|The Horror of Landmines
by Gino Strada, Scientific American May 1996
Review/summary by Robin Collins 1
Scientific American, in its May 1996 issue, has published a short and effective appeal for the banning of landmines by Gino Strada, a surgeon and founder of "EMERGENCY", a humanitarian organization serving civilian war victims. Strada, who has treated victims of landmine blasts from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda to Iraq, disputes the strategic military value of these weapons. The carnage, he says, is not about this at all, rather landmine use "is a deliberate choice to inflict monstrous pain and mutilation. It is a crime against humanity."
Landmine mutilation is gruesomely portrayed too, particularly in one photograph -- an image of the result of a "Pattern A" injury on a child's leg. Primarily civilians are the victims of the 350 landmine types still available and fifty nations have produced and exported antipersonnel (AP) mines. APs differ from their ATM (Anti-tank mine) cousins, in part because they are generally indiscriminantly effective (they do not require hundreds of kilograms of weight for ignition). It is argued, however, that landmines such as the winged-shaped, Russian-made PFM-1, (one of the so-called "toy-mines") in effect do target civilians -- even children. Manufacturers claim that the wing shape is designed to allow the hand-sized mine to float to the ground without immediate ignition after airplane dispersal. But, Strada points out, the PFM-1 requires a twisting, even cumulative manipulation of the wings for triggering. Children have been known to play with the weapon for hours before detonation. Most damning as empirical evidence is Strada's own observation that his own group has seen only child victims among the 150 cases they treated and that were caused by PFM-1s.
More than 90 percent of all those injured by landmines are civilians. That adds up to at least 250,000 people over the last twenty years, nearly a third of whom were children -- these are figures confirmed by a number of research facilities and humanitarian organizations. "Mine pollution" is also responsible for the disruption of agriculture and it places a severe economic burden, particularly on poorer countries ill-prepared for huge medical demands upon rudimentary facilities. Nor are war-ravaged lands prepared for the other difficulties posed by the newly unemployable victims of what is called "slow motion" warfare.
Strada's cause, however, is not about partial bans. Nothing less than a total ban will permit a solution, he says. The September 1995 UN review conference was a humanitarian "fiasco" because it focussed on the technical and military aspects of land-mine use. (All the better to have his accessible overview of the landmine crisis published in the semi-technical and highly-readable Scientific American.)
While Strada (at the time of his writing) saw little likelihood of a ban resulting from the recent Geneva conference, he is still enthusiastic about the anti-mine campaign launched over the last few years by more than 400 humanitarian organizations. The NGO-led movement has had significant results, he notes, and several countries have stopped their production or export of landmines, at least temporarily.
1 This review written for Mines Action Canada, summer of 1996.