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Calling All Concerned with Landmine Incidents in the Philippines: PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

Know and Respect the Humanitarian Rules on Landmines

(Statement on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty totally banning anti-personnel mines, on 1 March 2009)

             The upsurge in landmine incidents since the eruption of armed hostilities between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Central Mindanao starting August 2008, but later in the year also highlighted in the intensifying armed encounters between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the AFP, has brought to the fore questions of adherence to the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) on the use of landmines in armed conflict. 

             Several military, police and government officers, officials and spokespersons have in particular condemned mainly the NPA’s, and to a lesser extent the MILF’s, use of landmines as violative either of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, of the Geneva Conventions, or of human rights.  The NPA in turn, at least in one region, also last year charged the AFP of using “pressure-detonated,” and therefore banned, anti-personnel mines for the perimeter defense of its field detachments which are allegedly within population centers.  The MILF for its part has said that it is open to an investigation of such alleged violations in the context of a broader non-partisan investigation of various ceasefire, human rights and IHL violations by both sides, and has also called attention to the problem of unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW) from artillery shells and aerial bombs of the AFP still left on the ground.

             It is incumbent most of all on the several parties to an armed conflict, e.g. the MILF, NPA and AFP, to know and respect the rules on landmines under IHL, which they all commonly avow to adhere toNot all landmines are banned as weapons of war under IHL.  Only victim-activated anti-personnel mines are subject to a prohibition on use, stockpiling, production and transfer, under the norm of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, not the 1949 Geneva Conventions which do not specifically deal with landmines.  All other types of landmines, including all anti-vehicle mines and command-detonated anti-personnel mines, are generally not prohibited but only restricted as conventional weapons, under customary IHL and the 1996 Amended Protocol II (to the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention) on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of mines, booby-traps and other devices.       

             Aside from the 1997 Ottawa Treaty norm of a total ban on victim-activated anti-personnel mines, the most basic rules on landmines under customary IHL, binding on all, whether state or non-state, whether State Party or non-Party State, are these:  (1) When landmines are used, particular care must be taken to minimize their indiscriminate effects;  (2) A party to the conflict using landmines must record their placement, as far as possible; and (3) At the end of active hostilities, a party to the conflict which has used landmines must remove or otherwise render them harmless to civilians, or facilitate their removal.  These basic rules are also found and elaborated in the 1996 Amended Protocol II which mandates the taking of all feasible precautions, including effective advance warning, and protective measures when using these weapons, so as to protect civilians or exclude them from the effects of these weapons.  There is also a 2003 Protocol V on ERW, their removal, recording, and precautions to protect civilians, which the Philippines must ratify soon.

             The MILF, and for that matter three communist breakaway factions, have in 2008 signed on to aRebel Group Declaration of Adherence to International Humanitarian Law on Landmines,” which summarizes the relevant IHL rules on landmines.  This is an instrument developed and secured by the Philippine Campaign to Landmines (PCBL), with a view to achieving an international mechanism for adherence, assistance and accountability of rebel groups, who are not eligible to be parties to international treaties.  This PCBL is doing this in cooperation with the global work of engaging non-state armed groups being conducted by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  We call particularly on two entities which have yet to sign on to such an instrument -- the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) with its NPA, and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with its Bangsamoro Armed Forces (BAF) -- to do so forthwith.   

             In addition to the IHL rules on landmines, the conflicting parties in Philippines have the additional mandates found in certain respective interim peace/ceasefire agreements. In the 2001 Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP-MILF Tripoli Peace Agreement of 2001, landminings are considered “prohibited hostile acts.”  In the 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)  [CARHRIHL], there is a recognized human right “not to be subjected to… the use of landmines” which should be understood as pertaining to civilians.  In addition, there is an IHL provision in the CARHRIHL which protects civilians “from the use of explosives as well as the stockpiling near or in their midst.”

             Alleged violations of all these relevant provisions and rules on landmines, and for that matter alleged ceasefire, human rights and IHL violations, by the conflicting parties are best investigated by independent, competent and mutually acceptable humanitarian organizations. Ideally, the conflicting parties should not only allow this but also provide a measure of safety and security, including an effective ceasefire where applicable and necessary, which in turn depends also on progress in the peace talks. PCBL as the Landmine Monitor country researcher, and PCBL’s humanitarian mine action partner the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD, Fondation Suisse de Deminage), are ready to do their parts for such an investigation of landmine incidents, which PCBL has already been doing, short of field-site verification.  In the meantime, those conflicting parties who allege violations by the other side have the burden of submitting proof or evidence of these, and PCBL is willing to receive such evidence or record thereof.  Otherwise, such allegations easily smack of mere propaganda against the other side.  But we welcome any reports and documentation of landmine incidents, whether coming from the conflict parties or from independent sources like media and concerned citizens/groups. 

             As for the problem of UXO or ERW remaining on the ground in conflict-affected areas especially of Central Mindanao, an effective ceasefire, which we said depends on progress in the peace talks, is also necessary for the removal or clearance of UXO/ERW, including unexploded landmines left on the ground.  Some of these are still remnants from the 2000 “all-out war” and the 2003 “Buliok offensive.”  These have all hindered the return of evacuees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the short run, as well as the rehabilitation and development of conflict-affected areas in the medium- to long-term.  The GRP and MILF Peace Panels have actually already accepted in November 2007 a PCBL-FSD proposal for a GRP-MILF joint mine/UXO clearance but this has been held in abeyance because of the August 2008 collapse of the peace talks and eruption of renewed armed hostilities.

               Finally, the Philippine government, as the State Party to both the 1997 Ottawa Treaty and the 1996 Amended Protocol, must pass the long-overdue corresponding domestic implementing legislation. This is the “Philippine Landmines Bill” for a “Philippine Comprehensive Law on Landmines, currently House Bill No. 1054 of Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros-Baraquel and counterpart Senate Bill No. 1595 of Sen. Gegorio B. Honasan II.  The said law would help implement and enforce the IHL rules on landmines, including criminalizing and penalizing the violations of the relevant treaty norms.  PCBL thus calls for the passage of this law in 2009.  This would go a long way so that all concerned would come to know and respect the IHL rules on landmines.  But the process of knowing and respecting starts even now

 

Quezon City, Philippines, 1 March 2009.

 

Atty. Soliman M. Santos, Jr.

            PCBL Coordinator

Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines

 [Affiliate of the Civil Society Initiatives for International Humanitarian Law (CSI-IHL)]

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 May 2009 )
 
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