This is one of six essays in the May 2018 report "Addressing Non-State Actors: Multiple Approaches" (see full report). Each essay is the independent work of its authors.
The Humanitarian Approach
The influence of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent Movement, defending humanitarian principles since their inception, along with civil society coalitions such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the political will of a group of progressive diplomats who think "out of the box," has allowed for laying the foundations for negotiations outside of the traditional bounds of treaty-making. This has led to the development of humanitarian disarmament treaties based on international humanitarian and human rights law.
The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction (known as the Mine Ban Treaty or Ottawa Treaty) was the first successful case of an international negotiated treaty based on a weapon’s humanitarian consequences. Since then, this has become the contemporary approach to arms treaties and demonstrated that civil society has a fundamental role in giving treaties legitimacy and transparency.
Anti-personnel mines, defined as "a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons" (Article 2.1 Mine Ban Treaty), are weapons that have been used in most conflicts since World War II.By the 1990s, these weapons had caused thousands of casualties and injuries to civilians all over the world. At that time, the ICRC stated that, in medical terms, antipersonnel mines had become an “epidemic” of injury, death and suffering.”[i]
In 1992 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was founded to address the humanitarian devastation caused by antipersonnel mines and started to call for a ban as the only solution to stop the suffering. Petitions, passed resolutions, moratoriums, seminars, national laws banning the weapon, worldwide mobilizations, and the prominent support of “Lady Di” created momentum for a ban.
The treaty was negotiated in Oslo and by December 1997—after a whole year of meetings, conferences, and civil society campaigning actions—122 nations signed the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada.
The Mine Ban Treaty is not only a prohibition on the weapon itself, but a comprehensive approach to respond to the humanitarian impact posed by these weapons: assisting victims, educating populations, destroying stockpiles, and cleaning up territories. It aims to put an end to the threat of landmines.
Twenty years after its approval, 164 states are implementing the treaty, and this has had life-saving results, as the 2017 Landmine Monitor stated. Unfortunately, a small number of states and non-state armed groups do still use antipersonnel mines, which contributed to a high number of casualties in 2016. [ii]
Since the beginning of the Ottawa Process, a group of ICBL members has understood the need to broaden the scope of treaty implementation to include other non-state actors.There is not a single definition for Armed Non-State Actors (ANSAs), given the ambiguous characteristics of some groups. However, for the purpose of NGOs’ efforts, especially to address the humanitarian impact of landmines, ANSAs are defined as any armed actor with a basic structure of command operating outside state control that uses force to achieve its political or allegedly political objective.[iii]
NGOs are promoting engagement efforts with ANSAs to raise awareness about landmines and humanitarian concerns because they have control over the territories where communities are affected by these weapons. The Geneva Call, for example, promotes the “Deed for Commitment for Adherence to a total Ban on Antipersonnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action.”[iv] Since its creation, it has engaged about 100 ANSAs in 25 countries; 52 ANSA have signed the “Deed for Commitment” and more are engaged in mine clearance or to limit their use.[v]
FARC Changing Course: from key actors in the conflict to demining actors
The South American nation of Colombia, which has been fighting against various ANSAs for decades (FARC, ELN, M19, etc.), now finds itself in a promising time in light of the peace process with the oldest group in the country (the FARC). Many organizations operating in the country have blazed the trail for processes for dealing with the consequences of so many years of violence. Among them is the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines, which works in humanitarian demining. As such, the Campaign has demining bases in many of its assigned municipalities, allowing them to get to know the people working in demining and their stories. Below is an example of that work and a broader telling of initiatives in Colombia.
It is very hot in the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines’ demining training base, located in the municipality of Algeciras Huila, a former FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla group stronghold. Under the scrutinizing eye of Instructor John, a decorated former sergeant and expert in demining procedures, there is a group of 20 men and women who at first glance look to be country people being trained to carry out a dangerous task: finding and deactivating antipersonnel mines located in the country's fields. However, these men and women are all ex-combatants who once used the mines as a weapon in the war that the FARC waged against the Colombian state for more than 50 years.
John trains them in security procedures, demining position, how to handle tools, and using the personal protective equipment (flak vest, clothes and footwear, helmets, etc.) that protects them from accidental explosions. In the hot sun, each of them applies the skills learned and hopes to pass the humanitarian deminer accreditation test.
At the end of the day, everyone returns to the base house that welcomes them with shade, food and refreshments. There, they mingle with the other men and women who also work clearing the estimated 100,000 square meters of mine-contaminated land in the municipality of Algeciras.
