IoS Investigation: The shocking truth about landmines

As casualties from landmines rise for the first time in years, campaigners say another Diana figure is needed to revive international will to tackle a terrible legacy of war

The landmine belongs to another era – or so many of us like to believe. We think of it as an evil all but consigned to history by the entreaties of Diana, Princess of Wales, and a Nobel prize-winning campaign for a ban. But after years of steady decline in the number of casualties, the numbers harmed by landmines is on the rise again.

In 2010-11 at least 4,191 people were maimed or killed by landmines, the first increase in the annual toll for seven years. Of these, at least 1,155 died of their injuries. This year is expected to be even worse.

The events of the Arab Spring have contributed to this, with Syria, Libya and Yemen all laying new mines. Last year the confirmed use of mines by state forces reached its highest level since 2004. In Libya alone, there were 184 casualties from mines or explosive remnants of war (ERW), up from just one in 2010. This year Syrian forces have been placing landmines near the borders with Lebanon and Turkey, and civilian casualties have already been reported to Human Rights Watch. There is evidence that fresh mines have also been laid in Yemen.

Even in places such as Angola, where landmines have been in the ground for decades – and whose minefields looked destined to be cleared after Diana visited in 1997 – casualties has risen, with 89 people harmed or killed by mines last year, double the number in 2010.

Two years ago the British government abandoned the funding of de-mining projects in Angola, Colombia and Somalia. Guy Willoughby, the chief executive of Halo, the charity supported by Princess Diana, said: "There is donor fatigue. Princess Diana would be dismayed to think that almost 16 years after her visit I would be standing up and saying Angola needs another 10 to 15 years' clearance, and possibly longer if there's any further donor fatigue. The clearance time is dependent on the number of de-miners you can hire."

Dignitaries from around the world will gather in New York on Friday to celebrate 20 years since campaigners formed the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Eighty per cent of the world – 160 countries – has now joined the Mine Ban Treaty, which won the ICBL the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

When the group first met in 1992, 20,000 people were being hurt or killed by landmines every year. Now the number is less than a quarter of that, but experts are concerned that governments have got complacent.

Nick Roseveare, the chief executive of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), said: "Sadly, last year was the first year where more landmines were being laid on a dramatic scale. In the Syria conflict there's more evidence of landmines used, and in Gaddafi's Libya. More countries have been putting landmines into the ground, and that is inevitably going to lead to more casualties."

Despite the stigma created by a worldwide treaty, landmines are still mass-produced – primarily in Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran. There are still about 110 million landmines in the ground today, according to estimates – hidden killers that would cost some £18bn to remove. Mr Roseeare fears that political support to tackle the problem may be waning.

"There has to be a continued, dramatic increase in support by rich countries to solve this problem and fulfil the commitments of the treaty," he said. "But we're seeing donors disengaging from places like Angola. We regret that enormously. It's 15 years since Princess Diana walked in the minefields of Angola and there's still a huge problem."

In December campaigners and politicians will meet in Geneva for the annual meeting of parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. The news for many nations is likely to be grave, as enormous progress begins to be unpicked mine by mine.

Rosa Monckton, a friend of Princess Diana and a disabilities campaigner, said: "Diana would have been furious to see things slip back. It's a sad indictment on our society that we require a 'celebrity' to take notice of these issues."

Firoz Ali Alizada lost his legs after he triggered a landmine when taking a short cut to school in northern Afghanistan in 1996. Now a campaign manager at ICBL, he is concerned that the Arab Spring has prompted more mine use. "There are nearly 70 countries that are still threatened by landmines," he said. "Unfortunately there are a couple of cases of new users of landmines, such as the Syrian government, which is pretty bad, since the treaty has created a global norm. That's been one of the negative impacts of the Arab Spring."

David Livingstone, an associate fellow at Chatham House, believes that the nature of the uprisings of the Arab Spring rendered the political consensus against landmines irrelevant. "When you have uprisings where you don't have that proper control of your forces and well-defined battle processes, the political consensus doesn't apply in the same way. They won't think about what a properly trained battle process would be," he said.

He believes that another figurehead like Diana might help to keep up support. "I'm not trying to make [Diana] a saint, but we need to continue the awareness-raising of the impact of mines on civilian populations. That must not become yesterday's story while it is still a current issue."

Case studies...

'They took me to hospital. My leg was amputated'

Joao Dias Manuel from Moxico Province, Angola, lives with a vivid reminder that the country's landmine problem is not confined to the past

"The accident happened in 2010 when I lived in Luculo village, 18km from Luena. Someone came and stole my goats. The following day, I decided to go and cut some posts so that I could make a fence for my animals. There was an explosion. Then I saw a police vehicle. It took me to hospital where my leg was amputated."

'I heard an explosion. I ran outside, and there was blood everywhere'

Naema Masaud, 43, from Takut, Libya, lost her youngest son Zakaria, 11, to a landmine last year after it was left outside the family home by Gaddafi's troops

"We had only just come back home after sheltering in Tunisia during the war. I was inside when I heard an enormous explosion. I ran outside and Zakaria was just frozen and there was blood everywhere. His hand was blown off, and his left eye and groin were all hit. We had never seen any weapons, but there must have been a landmine we didn't see. Our eldest son fought with the rebels, and we were afraid for him, but we never expected this: the unexpected son died. We took him to Nalut hospital but there was nothing they could do, so we went with him in an ambulance to Tunisia. By the time he arrived, he had been bleeding for hours. He died the next day."

'There are still massive stockpiles of active weapons that must be destroyed'

Stuart Hughes is a diplomatic producer for BBC News

"I was working in northern Iraq in 2003, covering the war for the BBC, when I stepped out of a Jeep and immediately triggered a landmine that blew part of my right foot off. The cameraman I was working with, Kaveh Golestan, ran deeper into the minefield and was killed instantly. The landmine I stepped on may have been lying there for 20 years, or it may have been laid two weeks earlier. I'll never know. That's what's so pernicious about them. Wars come and go, and armies come and go, but communities have to live with landmines for years, or even decades afterwards.

"It's a sign of how far we've come in the last 20 years that these weapons are now stigmatised to the extent that even countries that haven't signed up to the Mine Ban Treaty often comply with it. But last year in Libya, we saw rebels planting landmines, which was a great cause for concern. Now Syria has come to the fore in the last few months. There are still massive stockpiles and, until they're destroyed, those weapons are active and can do harm.

"The biggest issue, as I see it now, is that there's limited infrastructure and resources in many mine-affected countries to help those who are still getting injured. If you step on a landmine in Cambodia or Somalia, your future can be pretty bleak. I was incredibly lucky – I was flown back to the UK and given first-class medical treatment. I was able to pick up my life again. But if I was Cambodian, I might well be begging on the streets now."

Landmine timeline

Sep 1991 Human Rights Watch calls for ban on landmines.

Oct 1992 International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) formed. It is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

Mar 1995 Belgium becomes first country to pass law banning manufacture, purchase and sale of landmines.

1996 Canada, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Sweden adopt ban on anti-personnel mines.

Jan 1997 Princess Diana calls for international ban on landmines.

Dec 1997 122 nations sign Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada.

Aug 1998 Britain bans manufacture, sale and use of landmines by the military.

Dec 2001 One million mines placed along India-Pakistan border.

2010 660 sq km of land cleared, destroying over a million mines.

Mar 2012 Human Rights Watch reports Syria laying mines along borders with Lebanon and Turkey.

Oct 2012 Campaigners mark 20th anniversary of the ICBL.

Sam Creighton

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam