Monday, 23 June 2014, marked the beginning of the third Maputo Review Conference. During the conference, the 161 states parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (the APM Ban Convention) are meeting in the Mozambican capital to assess the operation and status of the convention and, if necessary, to adopt a roadmap for its future implementation.
The APM Ban Convention is the cornerstone of the international effort to end the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines.
Every year, existing and newly placed anti-personnel mines kill or maim thousands of people, most of whom are civilians. In 2012, for instance, 78% of landmine or other explosive remnants of war casualties were civilian. Of all civilian cases, child casualties accounted for 47%. The impact on the physical, psychological and economic wellbeing of communities who are affected by anti-personnel landmines is immeasurable.
The Maputo Review Conference marks 15 years since the APM Ban Convention entered into force on 1 March 1999. The convention therefore represents a historic landmark for ending the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines.
The convention prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of such mines under any circumstance. States parties also undertake to destroy their stockpile of anti-personnel mines within four years of entry into force, and to make every effort to identify and clear mined areas as soon as possible - but no later than 10 years after becoming a state party.
Significant progress has been made in this regard. By November last year, close to 47 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines had been destroyed by 87 states parties, and tens of millions of square metres of land had been cleared of anti-personnel mines.
Under Article 6 of the convention, states parties also undertake to assist mine victims and support mine risk education. As a multilateral disarmament/arms control convention, the APM Ban Convention is the first of its kind to contain provisions and measures for victim assistance. Some 28 states have reported significant numbers of landmine survivors who are in need of assistance, but many of these states face significant economic challenges that delay the fulfilment of their responsibilities.
States parties also undertake to submit annual reports on their implementation activities. All countries in sub-Saharan Africa and two countries from North Africa - Algeria and Tunisia - are states parties to the convention. In Africa, only Libya, Egypt, and Morocco are not states parties.
Africa remains the most highly mined continent. As of October 2013, 17 states parties from Africa were believed to remain affected by anti-personnel mines. Of these countries, Angola and Chad are classified as states with very heavy contamination - with more than 100 square kilometres of contaminated land.
In the recent past, new casualties caused by anti-personnel landmines and other explosive remnants of war were recorded in not only Angola and Chad, but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe and others.
The African Union (AU) has played an important role in working towards a mine-free continent. It has convened three important Continental Conferences of African Experts on Landmines.
The first conference, themed 'Towards a landmine-free Africa,' was hosted in 1997. It resulted in the adoption of the Kempton Park Plan of Action. The second conference, titled 'Kempton Park - seven years after' was convened in September 2004.
It resulted in the adoption of an African Common Position on Anti-Personnel Landmines, for the 2004 Nairobi Review Conference. A third AU Continental Conference, 'Africa as an anti-personnel mine-free zone - progress and challenges,' took place in Pretoria in September 2009.
Although landmine casualties remain an immense challenge, there has been a major decrease in the recorded casualties per day. Worldwide, 10 casualties per day were recorded in 2012, compared to 25 casualties per day recorded in 1999 when the convention entered into force.
States parties are using this year's conference as a critical platform to address remaining issues, and as an opportunity to further the success of the two previous review conferences; the 2004 Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, and the 2009 Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World.
States parties have to commit to completing outstanding obligations and formally adopt final outcome documents at the Maputo conference. Draft outcome documents were developed and circulated to states parties ahead of the event.
The first of these draft documents is the Maputo Action Plan 2015 - 2019, which outlines actions that states parties must take with regards to universalisation, stockpile destruction, mine clearance and victim assistance. It also details the actions of states parties in international cooperation and assistance; transparency and the exchange of information; measures to ensure compliance and implementation support.
Second, the Declaration of the States Parties recognises that tremendous progress has been made but more needs to be done. According to the declaration, states parties will continue their efforts based on a spirit of cooperation and partnership. They are committed to implement the APM Ban Convention in its entirety as soon as possible, but by no later than 2025.
Finally, the Proposal for a Meeting Programme and Related Implementation Machinery, 2014 - 2019 identifies new structures and a programme of meetings. It has been proposed that a meeting of states parties be convened every year at the end of November or beginning of December until the end of 2018. It is further proposed that the Fourth Review Conference be held at the end of 2019.
States parties at the conference are expected to provide an update of recent progress made on APM Ban Convention obligations and commitments under the Cartagena Action Plan.
In May 2014, Ambassador Mariangela Zappia of the European Union noted: 'Much time has passed since the Convention's first meeting and we can be proud of what we have accomplished. At the same time, we recognise that not all our promises have been yet fulfilled.'
Two crucial issues related to the implementation of the convention must be discussed in Maputo. The first issue is new cases of landmine use. There have been credible reports of landmines being used in Mali, Tunisia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan in the past year.
It cannot be confirmed whether government forces in these states or rebel or non-state armed groups are responsible for the use of anti-personnel mines. This issue, compounded by delays in landmine clearance, requires urgent attention.
The second issue is Article 5 extensions. Under this article, states parties have 10 years to make every effort to identify and clear mined areas under their jurisdiction. Four African states - the DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe - have not been able to achieve this. The DRC, Eritrea and Zimbabwe have informally presented their requests for an extended demining deadline. Formal consideration of their requests will take place tomorrow.
The least that can be expected from the conference is a reaffirmation of the shared commitment to achieve the objectives of the APM Ban Convention. Several African states parties have commented on or presented shared views on the review of the operation and status of the convention, which took place on Monday and yesterday.
African states parties should use the remainder of the Review Conference, which ends on Friday, 27 June, to continue the momentum to prevent future suffering caused by anti-personnel landmines on the continent.
Noel Stott, Senior Research Fellow and Mothepa Shadung, Research Intern, Transnational Threats and International Crime Division, ISS Pretoria