This week, the anti-landmine community will come together in Oslo for the Fourth Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (RevCon). The meeting will take stock of progress since the last review conference in 2014, where states committed to clearing landmines by 2025. They are not currently on track, but this week’s meeting brings room for optimism.
International diplomatic conferences have a bad reputation for being all talk and no action. But this week's RevCon has the potential to buck the trend and re-energise the anti-landmine movement at a critical juncture.
The Mine Ban Treaty was agreed in 1997 after almost a decade of civil society activism. Diana Princess of Wales’s famous walk through a minefield in Angola and some bold leadership by Canada, Norway and others provided the final impetus, with the progressive negotiations taking place in record time in spite of several powerful states not participating.
What did the Mine Ban Treaty change?
The treaty, which completely prohibits the production, trade, use and transfer of anti-personnel mines, made civilian suffering its central concern. It sought to prevent future suffering by destroying stockpiles and address the existing threat through mine clearance and support for victims. This marked the start of the humanitarian disarmament movement—preventing human suffering is the core purpose of the movement.
The norms and stigma that the Mine Ban Treaty has established even extends beyond its 164-strong state membership. The handful of States that haven’t joined the treaty wouldn’t dare trade them for fear of global condemnation. Even when non-state armed groups have fashioned their own landmines, this has also received condemnation and the NGO community has swung into action to lead the charge in their clearance to ensure civilian protection.
Why this week’s RevCon matters
Despite all the success – over 53 million stockpiled mines destroyed, 33 States plus Taiwan completing clearance, and more – there is an urgent need for a final re-commitment policy to back it up. Review Conferences are when the treaty’s membership agrees new actions and strategy. As the last meeting before 2025, this week's RevCon is the key opportunity to set a bold and ambitious policy agenda.
A reinvigorated agenda is crucial. Progress of so-called ‘legacy contamination’, a term used for minefields of 20thCentury conflict, is marginalised in terms of funding and is at risk of being forgotten. More than 30 states meeting in Oslo next week are still contaminated by landmines and, without a shift in funding policy and an increase in national commitment, most will not be on track to realise the promise of a landmine free 2025 in their countries. That doesn’t have to be the case.
Reasons for optimism
Norway, which will oversee the RevCon, has worked as hard as any presidency could have. Norwegian diplomats have devoted vast amounts of time and effort to make this a success. They have navigated potential diplomatic pitfalls and drawn on all of the expertise and ambition that anti-landmine NGOs have to offer. Norway is bringing a progressive and measurable action plan to the conference and is presenting a political declaration that will recommit to the 2025 goal.
For the first time, a mine action meeting brings gender out of the side meetings and into the core of the treaty’s implementation. Given how far the mine action sector lags behind others when it comes to gender, the sector needs to grasp this opportunity and learn how to harness it. Fortunately, Finland will lead the charge by introducing a working paper that goes a long way to demonstrating how states can do this. Significant work lies ahead in mine action’s understanding and approach to diversity, but the plans also offer a solid basis to make a strong start.
How to make it a success
The list of opportunities goes on, but harnessing them depends on what states do after the conference as much as what they agree to this week. This means policy changes for many states, especially those that could fund more and are choosing not to, and those who need to update their operational standards to make progress faster.
States will also need to ensure they measure progress against the actions and indicators. NGOs will have a key role in supporting them while also holding them to account. The tools are in place to do it, as long as they receive donor support. The Mine Action Review, the civil society go-to authority on landmine clearance and progress, has produced its fifth edition of Clearing the Mines. This ranks states’ performance and outlines where states need to make technical and political improvements to succeed. With no state achieving a ‘very good’ score.
Meanwhile the Landmine Monitor will launch its twentieth edition, marking two decades of civil society holding states to account. It remains an invaluable source of information on the status and operation of the convention, especially around landmine use, stockpile destruction, casualty reporting and funding trends. This year’s report confirms that legacy contamination and the communities affected by it are neglected by the international donor community, a trend that must be reversed.
The Landmine Free 2025 Campaign will also be throwing its weight and energy behind the RevCon. Its aim is to re-energise activism and support for the world’s forgotten conflict and the 60 million people still facing a daily threat from these banned weapons. The campaign’s new report Mine Action’s Fair Share: An Agenda for Change makes recommendations to donors, affected states and NGOs and sets out an innovation manifesto that wakes up to climate change and builds long-overdue bridges between mine clearance and victim assistance sectors.
So there is all to play for and every reason to think that this week's RevCon in Oslo can be the start of a new era of mine action.