Living Between 3 Fires: HURFOM’s International Mine Awareness Day 2019 Statement

Today, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) is celebrating the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. This year’s theme, “United Nations Promotes SDGs – Safe Ground – Safe Home,” reminds us that landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices are not found on some distant battlefield, rather, they are weapons of war that contaminate the very lands upon which millions of innocent men, women and children live, work, and play. Not only do these ordnances maim, kill, and ultimately rob civilian populations of the right to life, liberty, and security of person, they prohibit internally displaced persons and refugees from returning to their rightful homes, and can impede social and economic development by preventing communities from fully utilizing their lands and resources.

As of 2019, Burma/Myanmar is one of few remaining countries that has yet to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, and is one of few countries that still produces landmines. Further, Burma/Myanmar currently has the distinction of being the only country where government forces have been documented using new antipersonnel landmines in military operations. Beyond the threat posed by the military, many of Burma/Myanmar’s Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are also documented as both producing and using new antipersonnel landmines. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), as of 2017, Burma/Myanmar ranks seventh in the world and third in the east and south Asia and the Pacific region for the  highest number of landmine casualties, with the problem being particularly acute in Karen, Kachin, and Shan states.

Since April 2018, HURFOM has documented seven separate landmine blasts on or close to plantations in Yebyu Township, Mon state. [1]  Each blast occurred in an area under the mixed-control of the Burma Government, the New Mon State Party (NMSP), and the Karen National Union (KNU). While no deaths resulted from these incidents, serious injury, damage to private property and livestock, and the lingering fear to travel to and work on one’s plantation have made life much more difficult for the victims and communities directly affected.

To gain further insight into how the presence of antipersonnel landmines has impacted the lives of villagers, HURFOM spoke with Nai Ngwe Tun, 59, a Village Administration Committee member from Alae Sakhan village, Yebyu Township.

“We’ve been living under dangerous conditions for the past six months because of repeated landmine explosions. In this time, there have been at least five explosions in Alae Sakhan village and close by. There is a rubber plantation here…more than 300 acres, but people are afraid to go to work because of the landmines…40 families are without work. We’re afraid to even cross the motorway because there are mines on the other side. No one knows who’s planting the mines.

We went to the Tatmadaw and asked if they could help [clear the mines] because they have the training, but they told us they couldn’t help unless they received orders [to clear the mines]. We met with the NMSP too, and they told us they are working hard to protect us and protect our village. Both the KNU and the NMSP have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement already, so they must work together to maintain peace.

We want to live without worry and without fear. We want to survive. All our lives, we have been living between three fires. It is very sad to see that the next generation will have to live like this too.”

Succinct yet powerful, these words capture the thoughts and feelings of only one man among the estimated five million people living in landmine contaminated areas throughout Burma/Myanmar where the threat of being indiscriminately maimed or killed is an every day reality.

A Burma/Myanmar free of landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices is one where all people need not fear their next step. It is one where the poverty, chronic food insecurity, and protracted displacement caused by landmine contamination has been eradicated. It is a Burma/Myanmar where all people have the freedom and opportunity to live long, healthy, and meaningful lives with access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living. Yet, for such a Burma/Myanmar to exist, the Burma Government, the military, and EAOs must immediately commit to ending the production, use, and stockpiling of all antipersonnel landmines, and work together to undertake effective mine clearance activities.

RECOMMENDATIONS

HURFOM recommends the Burma Government to:

  • Sign, ratify, and implement the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.
  • Develop and implement a practical, needs-driven, people-centred mine action policy for the identification and clearance of landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices. This policy should give equal priority to protecting people in mine-affected areas from danger, supporting victims to return to full health and become active members of their communities, and providing opportunities for sustainable development and stability in mine-affected areas.

HURFOM recommends the military to

  • Immediately end the production of new antipersonnel landmines.
  • Immediately end the use of new antipersonnel landmines.
  • Immediately end the stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines and destroy existing stockpiles.
  • Immediately end the targeting of civilians in military operations.
  • Engage in formal mine action efforts initiated by the Burma Government to identify and clear landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices.

HURFOM recommends Ethnic Armed Organizations to:

  • Immediately end the production of new antipersonnel landmines.
  • Immediately end the use of new antipersonnel landmines.
  • Immediately end the stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines and destroy existing stockpiles.
  • Immediately end the targeting of civilians in military operations.
  • Engage in formal mine action efforts initiated by the Burma Government to identify and clear landmines, explosive remnants of war, and improvised explosive devices.

View this original statement HERE.

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