Nancy[vi] eats her dinner and talks happily with John and the other instructors and supervisors, most of them former military. In the past, they were combatants on opposing sides, with the mission of killing each other. Today, they all depend on each other while working towards the same objective; achieving a landmine-free Colombia by 2021.
These 20 people are part of a FARC strategy that seeks to turn some of their former combatants into a humanitarian demining organization. With this intention, they created a formal entity called “Humanicemos DH” (“Humanizing Humanitarian Demining”), for which they sought and received accreditation under the national authority’s standards.
The Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines and two other humanitarian demining organizations that operate in Colombia were entrusted to train the operation of the first units of FARC ex-combatant deminers.[vii] The main goal is that by 2019 “Humanicemos DH” will be able to carry out mine clearance operations autonomously, following the safety parameters that apply internationally.
During its long conflict with the Colombian government, the FARC used anti-personnel mines as a means of encircling their camps and bases to delay government military offensives. They also use the weapons as part of their own offensives, scattering them on roads, villages, or any place where either the army or the paramilitaries could reach. Most of these mines were planted without any record or map of their location, frequently by guerrilla combatants who were later killed in action.
In 2015 the Landmine Monitor reported that the FARC was one of the largest users of landmines in the world, despite the fact that a year earlier a negotiation process had begun with the Colombian guerrilla group. What’s more, an agreement had been reached to carry out a pilot demining exercise in which members of the Armed Forces and the FARC committed to working together to demine a small area located in the mountain ranges of the Antioquia Department.
In 2016, the Colombian Government and the FARC reached a final peace agreement to end the conflict, and with it the use of landmines by the latter. However, the threat of mine-contaminated land remained a pressing issue in the peace process.
To start the healing process after so many years of war, suffering, and pain, the 2016 peace agreements raised an alternative restorative justice with multiple reparation and non-repetition mechanisms. Some of these include obliging the ex-combatants to reconstruct war-affected infrastructure, clear landmines, replace illicit crops, and search for missing persons’ bodies.
Once the agreement came into force, the National Mine Action Authority distributed former FARC territory among the demining organizations that had accredited themselves in the country, thus intending to comply with the commitment made through the Mine Ban Treaty to rid Colombia from landmines by the year 2021.
Among these territories, the municipality of Algeciras was one of the most heavily mined in Colombia. This municipality, blessed with fertile land in which everything from tropical fruits to coffee is grown, was a strategic corridor between the eastern and jungle lands of San Vicente del Caguan, Caquetá, and the productive southern lands of Huila. San Vicente del Caguan was the epicenter of the failed negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government at the beginning of the 2000s. In this region, the FARC general command was established to monitor the military-cleared zone granted by the government as part of the commitment to carry out dialogues there. When the peace process ended abruptly, the FARC retreated toward the mountains and surrounding jungles, among them those in Algeciras. An indeterminate number of mines were planted and at least 57 people have fallen victim to them, among whom at least three were children.
The “Humanicemos DH” effort creates the possibility of reparation. While reintegrating ex-combatants into civilian life, it will also allow them to have a source of income as they are complying with their peace process commitments and clearing land heavily contaminated by antipersonnel mines.
The experience of FARC as deminers, one where the perpetrator becomes an agent of reconciliation, has the potential to guide other non-state armed actors operating in Colombia, including the National Liberation Army (ELN) with whom the government holds dialogues in Quito, Ecuador. This experience brings hope of a sustainable and lasting peace.
Maria Pia Devoto is Director, Association for Public Policy-APP (Argentina) and a Forum on the Arms Trade-listed expert. Camilo Serna Villegas is Deputy Director, Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines. Both are members of the regional organization promoting human security SEHLAC (Seguridad Humana en Latinoamerica y el Caribe).
[i] “Overview of the Convention on the prohibition of anti-personnel mines,” ICRC, August 2007, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/legal-fact-sheet/landmines-factsheet-150807.htm.
[ii] Landmine Monitor 2017, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, www.the-monitor.org/LM17.
[iii] “Non-State Armed Groups and the Mine Ban, “ Landmine Monitor Factsheet, June 2005, http://www.the-monitor.org/media/1418811/NSA_Fact_Sheet062005.pdf.
[iv]The Geneva Call is a non-governmental organization that engages armed non-state actors toward the respect of humanitarian norms, including and originally in regard to the Mine Ban Treaty.
[v] “Landmine ban,” Geneva Call, https://genevacall.org/what-we-do/landmine-ban/.
[vi] Name changed.
[vii] Ayuda Popular Noruega – APN, and The HALO Trust.