Sri Lanka: joining the anti-landmines treaty, a good step towards durable solutions
09 March 2016

a landmine survivor in Sri Lanka (Don Doll SJ)
The three pillars of the landmine campaign are banning the use and stockpiling of weapons, clearing weapons and finally assisting the victims.

Rome, 9 March 2016 – Seven years after the end of the 26-year long conflict, on 3 March 2016, Sri Lanka agreed to accede to the anti-personnel mine ban treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) welcomes this move as a first good step towards durable solutions for those who have suffered war and violence. The northern and eastern provinces in Sri Lanka have been severely affected by land mines and explosives due to the conflict and there are a number of demining agencies working in Sri Lanka already.

By joining the convention, Sri Lanka agrees to destroy all stockpiled anti-personnel mines it owns or that are under its jurisdiction or control within four years. According to the latest figure, 162 states have joined the convention to date.

JRS recognises and appreciates the Sri Lanka government's decision to join the Ottawa Convention and its efforts to reconstruct the war-torn areas. At the same time, JRS urges the government to pro-actively cooperate with civil society actors engaged in humanitarian work as well as human rights promotion in the national reconciliation and rebuilding efforts. This will help pave the way for national unity, integration, development and peace based on justice and equity.

The three pillars of the landmine campaign are banning the use and stockpiling of weapons, clearing weapons and finally assisting the victims. From experience in many countries in Asia, Africa and South America, JRS knows mine clearance is essential for post-conflict development and highly recommends governments of richer nations to fund clearance agencies working in Sri Lanka as well as assistance to victims. 

While the demining process is important for the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), as the Sri Lankan government says, JRS is concerned about the remaining 50,268 IDPs in the country's northern and eastern provinces who suffer social exclusion, extreme poverty and lack of political representation. 

Antony Arulraj, Research and Documentation Officer at JRS South Asia regional office explains, "Sri Lanka's decision to accede to the convention is a welcome move, though it is long overdue. It's important that Sri Lanka be persuaded now to come up with time-bound action plans to expedite the process of demining as well as the assistance to landmines survivors and the return and integration of internally displaced persons."

Durable solutions and a host of confidence-building measures – including rehabilitation; repairing and rebuilding houses; and increasing access to employment opportunities, education, healthcare and water facilities – are needed for all returning refugees and IDPs, with special attention paid to the needs of women and girls. Those who want to return need to live without fear. The military presence has to be reduced methodically but quickly in the north and east. The provisions and guarantees contained in the Framework for Resettlement Policy (6/11/2013) of Ministry of Resettlement need to be put into practice, and the transportation and reintegration grants have to be adequate for those who return. 

The UN refugee agency has been assisting the voluntary repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees from Tamilnadu, India. In 2015, 452 refugees returned to the island. Besides the presence of landmines, a challenge to durable solutions is that many returnees and IDPs have lost their land to the military, navy, police or local people. Even many of those who possess land do not have proper documents because they were destroyed during the war. Furthermore, as the returnees return with more family members (due to marriage, children, etc.), there is an acute shortage of land for the Tamils. JRS calls for the end of the Sinhalese settlement in the northern and eastern provinces and for mechanisms for the returnees to re-claim their land.

JRS involvement in the ban-landmines campaign

The Ottawa Convention was adopted on 18 September 1997 and was put in to practice on 1 March 1999. The landmark humanitarian and disarmament treaty seeks to end the suffering caused by landmines.

Sr Denise Coghlan RSM, JRS Cambodia Director and head of the Cambodia Campaign to Ban Landmines, explains, "our interest in banning landmines began during work in refugee camps in the 80s, where we saw first-hand the horrific consequences these weapons have on their victims. The Cambodia anti-landmine movement has been very influential in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. It began with a letter from four soldiers in the JRS Centre of the Dove, a vocational training project that provides landmine survivors with skills. The letter said: 

'Before we were soldiers who laid the mines that blew off the arms, legs and eyes of one another. Now, we work together at the Centre of the Dove, and we beg the world to stop making mines, stop laying mines, begin clearing mines, and to work so that our communities and people with disabilities can live a full life once again.' 

In 1997, one of these former soldiers, Tun Chunnareth, rode his wheelchair on to the stage in Oslo and received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the campaign. He is working with JRS in Siem Reap, continuing his crusade against landmines. We have the Nobel Prize on display in our office."

JRS plays an active role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munitions Coalition thanks to Sr Denise and her team. An achievement of the latter is the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed in Oslo in December 2008, which was put into practice on 1 August 2010. This treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, and requires countries to clear affected areas within 10 years and to destroy stockpiles of the weapon within eight. Further, the Convention includes ground-breaking provisions for assistance to survivors and affected communities. Together with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, it is one of the most significant international disarmament treaties.

-- Amaya Valcarcel, JRS International Advocacy Officer






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