By Louise Sarsfield Collins
Mines and other ‘explosive remnants of war’ can litter a country, continuing to kill and maim long after a conflict has ended. This pollution left behind by armed conflict can not only cause horrific injuries but also deprives people of access to their livelihoods, farmland, water, health care, and education. Today [4 April] is International Day for Mine Awareness, a day to not only remember the victims of mines and the existing dangers but to also seek to prevent further weapons contamination.
International humanitarian law (IHL) or the ‘law of armed conflict’ aims for humanitarian reasons to limit the effects of armed conflict. IHL does not allow the use of weapons that cause the most appalling or unnecessary suffering, and it prohibits tactics that cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment. Conventions such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines are two important instruments of international law in this regard.
Globally the Red Cross is committed to the development of IHL and trying to ensure that the humanitarian standards set out in the rules of war are respected and that States ratify international treaties such as the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The Red Cross also works with people affected by weapons contamination around the world. In northern Sri Lanka, an area heavily dependent on agriculture, physical access to some agriculture lands in the area is restricted due to weapons contamination. Irish Red Cross is partnered with Sri Lanka Red Cross and providing funds towards the Red Cross Post Conflict Recovery Programme. As part of this programme, volunteers have been trained in ‘mine risk education’. The purpose of the training is to raise awareness about weapons contamination and develop knowledge within affected communities about safe behaviours.
In Libya, ICRC is working in close coordination with local authorities to identify areas that remain contaminated by unexploded ordinance following the conflict in 2011. Irish Red Cross has contributed funds to the work of this ICRC programme. In addition to clearing unexploded devices, (2,600 alone between January and February in Sirte) ICRC has also trained approximately 300 Libyan Red Crescent volunteers on how to educate communities about the risks posed by unexploded ordnance, how to collect data about casualties and how to identify dangerous areas. Read more about Libya.
For more information about IHL Dissemination in Ireland please click here