‘We need to rid the world of landmines’

Interview with H.E. Mr Robbert Jan Gabriëlse, Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament of the Netherlands,  President of the Nineteenth Meeting of the States Parties (19MSP) on 17 November 2021

Most victims of landmines are ordinary civilians, and children are particularly vulnerable. The Netherlands hosted the annual UN conference devoted to permanently stopping the use of mines around the world. An interview with Rob Gabriëlse, Dutch Disarmament Ambassador in Geneva.

Robbert Jan Gabriëlse, President Dutch Disarmament Ambassador

Around the world there are over 60 countries and territories that have landmines. What kinds of problems do they face?

‘Landmines and other explosive remnants of war claim 10 to 15 victims every day. Almost half these victims are children. The presence of landmines also renders large swaths of land unusable for construction and agriculture.’

What do you think should be done?

‘It’s vital for countries to invest in humanitarian de-mining, which includes the clearance of mines and other explosives, risk education and victim assistance. All these activities ensure that people can live in safe conditions and contribute to the social and economic recovery of countries that have landmines on their territory. The Netherlands is the world’s eighth-largest donor to Mine Action, because we recognise that these efforts contribute to stability in the world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports six international organisation that are specialised in humanitarian de-mining.’

How can we implement humanitarian de-mining on a global scale?

‘One hundred sixty-four countries have signed the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC). This document is a key UN instrument for combating the use of landmines and reducing their impact. For example, the convention prohibits the manufacture and export of mines. Two years ago an action plan was drawn up in Oslo with an ambitious goal: a mine-free world by 2025.' 

Last year the Netherlands became president. What’s that been like?

'As president, it’s your job to bring more countries into the convention. No one loves landmines; they mainly kill civilians. But there are still countries that think they need mines for their defence. A lot of my focus was on countries in the Caucasus. I hope that Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia sign the UN convention. And Lebanon too. The first step has been taken: these countries now have ‘observer’ status. That means that they have access to the same information as states parties and know what the obligations are, but haven’t yet taken the step of ratifying the convention.’

What things have happened during the Netherlands’ presidency?

‘The Netherlands’ efforts have centred on three pillars: innovation, inclusivity and capacity building. We support innovative solutions in the areas of medicine and technology. For example, the use of 3D-printed mines for training purposes. We have also brought together all parties to come up with a solution: we work with NGOs and international organisations. And we take all groups into account, including women and children, paying particular attention to mental health and psychosocial support. Finally, we’ve invested in local capacity-building efforts. To that end we’ve established a fund which enables mine-affected countries to share knowledge and expertise with one another.’

Between 15 and 19 November 2021 the Netherlands is hosting a digital conference on de-mining. Why is this important?

‘Every year states, non-governmental organisations and even victims come together to discuss the progress made on the convention at a Meeting of States Parties (MSP). Because of the stricter coronavirus restrictions, this year’s edition will take the form of a digital conference from the World Forum in The Hague. At the conference countries will explain what the current situation is. If countries aren’t yet able to fulfil all their obligations, they will have to explain why.’

Why is it sometimes difficult to clear mines within the established deadlines?

‘Ukraine has the will to clear mines, but the eastern part of the country is occupied and therefore inaccessible. Certain parts of Colombia are difficult to reach, which has prompted the country to request additional time. Germany is willing to clear mines at a military training ground, but that’s quite complicated because the natural environment also has to be protected. And in Bosnia a lot of the mines are in mountainous areas, and when there are heavy rains, they shift around. Even if we have maps of their position, it’s far from certain that they’ll still be there.’  

What other obstacles are there?

‘Unfortunately, new conflicts flare up all the time. Another thing that happens is that even when a state has signed the treaty, armed groups or guerrilla movements within the states continue to use improvised explosives. This is the case in Iraq, where I was ambassador, and in Afghanistan. If someone accidentally stands on one of those explosives, they could lose their legs or even their life. That’s a major concern. One bright spot: the Taliban has said that the UN can continue to do its humanitarian de-mining work.’

Are there other causes for optimism?

‘Many countries and organisations are working together very well on humanitarian de-mining. For example, in Azerbaijan playgrounds have been built so kids aren’t tempted to venture into areas where there are mines.’