(Beirut) – The government of Yemen should investigate and respond to allegations that the Republican Guards laid banned antipersonnel landmines at a location north of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in 2011, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of a week-long meeting of state parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. Yemen should take immediate action to assist civilian victims of the recently laid mines and to clear the mine-affected areas, Human Rights Watch said.
Witness testimony collected by Human Rights Watch during a site visit, evidence gathered by a local human rights organization, and further evidence collected by an international journalist indicate that the former government’s Republican Guard forces laid antipersonnel landmines in 2011 around their military camps in the Bani Jarmooz area, near Sanaa. Community leaders told Human Rights Watch that Republican Guard forces have resisted the removal of these prohibited munitions despite the fact that the mines have caused at least 15 civilian casualties, including 9 children.
“This appears to be the most serious violation of the Mine Ban Treaty in its 14 years of existence, and the first time a member’s armed forces have used antipersonnel mines,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “The integrity of the treaty is at stake. Yemen needs to investigate and hold those responsible accountable.”
Community leaders told Human Rights Watch that the Republican Guard recently turned back a group sent by the government to clear the mined areas. The Republican Guard is being dismantled as part of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s military restructuring initiativefollowing a presidential decree dissolving the unit in December 2012.
The mining of the area around the military camps took place in the context of mass protests in January 2011, which escalated to armed clashes between government forces and opposition fighters across the country by May. Hostilities ended on November 23, when, amid mounting domestic and international pressure to leave office, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an accord to transfer power to Hadi, his vice president. In exchange, the accord granted full immunity against prosecution to Saleh and members of his government.Yemenis party to the 1997 treaty prohibiting antipersonnel landmines. Like all state parties, Yemen has made a commitment never to use antipersonnel mines under any circumstances, and to prevent and suppress any prohibited activities, such as stockpiling or acquiring landmines. There has not been any previous confirmed case of use of antipersonnel mines by the armed forces of a Mine Ban Treaty state party.
In a letter to the Defense Minister on May 21, 2013, Human Rights Watch urged the government of Yemen to conduct an immediate investigation into the deployment of antipersonnel mines in the Bani Jarmooz area, to establish when, by whom, and under what authority these prohibited munitions were deployed, the types of munitions used, and the extent of their deployment. The government should identify and prosecute those responsible for deploying antipersonnel mines in accordance with the measures taken by Yemen to implement the Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch said.
“Yemen needs to publicly reaffirm its commitment to enforcing all aspects of the Mine Ban Treaty, including the prohibition on the use of these deadly mines,” Goose said. “Yemen should also follow through on its Mine Ban Treaty commitments by clearing the mines at Bani Jarmooz and assisting the victims.”
In April 2012, Human Rights Watch interviewed a medic, Ibrahim Abdallah Hussain Hotrom, then 21, who lost his leg below the knee in a horrific incident in a minefield in the Bani Jarmooz district just outside the camp of the 63rd Brigade of the Republican Guard on the main road from Beit Dahara to Sanaa, on November 20, 2011. At least five people were wounded in this incident.
Hotrom said that three men were walking near the camp when one was shot by Republican Guards. Two members of a medical team rushed through the minefield to help the wounded man and stepped on landmines. The two wounded rescue workers called for help and four men including Hotrom responded. “But we stepped on landmines and three of us were wounded,” Hotrom said, adding that he and another member of the team lost limbs.
“Then a third team came to the rescue – just passers-by who saw us sitting there in our own blood,” Hotrom said. He said he believed that two men in the third team lost parts of their legs as well. “So many have been wounded,” he said. “I cannot go on with my life in a normal way.”
On April 19, Human Rights Watch visited Bani Jarmooz with Yemen Rights, a national nongovernmental organization that has recorded 15 local civilian casualties from landmines in Bani Jarmooz since late 2011. Human Rights Watch documented four more cases of victims of antipersonnel mines and one case involving the use of an antivehicle mine. In addition, Human Rights Watch met two children who were injured, a local journalist reported, when they were tending sheep in the fields.
Local inhabitants and all the mine victims Human Rights Watch interviewed in April said that they first learned that their farmland was contaminated with mines around September 2011. On September 2, Abdulhamid Wasel Ali Wasl, a 14-year-old boy from Bayt al-Auseri village, was killed as the vehicle he was travelling in hit an antivehicle landmine.
The most recent victim Human Rights Watch interviewed was Fawaz Mohsin Saleh Husn, a 9-year-old boy from al-Khabsha village. He said that he was tending his family’s sheep on April 12 when one sheep ran into a mined area that he knew to be unsafe. He tried to retrieve the sheep but stepped on a mine, which exploded, threw him to the ground and ripped off his left leg. His family said that some soldiers nearby witnessed the explosion but were apparently too frightened to enter the area so a local villager rescued the boy him and took him to the nearest medical facility for treatment.
Mines have also injured two other members of Fawaz’s family, including Abdullah Mohammed, who was injured on November 26, 2011, while attempting to clear mines.
