Libya’s first steps to destroy its vast stockpile of landmines are a positive development, and the demolitions should continue. 

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Intensification of Mine Demolitions Needed
March 25, 2012

The Libyans have begun respecting their 2011 pledge to destroy the hundreds of thousands of landmines in their possession. Now the work needs to continue to ensure that these indiscriminate weapons cannot be used in Libya or anywhere else.

Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch

(Tripoli) – Libya’s first steps to destroy its vast stockpile of landmines are a positive development, and the demolitions should continue, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 21, 2012, Human Rights Watch witnessed the destruction of nearly 100 Chinese-made Type-72SP antivehicle landmines near al-Abiar in eastern Libya. Since mid-February, nearly 20,000 mines weighing two tons have been destroyed, representing a small fraction of all mines inherited from the Gaddafi government.

During last year’s conflict, Libya’s then-opposition National Transitional Council (NTC) formally pledged not to use antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines, and to destroy all mines in its forces’ possession.

“The Libyans have begun respecting their 2011 pledge to destroy the hundreds of thousands of landmines in their possession,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “Now the work needs to continue to ensure that these indiscriminate weapons cannot be used in Libya or anywhere else.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Libyan government to accelerate the landmine destruction process and to join the international Mine Ban Treaty. In the NTC’s pledge, signed on April 27, 2011, it said that “any future Libyan government should relinquish landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.”

Under the government of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya defended the use of antipersonnel landmines and refused to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

Human Rights Watch documented the extensive use of antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines by Gaddafi forces during the 2011 conflict, and antivehicle mines use by anti-Gaddafi forces in one location prior to the NTC pledge. Human Rights Watch researchers found at least five types of mines in nine locations, including around Ajdabiya, in the Nafusa Mountains, near Brega, and in Misrata, where the Gaddafi government also laid at least three sea mines near the port.

As the Gaddafi government progressively lost control of the country, anti-government forces and civilians gained access to massive weapon and munitions depots with hundreds of thousands of landmines that were abandoned by government forces. Over the past year, local and international demining organizations have been working with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to collect and destroy this abandoned ordnance.

So far, the destruction of landmines has apparently only been carried out in the east of the country with facilitation by the Libyan Army Corps of Engineers.

Since February 13 in eastern Libya, the Swiss Foundation for Demining (FSD) has helped Libya detonate 16,694 Brazilian-produced T-AB-1 antipersonnel mines, 949 Chinese Type-72SP antivehicle mines, 48 Belgian PRB-M3A1 antivehicle mines, and a large number of anti-lift devices and fuzes.

“This is a good start, but given the huge amount of landmines stockpiled by the Gaddafi government, much more work remains,” Goose said.

Human Rights Watch called on the NTC and Libya’s government to emphasize to all militias and local authorities the importance of handing over their landmines for destruction.

The clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war is being coordinated by the Joint Mine Action Coordination Team (JMACT), consisting of the United Nations and international nongovernmental organizations. In all, 27 Clearance Teams and 29 Risk Education Teams are working across the country.

At least two people have been killed during mine clearance operations in Libya, both by Type 84 scatterable mines. One was a technical expert from DanChurchAid. The other was reportedly a 19-year-old Libyan killed in unclear circumstances in Sirte. Others have been wounded.

A total of 159 countries have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, most recently Finland in January. The treaty comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. Every NATO member except the United States has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines and joined the Mine Ban Treaty, in addition to countries affected by uncleared landmines, such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen.  Other countries bordering Libya have also joined, including Chad, Niger, and Tunisia.