Demining Lebanon, One Political Step at A Time
Going to a disarmament and arms control seminar with the other half of Café Thawra brought back to my memory a topic I wanted to write about for a long time but that somehow got sidetracked along the way: the de-mining of Lebanon.
During the seminar, we had a very interesting session given by John Borrie from UNIDIR on Cluster Munitions and the process the world is currently going through to ban them, a bit like what happened with anti-personnel landmines. Borrie explained the situation in Southern Lebanon as well as the de-mining efforts that were taking place. The (Arab) audience got a bit annoyed with him as he was insisting on the fact that Hezbollah had also dropped cluster munitions that hadn’t exploded yet and that could still harm civilians that accidentally stepped on them or played with them. While this remains completely true, and is to blame, Borrie failed to clearly outline the disproportion of the ammunitions that were launched by Israel in 2006 compared to what had been dropped by the Hezbollah. While this would be an interesting debate of politics vs. International law, this is not my argument and I’ll let you document yourself on the origins of the cluster munitions used by Hezbollah and their reactions and efforts towards the de-mining and cleansing of the afflicted areas.
Yes. I’m mean like that.
What I really want to discuss here is the current state of the de-mining of Lebanon and the step forward that have been undertaken.
What are Cluster Bombs and Cluster Munitions? Basically, a Cluster Bomb is the container that, when launched (it can be air-borne or launched from the ground), opens and eject smaller munitions, like a cluster of bomblets, thus impacting on a wider scale. The smaller munitions are the Cluster Munitions, and they’re the ones that are tremendously dangerous. When dropped, the munitions explode, and make no bones about it, are designed to kill. However, they tend to have a rather high failure rate, meaning that the munitions don’t detonate while impacting the ground, but remain potentially explosive: the common figure declared is around a 5% failure rate, but the studies have shown that this rate can be as high as 20%, depending on the model of the weapon.
By their very nature, Cluster Bombs are in my view contrary to Humanitarian Law. Indeed, IHL forbids the use of weapons that would cause unnecessary death or inhuman injuries, as well as indiscriminate weapons, that can’t specifically target a military objective and that would fatally harm civilian infrastructures, all characteristics that Cluster Bombs have. Indeed, they’re prone to be indiscriminate, impacting on civilian infrastructure, but can also remain deadly after the conflict has ended. The explosive remnants of war caused by the Cluster Munitions can be buried into the ground by rain or other factors, and only reappear after a while, posing a great threat to the civil population that returned to their homes. For example, a farmer can accidentally bring unexploded sub-munitions that were buried at the surface of the ground again, thus harming himself or whoever steps on them.
The 2006 Lebanon War did a great deal to push the International Community to speed up the process of banning these weapons. Created in 2003 in the Netherlands, the Cluster Munitions Coalition started their advocacy campaigns towards a ban of the weapon in front of unimpressed and uninterested States that couldn’t really be bothered by the whole issue. In 2005, the change of government in Norway that put forward the Red-Green Coalition brought with it a manifesto to ban clusters Munitions. On February 16th 2006, Belgium became the first country in the world to vote a law banning cluster munitions. But it took the 4 millions sub-munitions launched by Israel over Lebanon in the 33 days war (most of then launched in the last 72 hours of the conflict) to jolt the International Community. Among this 4 millions, the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in South Lebanon (MACC-SL) estimates that between 32% and 40% failed overall, becoming de facto landmines. Following this ordeal, 127 States met in May 2008 in Ireland at the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions, which resulted in 107 States adopting the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. So far, only 30 States have ratified this Convention.
While the International Community has been busy arguing and bickering over these weapons, Lebanon has been busy cleaning up the mess, rather blindly as Israel failed until May 2009 to provide the Lebanese State with the necessary maps to find out where the Cluster Bombs had been launched. And what a dreadful mess: since the end of the conflict around 240 civilians have been killed or maimed by these remnants.
In 2008, they were 44 teams of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre in South Lebanon of roughly 1000 mine-cleaning experts including 865 Lebanese civilians especially trained for this task In February 2009, there were only 27 teams left, with the Mine Advisory Group and DanChurchAid leaving, among others, and since then the figure has dropped again. In 2006, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, among other states, injected funds and skills into the cleansing efforts undertaken in South Lebanon. The USA also gave 1.5 millions to the Mine Action Group to help with the effort, while being one of the countries that has and has used in the recent past, produces and stockpiles Cluster Bombs and that hasn’t joined the ban negotiations, or adopted the 2008 Convention, let alone ratify it.
With the economical crisis looming, funds available have decreased and teams are leaving a territory that still needs them.
That’s where Iran ( another country that produces and stockpiles Cluster Bombs, but hasn’t used them in the recent past) comes into the picture, and everyone starts commenting. When the US, Israel’s biggest ally, was helping Lebanon, no huge outcry was heard. But if funding from Iran enters the country, a lot of people seem to be most uncomfortable with the whole issue, saying Iran will come to Lebanon to influence it, what with its ties to Hezbollah etc etc etc .
We simply have to be realistic: when Jeffrey Feltman, US Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs states
“We anticipate that the shape of the US assistance programs in Lebanon will be evaluated in the context of Lebanon’s parliamentary election results and the policies formed by the new Cabinet”,
he’s not exactly providing a 100% humanitarian assistance either.
This is the dilemma with funding: should you accept all kinds of donors in order to get rid of an issue or should you allow yourself to refuse some donors because they do not meet your criteria or they’re too blatantly trying to influence your internal situations?
In my opinion, Humanitarian Relief undertaken by states has become the new imperialism, with countries fighting to help others upon certain conditions or expecting certain benefits, which completely annihilates the word “humanitarian”. On the other hand, what can a country that desperately needs the money do? Simple watch its population die?
There are no ready-made answers for such a question, it is up to a government to be strong enough to refuse or accept money from various donors, or to learn to mitigate the requirements of others donors. It is also the role of the civil society to keep up to date with what’s happening, and to questions the events when it deems it necessary.
In the meantime, no later than yesterday, Hussein Yassin Mrad, 37, was injured while working with a mine clearing team.
NB: The Picture from this post is By Marc Trip, Belgian deminers working in a field in Wouthern Lebanon