necessary to avoid the human suffering caused by anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) such as unexploded ordinance that have been left over after a peace deal is signed. According to the Nobel-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) 2016 report, global mine casualties at 10-year high even as funds for clearance has reached a 10-year low. In 2015 alone, there were 6,461 mine/ERW casualties worldwide, the vast majority of them civilians—30% of whom are children. Despite the 1999 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the use of mines that detonate due to human contact, non-state armed groups such as those in Colombia continue to make wide use of anti-personnel mines, especially improvised victim-activated mines.

“In addition to direct casualties, mines represent a significant hurdle towards implementing peace agreements. The casualties during and after conflict can reinforce lasting resentments that make it harder to achieve reconciliation. After an accidental mine explosion, the event can reignite deep animosities among communities or groups, sometimes provoking backsliding in the peace process implementation. In addition, mines hinder peacebuilding and development across vast spaces, especially in rural areas. Even the mere suspicion that there may be mines in a field, for instance, makes stakeholders hesitant to farm that land or to build much-needed infrastructure. Mines set across roads, riverbeds, and other routes may cut off people’s access to key resources, from water and jobs to town markets. In areas where more than one illegal armed group is involved, caches of unused explosives may also fall into the hands of other illegal groups. More generally, mines contribute towards a “climate of fear” that poses social-psychological and political challenges to the implementation of peace agreements.”

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“Colombia has set the goal of completing demining efforts by 2021. While the challenge is considerable, the signing of a final peace agreement between the government and the FARC in November 2016 has opened up space for innovation in humanitarian demining, from the introduction of new methods (such as the use of demining rats) to new partnerships, such as that with Brazil, through which Brazilian Marines train Colombian personnel in demining. Most notably, Colombia has an unique military brigade dedicated to demining–the Brigada de Ingenieros de Desminado del Ejército, which works along a specialized Navy unit eight and around nine civilian demining organizations. Although area that are still affected by conflict (including with the second largest Marxist guerrilla group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) are still off limits to humanitarian demining initiatives, these innovations can be considered a source of inspiration for incorporating humanitarian demining into peace processes in Colombia and beyond.” Adriana Erthal Abdenur is a fellow at Instituto Igarapé — ReliefWeb