IDF minesweeping in the Golan
IDF minesweeping in the GolanIDF spokesperson

Recently, Human Rights Watch issued a report, proclaiming that the next US President should reinstate the American policy banning the acquisition and production of landmines, as well as prevent their use outside of the Korean Peninsula. In the report, Steve Goose, the arms division executive director at Human Rights Watch, proclaimed: “Most countries have embraced the landmine ban for more than two decades...” This American decision to life the ban on them has had catastrophic consequences.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, it is pivotal to note that landmines in 2016 killed or maimed 23 people every day, which means that 8,605 people were hurt or killed from landmines that year. They reported that about 60 nations around the world have landmines that have not been removed. In fact, to date, there are still people getting killed and maimed from landmines left over from World War I in North Africa and parts of Europe!

As the International Campaign to Ban Landmines proclaimed, “Landmines don’t obey peace agreements or ceasefires. The only way to prevent long-term damage is to stop any landmine use altogether and devote resources to clearing minefields and helping mine victims.”

Afghanistan and Syria top the casualty list, followed by Ukraine, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Libya and Yemen. The single biggest group of casualties were children (2,452).

Landmines in Israel exist since the 1950s and 1960s, in the Golan Heights, the Arava and along the Jordan River where they were placed to prevent those areas from being overrun by enemy forces bent on destroying the Jewish state at a time when Israel's army was much weaker than it is today. The State of Israel established a National Mine Action Authority, which began mine clearing work in the Arava Valley in 2012 after years when it was left to private initiatives. From 2013, demining activity continued in the Arava and spread to Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights.

One of the most volatile examples of the destructive nature of landmines can be found in the Karabakh region. In fact, in the village of Ashagi Seyidahmedli in Fuzuli province, four Azerbaijani civilians were recently killed in a landmine explosion. The province was recently taken over by the Azerbaijani army after nearly three-decades of Armenian rule. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office claims although that is not proven, that “The mine was planted by the Armenian armed forces during their retreat.”

This comes about a week after a Russian peacekeeper, an Azerbaijani soldier and several Armenians were killed in a landmine explosion while searching for the bodies of missing soldiers.

Presently, there are about 100,000 landmines throughout the Nagorno-Karabakh region and another 8,000 or so along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. These landmines are a major stumbling block for peace because their existence proves that even once the hostilities cease, people can still die or get maimed from the remnants of the war, which makes it impossible for the civilians in the area to live normal lives again.

In 2020, Armenia temporarily suspended its work clearing landmines due to COVID-19, the Land Mine Monitor reported. Only now with the regime change in the region are these landmines getting cleared again, the Daily Sabbah wrote. Armenian landmines left in areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenian forces retreated from in the framework of the volatile peace agreement is a major source of tension between the two sides, especially given that the landmines are poorly marked and some utilize social media in order to incite hatred in relation to them.

International human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman recently tweeted an unsubstantiated claim about "some Armenians" that serves to build tensions: “Some Armenians on social media are saying that every inch of liberated territory should have been filled with landmines so that dogs also would blow themselves up and that even churches and monuments should have exploded.” This kind of attitude does nothing to encourage peaceful coexistence between the two nations.

Armenia has been laying mines in Azerbaijan since the First Karabakh war. The fact that Armenians planted antipersonnel mines in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan as defined by four UN Security Council resolutions has been included in the report of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). In this regard, ICBL has conducted studies and appealed to Armenia. Armenia has confirmed this fact in its response and explained that mine-laying and fortification works along the frontline were aimed at the Azerbaijani Army. After the Second Karabakh War, these mines have harmed the lives of civilians.

Azerbaijan has begun clearing the territory of mines, using advanced technology. Today, Azerbaijan cooperates with many international organizations to do this. In this area, UNDP has helped Azerbaijan liaise with organizations such as NATO, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the World Bank. Cooperation with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) focuses on the development of a new generation of information management systems for the demining process and the testing of new mine technologies.

If any peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan is going to last, the demining of the entire Karabakh region and the Azerbaijani-Armenian border should be a part of the agreement. For this reason, the next US President must work with Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to ensure that the entire region is demined, enabling civilians to have the possibility of a peaceful coexistence with one another.

On top of that, the next US President should take actions to ensure that landmines are banned in more countries internationally, for many claim that their very existence has zero military benefit, wantonly targets civilians, impedes the cessation of hostilities in conflicts across the globe and adversely affects the environment as well. The next US President must realize that this is the only way to ensure that the grave humanitarian suffering caused by landmines ends abruptly.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”