On May 24, Foreign Policy published an article by a freelance journalist, Joe Sheffer, documenting new landmine casualties from the Bani Jarmooz area. Local residents told him that they witnessed mines being laid in 2011 by soldiers wearing Republican Guard uniforms.
Evidence of Antipersonnel Mine Use
Abdullah Mohammed, injured in the November 26, 2011 incident, told Human Rights Watch that in late September or early October 2011, he had used binoculars to watch between 10 and 15 soldiers in Republican Guard uniforms lay mines in a nearby wadi, or river bed. As it was an area where children from the village played, he and three friends later entered the area and tried to detect the mines using sticks.
During a meeting on June 21, 2012, between community representatives and a committee of representatives from the Defense and Interior Ministries about a truce to end local fighting, the commander of the Republican Guard’s 63rd Brigade camp at Bani Jarmooz, Ahmed al-Jakee, reportedly stated that his forces had planted 8,000 landmines around the camp and also placed mines in cliffs adjacent to nearby Mount Asama. A report containing his admission was published online by Yemen Rights on April 10, 2013.
The landmine incidents resulting in civilian casualties have all occurred in the vicinity of military camps that the 63rd and 81st Brigades of the Republican Guard established at Bani Jarmooz around July 26, 2011, and that remain in place. There has been no other military activity in the area that could explain the presence of these munitions.
From their descriptions, and drawings that local residents provided to Human Rights Watch, it is evident that the munitions to which local residents had been exposed included PMN antipersonnel mines, manufactured by the Soviet Union. In addition, photographs an international journalist showed Human Rights Watch of mines removed from the ground at Bani Jamooz indicate that other types of mines have been found, including the PMD-6 antipersonnel mine, manufactured by the Soviet Union, and the GYATA-64 antipersonnel mine, manufactured by Hungary.
In April 2002, Yemen reported to the secretary-general of the United Nations that it had completed the destruction of its stockpile of antipersonnel mines, as required by the Mine Ban Treaty. The evidence of new mine use suggests either that this assurance to the UN secretary-general was incorrect or that Yemeni forces have since acquired a new supply of antipersonnel mines, apparently in breach of the treaty. Human Rights Watch has asked the government of Yemen to disclose the source of the antipersonnel mines laid in the Bani Jarmooz area, indicating whether they came from a hitherto undisclosed Yemeni stockpile or from a foreign source or sources, and to immediately collect and destroy any remaining stockpiles, as the treaty requires.
Several local residents, a journalist, and Yemeni human rights defenders told Human Rights Watch that the Defense Ministry established a committee to clear the mines several months ago. Local residents said that they saw members of this committee arrive in two groups, by bus, at the two Republican Guard camps approximately three months ago but that neither group obtained access to clear the mines.
One local man told Human Rights Watch that he was near the entrance of the 63rd Brigade camp when the bus arrived and that he overheard the camp commander, who prevented the bus from entering, tell its occupants: “The mines are here to protect the camp. You cannot remove them, and if you do, you will see what will happen.”
During its visit, Human Rights Watch inspected an area of rocky ground about a four-minute drive from the village, which local people had marked with a ring of small stones to show that the area contains mines and is not to be entered. The stones are the only marking of this extremely hazardous area. No fencing or warning notices were visible. Local residents complained that the deployment of antipersonnel mines had caused them to lose access to farmland and quarries and prevented them from repairing water irrigation pipes that run through areas that are perilous due to mines.
Mine Ban Treaty Obligations
After participating in the Ottawa Process to ban landmines, Yemen signed the Mine Ban Treaty on December 4, 1997, and became a state party on March 1, 1999, when the treaty entered into force. A total of 161 nations are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims.
The government of Yemen should immediately mark and cordon off the areas where antipersonnel mines and related munitions are deployed to reduce the risk of further casualties among the local population. The government should promptly embark on a mine clearance program to remove or destroy the munitions from the vicinity of the Republican Guard camps and any other areas in which antipersonnel mines have been deployed.
Appropriate compensation, assistance, and support should be provided to those injured as a result of the deployment of these mines and to the families of those injured or killed, as well as to other landmine victims in Yemen. Assistance should include medical care, prosthetics where appropriate and on-going rehabilitation if needed.
On April 13, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Hadi concerning an incident on March 4, 2012, in the Hassaba neighborhood of Sanaa, in which a 10-year-old boy was seriously wounded by an antipersonnel landmine. In that case, Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether government forces or fighters of the al-Ahmar tribe had laid the landmine that caused the child’s injury, but urged the government to investigate and to ensure that government forces were complying fully with Yemen’s obligations as a state party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Human Rights Watch has not received a response.
In general, implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty has been excellent and the treaty’s compliance provisions – contained in article 8 – have not been formally invoked to clarify any compliance question. In recent years, antipersonnel landmines have been used by Syria, Burma, Israel, and Libya, none of which have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, as well as by a small number of rebel groups.
Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize together with its coordinator, Jody Williams, for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.