In late 2013 and early 2014, five of our Reportage photographers undertook a group project, commissioned by the ICRC, to document landmines, cluster munitions, and unexploded remnants of war.
The work was created for an exhibition at a major global summit on the subject: the 3rd Review Conference of the convention on the prohibition of the use/stockpiling/production/transfer of anti-personnel mines, and on their destruction), which took place Monday 23rd – Friday 27th of June 2014 in Mozambique’s capital Maputo.
For this project, Brent Stirton worked in Mozambique, Veronique de Viguerie in Bosnia, Marco Di Lauro in Iraq, Sebastian Liste in Nicaragua, and Paula Bronstein in Laos.
This feature showcases Paula Bronstein’s work from Laos. A full edit of 70 images by Paula is available on request.
FROM SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION TO FIELDS OF RECOVERY (Text by Mark Jenkins):
Balancing on his right leg, the stump of his left leg dangling from his rolled-up trousers, Bonifacio Mazia plunges his hoe into the earth. The toes of his single foot grip the soil as he puts his back into the swing. His steadiness and intensity are palpable. He jerks up a clod of red dirt, hops forward, rewinds and swings again.
Mazia’s left foot was blown off by an anti-personnel landmine on February 2nd, 1985, during the height of the civil war in Mozambique. He was a farmer, not a soldier.
“I started screaming, crawling down the path,” says Bonifacio. His left leg was eventually amputated just below the knee. Ever since, he has dreamed about the man he might have been.
“The landmine dropped me completely as a man,” explains Bonifacio, still in anguish almost thirty years later. “I could no longer do what other men did. As a farmer, I was no longer financially strong because I could not move quickly in the fields.”
Anti-personnel landmines are a scourge of the modern world, one of the few weapons of war that continues to kill and maim for years, often decades, after the war is over. Unlike bullets, which stop flying after the peace agreement is signed, landmines lie in the ground, primed, waiting for the innocent and the unsuspecting. Pol Pot, the genocidal leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, once called landmines his “perfect little soldiers.” And yet in 2012, only 18% of victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) were soldiers; 4% were deminers and the rest, 78%, were civilians, almost half of whom were children. In 2012, antipersonnel (AP) mines continued to cause casualties in 30 countries, long after the armed conflicts had ended in most of them.
Mozambique is a sobering example. A ten-year war of independence from Portugal (1964-1974), followed by fifteen years of civil war (1977-1992), left all ten provinces of Mozambique poisoned with anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. All factions in both wars used land mines, offensively and defensively, resulting in pervasive mining of roads, footpaths, village streets and electricity towers. Today, Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries, with over half the population still surviving as subsistence farmers.
Since 1993, the United Nations and multiple NGOs, including the HALO Trust, Handicap International, APOPO and the Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), have been steadily demining the country in collaboration with Mozambique’s National Institute of Demining.
“Mozambique will be completely demined by the end of 2014,” declares Alberto Maverengue, Mozambique’s director of the National Institute for Demining.
The substantial progress in demining and landmine survivor assistance throughout the world can be largely attributed to the 1997 Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention, commonly known as the “Ottawa Treaty.” This treaty bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of AP mines. Today, 161 countries (over eighty percent of the world’s states) have joined the treaty, Bulgaria to Burkina Faso, Lithuania to Liberia, Surinam to South Africa. However, thirty-six countries are not yet party to the treaty, including most countries with large militaries: China, India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States, and efforts to get those states on board continue.
Nicaragua is one of the countries that ratified the treaty early, in 1999. Sixteen of its seventeen provinces were mine-affected, particularly rural communities and poorer areas. Just eleven years later, in 2010, Nicaragua was declared mine free, having cleared over 179,000 anti-personnel mines from its territory as well as half-a-million unexploded ordnance. Today, all Central American countries are mine free.
But AP landmines aren’t the only deadly devices left behind when a war ends. There are also explosive remnants of war, or ERW, which include all other weapons that are still active - grenades, mortar rounds, tank shells, and cluster munitions. Cluster bombs are peculiarly pernicious. Unlike typical bombs, the standard cluster bomb is filled with several hundred apple-size bomblets which, when ejected mid-air, spray out over a vast, unpredictable area. The bomblets are designed to explode on impact, but a certain percentage do not detonate.
Laos is a country deeply afflicted with cluster munitions. During the American/Vietnam war, between 1963 and 1972, at least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped on Laos, with tens of millions failing to detonate. The war officially ended in 1973 with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, but since the end of conflict, over 20,000 Laotians have been killed or maimed by cluster submunitions.
As with landmines, children are often victims of bomblets. Being the size of a tennis ball, bombies entice children to pick them up. On January 4th of this year, in Hangsing village in the district of Pakxan, a group of three boys, ages 9, 10 and 11, were out on their bicycles, found a bomblet in a field, and decided to carry it home to their village. The bomblet was accidently dropped, exploded, and killed all three youths.
Urged on by civil society, UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in May 2008 a group of states adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Inspired by its predecessor, the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention, the CCM bans the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. As of April 2014, 84 states have joined the Convention and another 29 have signed and are moving toward ratification. Thirty-four states continue to develop over 200 types of cluster munitions, including China, Russia and the U.S.
So what does the future hold?
In the coming decade, as thousands of square kilometers of land in scores of countries are painstakingly cleared of landmines and ERW, energy and money must pivot more toward the rehabilitation of survivors.
Iraq is a good example. Even though the country remains in a state of violent sectarian conflict - the total number of mine/ERW survivors in Iraq is estimated to be 48,000 to 68,000 - the International Committee of the Red Cross is supporting ten rehabilitation centers across the country. Clean, well-lit, and staffed with caring professionals, these centers have technicians that build and fit prosthetics to survivors, as well as physiotherapists that help these men, women and children relearn how to walk. The ICRC rehab centers in Iraq have treated 33,000 patients.
In the past two decades the world has substantially changed. In the early 90’s, the U.S. State Department estimated that there were 24,000 landmine casualties a year. Then came the AP Mine Ban Convention in 1997 and the numbers began to drop precipitously. Ten years ago, the Landmine Monitor, a detailed annual report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, estimated that there were 15,000 landmine casualties a year. In 2012 there were just 3,628 casualties.
In 2008, only a handful of countries supported the prohibition of cluster munitions; today, more than half the world’s nations have joined the CCM. Thanks to the Convention, 22 countries have destroyed over 1 million cluster munitions and 122 million submunitions. Some 50 countries that once manufactured cluster munitions have entirely stop producing these weapons.
The trend is broad and deep and permanent, although the planet will not become completely free of landmines and cluster bombs until the major military players sign on. In June 2014, Maputo, Mozambique will host the Third Review Conference of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention. The Maputo conference follows the 2009 Cartagena Summit and the 2004 Nairobi Summit, both of which recognized, advocated and facilitated unabated mine clearance and victim rehabilitation. The Maputo Review Conference will mark fifteen years since the original Ottawa Treaty entered into force. So very much has been achieved, and yet so much has yet to be done. Human progress has always been two steps forward, one step back - but if the path is cleared, progress can be made.