Landmine casualties mount, two recent deaths in Shan State
(YANGON, October 31, 2017)—The Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups should immediately cease using antipersonnel landmines, and the Government of Myanmar should ratify the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, said Fortify Rights today. Two ethnic Ta’ang civilians died from injuries sustained by landmine explosions in separate incidents on October 20 in Shan State, according to the Ta’ang Women’s Organization (TWO), a women-led organization promoting the human rights of the Ta’ang, an ethnic minority group predominantly from Myanmar’s northern Shan State.
“Landmines have terrorized, maimed, and killed civilians in ethnic states for far too long,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “The military and ethnic armed groups need to stop using these internationally-prohibited weapons and prioritize agreements on landmine clearance.”
On October 20, in two separate incidents in Namhsan Township in northern Shan State, antipersonnel landmines reportedly killed two Ta’ang civilians. According to TWO, Lway Aye Nam, 20, stepped on a landmine outside Man Loi village around midday on her way home from work in a nearby tea plantation, severely maiming one leg. She died from her injuries on the way to Lashio hospital.
A few miles away between Ma Ni Pane village and Lon Tauk village, Hla Sai, 30, also reportedly suffered fatal injuries after stepping on a landmine around 2 p.m. He died around 6 p.m. on his way to Lashio hospital.
Fortify Rights has documented the use of antipersonnel landmines in the conflict areas of northern Myanmar since the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations resumed fighting in June 2011.
“Sai Aung,” a 33-year-old ethnic-Shan landmine-survivor and father of nine from Kandowyang village in Kachin State, told Fortify Rights in 2016 how a landmine injured him. He said: “I went back to my village last year, and I wanted to go to my farm . . . I was in the orange orchard, and I stepped across a wire and it exploded . . . I was in the hospital for two months . . . I saw another three people in the hospital who had stepped on landmines.”
Representatives from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed-group operating in Kachin State and parts of Shan State, told Fortify Rights that the KIA uses antipersonnel landmines and conceded that their mapping of landmines is inadequate. Likewise, in September 2016, the Government of Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Defense, Major General Myint Nwe, told the Myanmar Parliament that the Myanmar Army also continued to use landmines in armed conflicts in the country. In 2013, former Myanmar President Thein Sein said the military needed “to use landmines in order to safeguard the life and property of people and self-defense.”
In February 2016, residents of Kutkai Township in northern Shan State reportedly sent a letter to the Myanmar military, the KIA, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—another ethnic armed-group active in northern Shan State—demanding the removal of landmines planted there during armed conflict the month before.
“Landmines are indiscriminate and dangerous during and after armed conflict,” said Matthew Smith. “Armed groups should listen to the communities they claim to be protecting and stop using these weapons.”
Armed conflict and wartime human rights violations have forcibly displaced more than 100,000 civilians in northern Shan State and Kachin State since June 2011. In May 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross identified the continued use of antipersonnel landmines and unexploded ordnance as a key obstacle preventing displaced communities from returning to their places of origin in northern Myanmar. In April 2016, the United Nations Secretary General attributed half of the child casualties of war in Myanmar to landmines and other explosive remnants of war.
Myanmar is the world’s third most landmine-contaminated country in the world, behind Afghanistan and Colombia.
Since August, Fortify Rights and others documented how the Myanmar military laid antipersonnel landmines in northern Rakhine State, resulting in the deaths and maiming of Rohingya Muslim civilians fleeing a military-led attack. Nearly 700,000 mostly Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the Myanmar Army began “clearance operations” in response to the coordinated killings of Myanmar security personnel by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in October 2016 and August 2017.
After decades of armed conflict, nine of the 14 states and regions in Myanmar are contaminated with landmines.
The Government of Myanmar, the KIA, and other ethnic armed-groups are bound by customary international humanitarian law to avoid indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Under international humanitarian law, combatants must be distinguished from non-combatants—a distinction impossible to make with antipersonnel landmines, which are indiscriminate in nature.
Parties to the ongoing armed-conflicts in Myanmar should immediately cease laying mines, Fortify Rights said. The Government of Myanmar should also ratify the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty and, in line with the treaty provisions, ban the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines as well as destroy landmine stockpiles, clear all mined areas, and assist landmine survivors.
On October 19, 2017, Deputy Director General of the Social Welfare Department of Myanmar Myo Sett Aung called on the Government of Myanmar to undertake mine-clearance operations in the country, but fell short of recommending that Myanmar join the Mine Ban Treaty.
December 3, 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the date the Mine Ban Treaty was opened for signature.
Fortify Rights recommends more mine-risk education in ethnic states, particularly for children, and for the Government of Myanmar to ensure that certain areas are not privileged for landmine clearance due to political and economic interests. Landmine clearance and mine-risk education is integral to restore peace and security and to return land to those who were displaced, Fortify Rights said.
“Displaced communities can’t return home until the peace process improves, and they can’t do it safely until mines are cleared,” said Matthew Smith. “Tens of millions of humanitarian dollars have been spent and landmines aren’t being cleared. There’s a trust deficit that plagues the peace process. Political will needs to change on all sides.”