Delay In Signing Mine Ban Treaty Keeps Sri Lanka In The Red

by  Roshani Nathaniel

  • Sri Lanka has now distanced itself from the international disarmament community 
  • There are more sophisticated and technological ways today of combating mines laid by terrorists
  • These forms of weapons today are considered as inhumane weapons of destruction
After the change of regime on January eighth, 2015, the Sri Lanka Campaign to Ban Landmines (SLCBL) was hopeful that post-war Sri Lanka would become a party to disarmament conventions, namely the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) also known as the Ottawa Convention and Conventionon Cluster Munitions (CCM).

According to the Coordinator of Sri Lanka’s campaign to ban landmines, Vidya Abhayagunawardena, Sri Lanka has now distanced itself from the international disarmament community. This, he said  is a serious issue for the ongoing reconciliation process and its human rights record by peace-loving people of Sri Lanka as well as peace-loving people around the world against the use of certain prohibited weapons, such as Anti-personnel (AP) Landmines and Cluster Munitions.

Post-war Sri Lanka (since 2009), had not acceded to any disarmament treaties, particularly the accession to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which are the most significant humanitarian disarmament conventions with regard to war-time and post-war Sri Lanka. He said the Government should have acceded to these conventions for very obvious reasons. Otherwise it may completely undermine the ongoing reconciliation process and that will negatively impact on the country’s human rights record.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Abhayagunawardena said Sri Lanka should sign the CCM and the Mine Ban treaty for many good reasons. “It will assist the ongoing reconciliation process. Sri Lanka however neglected the disarmament for the last 14 years though we were the champions in disarmament. If we sign the humanitarian aspect of the military and its image will improve. These forms of weapons today are considered as inhumane weapons of destruction. Also Sri Lanka will get a lot of opportunities in ground clearance of these landmines. Currently several countries are not assisting Sri Lanka because we are not signatories to the convention. Acceding to both conventions will guarantee that both the current and future generations in Sri Lanka will not use this weapon under any responsible government. As for the terrorists they don’t care and they do not adhere to any ethical war practices. However, the government should adhere to international norms and humanitarian conventions,” he said.


Landmines and suicide bombers

Landmines and suicide bombers were initially introduced to Sri Lanka by the LTTE. The military however while not resorting to using suicide bombers, the question remains as to why the Sri Lankan government is refusing to take measures to ban landmines and cluster munitions. The Military during the war had used landmines as a defensive weapon while the LTTE used it as an offensive weapon. “Our question is that now without a war in this country what is the use of landmines? We are now in the process of reconciliation. Signing this treaty will only assist enormously in the reconciliation process,” he added.

Incidentally the previous regime, though accused of taking a hard stance on military related matters had in fact expressed willingness to be a signatory to the mines ban treaty and permanently banning landmines in this country. “The Mine action strategy 2010 clearly mentioned that from a humanitarian point of view they are ready to sign both conventions. Further the former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya too mentioned in 2010 that Sri Lanka was ready to look into acceding to the disarmament conventions,” said Abhayagunawardena.

According to the Landmines and Cluster Munitions Monitor, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, commonly referred to as the Mine Ban Treaty, was adopted on September 18, 1997 and entered into force on March 1, 1999.

The Mine Ban Treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines. It is the most comprehensive international instrument for eradicating landmines and deals with everything from mine use, production and trade, to victim assistance, mine clearance and stockpile destruction.

As of November 19, 2014, there were 162 States Parties to the treaty and the treaty is still open for ratification by signatories and for accession by those who did not sign before March 1999. States not party to the Mine Ban Treaty include China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.

On March 2, 2016 at the pledging conference for Mine Ban Treaty organised by the Chilean Presidency, the Ambassador of Sri Lanka announced that Sri Lanka will be acceding to the convention, becoming the 163rd State Party. He stated that the decision had been taken earlier that day by the Cabinet in Colombo.


