Tamar Gabelnick, Policy Director, ICBL-CMC
This spring, Human Rights Watch received a pile of credible evidence about the recent planting of thousands of antipersonnel (AP) mines. Any new use of these indiscriminate, horrific, and internationally banned weapons is bad news, but this concerned use by the armed forces of Yemen, which as a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty may never, under any circumstances, use AP mines. Allegations of use of AP mines by States Parties are rare, but this one was exceptional given the reliability of the information and the volume of mines allegedly used.
And now, unfortunately, it seems the allegations were true. The government of Yemen put out a public response on 17 November noting that there has been a “violation” of the Mine Ban Treaty and presenting its response to date. This appears to be the first time a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty has publicly admitted the use of antipersonnel mines, the most serious violation imaginable of the treaty.
The information gathered by Human Rights Watch relate to two incidents, both in 2011: the laying of thousands of AP mines by Yemen’s Republic Guard at Bani Jarmooz, north of the capital Sana’a, and the laying of a smaller number of AP mines inside the building compound of the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Sana’a. After the ICBL, ICRC, and several states, including the President of the Twelfth Meeting of the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, expressed their deep concern about the allegations at the May 2013 intersessional meetings, Yemen responded by pledging to investigate.
The notice on Yemen’s website dated 17 November 2013 lays out the steps they have taken since then for “addressing and taking corrective measures in relation to the violation of the Treaty including in ‘Wadi Bani Jarmouz’” (emphasis added). Yemen has apparently formed a committee “to investigate the violation and take necessary action,” and is facilitating, after a long delay, access to the area for the Yemen Mine Action Center in order to clear the mines, provide mine risk education and assistance to victims. And we understand that letters have been sent from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Human Rights to the Minister of Defense.
Although these actions show that Yemen is moving in the right direction, they don’t reflect the sense of urgency required by such a situation. Once it learned that thousands of mines had been planted, Yemen should have acted immediately to ensure effective mine risk education, survey and clearance to prevent further injuries, but instead we understand this has only just been arranged. In addition, setting up a committee to investigate is a good step towards establishing the facts, but it was apparently established five months ago with no findings yet.
After such a major violation of the treaty, Yemen should be pushing all actors to move quickly to determine who was responsible and hold them accountable. In addition, Yemen should be trying to determine the source of the mines that had been laid, some of which were never reported as part of Yemen’s stockpile or previously laid mines, and to make sure all actors are aware of and respect the mine ban. If survey and clearance has indeed begun, it will be essential that the data about the location and types of mines is carefully recorded for the investigation.
Given the lack of concrete progress so far, and depending on what Yemen will report at the Thirteenth Meeting of States Parties in early December, treaty members should consider making use of Article 8 of the Mine Ban Treaty on facilitating and clarifying compliance, which was designed for precisely this type of situation. If Yemen is not able to show the results of an investigation that apparently began more than five months ago, then it may be time for States Parties to ask in more formal terms for an inquiry (or “Request for Clarification” under Article 8.2), where a response would be due within 28 days.
States Parties have generally shied away from raising compliance cases to this level, arguing rightfully that the spirit of the convention has traditionally been one of informal and cooperative resolutions to problems. At the same time, the spirit and the letter of the convention are first and foremost about ending the use of antipersonnel mines, and this concern should always trump any others.
Yemen’s response shows that it wants to follow up, and is concerned about the reactions from fellow states. Taking the matter a step further through the treaty’s formal compliance mechanisms should be seen merely as a way of communicating States Parties’ concerns at a higher level, while perhaps giving Yemen the incentive it needs to act faster. In the end, states should pursue whatever avenue can help bring the perpetrators to justice most quickly and send a loud signal that use will not be tolerated in Yemen or elsewhere.