National petition

As published in the Landmines and Cluster Munitions Monitor, prior to this announcement, Sri Lanka had not made any formal statements regarding the Mine Ban Treaty since 2009 when it said that it “fully subscribes to the humanitarian objectives of the treaty.” However, in a July 2012 meeting with the diplomatic community in Colombo, the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, reportedly said that the Defense Ministry was ready for Sri Lanka to sign the treaty.  In August 2016, the Sri Lankan Campaign to Ban Landmines (SCBL) mobilised a national petition requesting the government accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. The petition was signed by many key former civil servants, academic professors, business owners, and civil society activists. The petition was presented to the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, on August 25, 2016. Also in August 2016, the SCBL lobbied the Secretariat of the Reconciliation Task Force to request the government accede to the MBT. In November 2015, the SCBL distributed a booklet titled Why Post-war Sri Lanka should Accede to the Mine Ban Treaty that was used as part of a national advocacy campaign for Mine Ban Treaty accession. Sri Lanka is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions. Sri Lanka states that it has never used or stockpiled cluster munitions, but, in June 2016, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated a willingness to look into allegations that government forces used cluster munitions in 2008 and 2009. Sri Lanka has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Sri Lanka has shown interest in the convention, but has not elaborated its view on accession. Sri Lanka participated as an observer in the convention’s First Review Conference in September 2015, where it made a statement expressing its support for the humanitarian objectives of the convention and informing States Parties that it has never used or stockpiled cluster munitions. Meanwhile speaking to The Sunday Leader the retired United Nations Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala said in addition to the cluster munitions ban most of the civilised countries of the world, except for a few great powers who have their own reasons for not acceding to the treaty, have signed it. “It came within the framework of the UN when I was the undersecretary of the disarmament affairs. But to my embarrassment Sri Lanka had not signed it. At that time had the excuse that we were fighting the LTTE who had disregarded any of these conventions and had their own crude forms of landmines called ‘Johnny battas’. However, there are more sophisticated and technological ways today of combating mines laid by terrorists than having mines laid by you. Moreover, we qualify for mine ban clearance assistance if we have signed that document and countries will be more generous in giving us assistance in mine clearance activities,” he said.

“We ourselves are supplying peace keeping forces for the UN and we disqualify ourselves by not fulfilling the basic arms control and disarmament measures that we are supposed to subscribe to. So I see no reason why we are reluctant to accede to the treaty. There are certain quarters within the Ministry of Defence who are objecting to it. The Foreign Ministry has tried to establish consensus among the ministries and failed. But ironically when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was the Secretary Defence, he had agreed that Sri Lanka should accede to the mine ban treaty. I don’t know who these Stone Age men are in the Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry now who are objecting to it. They are going against the national security interest by doing this,” he pointed out.

When asked if statements made by the Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi that AP mines are required to protect military bases he said, “AP mines are against all humanitarian law. If you go to Geneva you will find in front of the UN, a three legged chair as a memento to those who are injured as result of these mines. It takes only five minutes to lay a mine, but it takes weeks patiently to extricate a mine. So we still have to extricate mines that have been buried by the LTTE and others and it will take a very long time. Meanwhile our children who run in the paddy fields of our villages run a risk all the time, apart from cattle and other animals who roam the areas where the terrorists were. Its inhumane method and we should make sure we do not lay a single mine ever again in defence or offence. Hence what we need to do is to now sign the treaty and get the assistance that the world will give us to take out these mines and join the larger commutative nations,” added Jayantha Dhanapala.

He further added that there are only a few countries in the world who have not signed the treaty and we should join the international community in acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions without delay.


Advantages of signing  the treaty

Meanwhile expressing his views on the issue, the Director/Programme Manager of Delvon Assistance for Social Harmony (DASH), Brigadier Ananda Chandrasiri highlighting the advantages in ratifying the AP mine ban convention said, it will help win the hearts and minds of the conflict affected people to achieve long lasting peace and harmony in the country, by demonstrating the commitment of the government.

He said, “Sri Lanka has overcome its conflict militarily, but it is very important to understand that the absence of war does not necessarily mean peace of mind is existent. It is important for the government and the people of Sri Lanka to understand the need to build on the success we achieved in 2009 by defeating the LTTE. In that respect the most important responsibility is to win the hearts and minds of the conflict affected people who were victimised during the conflict. Negligence to do so would result in the possibility of the problem of a similar conflict and its consequences being passed onto our future generations.”

Further it will help achieve international recognition for Sri Lanka as a country that respects and complies with international humanitarian law norms. If we accede to this Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, we will gain more international support to achieve the government’s goal of becoming a mine-threat free country by 2020, he said.

According to Brigadier Chandrasiri, laying of mines does in no way help immensely in stopping the enemy advance, but it only delays the enemy. He pointed out that what was more important was the proper training of our forces and heightened alertness. “Our experience is that landmines give a false sense of security to those who guard the forward defence localities, where even the high dense mine fields deployed for the protection of such localities have had no effect whatsoever on the covert enemy offensives that had resulted in the military localities being completely overrun, and in certain cases hundreds of troops killed.”

Chandrasiri said with the advancement in technology today, the advance warning of enemy approach expected from landmines can be met with high-tech advance warning systems. “One could argue that they would be activated by wild animals. But landmines too can be activated by wild animals resulting in grave harm to them.

On the other hand he said exceeding to the Ottawa treaty no doubt would recognise Sri Lanka as a country that pursues peace in the country and globally with deed and thought and would result in enhanced international support for Sri Lanka’s mine action being achieved.

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