Representatives of governments and international organisations reiterated their willingness to work for a landmine free South Caucasus by 2030, during an event held in Geneva on Monday (19 June 2023) on the margins of this year’s Intersessional Meetings of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, popularly known as “The Ottawa Convention”. The meeting was also attended by representatives of civil society organisations from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. It was organised by LINKS Europe in its capacity as convenor of the regional campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus.
In the opening report to the meeting, LINKS Europe Director, Dr Dennis Sammut outlined a five point action plan to address the grave challenge that landmines and other unexploded remnants of war pose for life, safety and development in the region, which has one of the highest levels of landmine contamination in the world. He called on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to adopt a flexible regional approach to the problem, including by setting up a joint mechanism to co-ordinate sharing of information and action to eradicate landmines. Dennis Sammut called on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to join the Ottawa Convention, but said that on its part the international community needed also to step up its efforts. He proposed that the first steps should be taken before the end of the year for the convening of an international donors conference where a plan for a landmine free South Caucasus by 2030 could be agreed. He proposed that the European Union, as the biggest donor for humanitarian demining in the South Caucasus, should take the initiative by hosting in the Autumn bilateral Round Tables with the three countries, focused on the issue of landmines and their consequences, to prepare for such an International Conference.
In their opening remarks, Albrecht von Wittke, Head of Division on Conventional Arms Control and CSBMs at the German Foreign Ministry, on behalf of the current German Presidency of the Mine Ban Convention, and Marketa Homolkova, Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Delegation of the EU to the UN in Geneva, spoke about the successful work that had been done to eradicate the problem of landmines in the world in the framework of the Anti Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Both reiterated the support of the international community for the efforts of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and urged the three countries to start taking steps towards adhering to the Mine Ban Convention. Ms Homolkova re-affirmed the determination of the European Union to work with the countries of the South Caucasus to eradicate the problem of landmines and other unexploded remnants of war, and was already contributing considerable resources for this purpose.
The meeting then heard reports by Ambassador Alexander Maisuradze, Head of the Pemanent Mission of Georgia in Geneva and Ambassador Elshad Iskanderov, Ambassador-at-large, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan.
Ambassador Maisuradze outline the extensive work done by Georgia, with the help of international partners, and which had successfully cleared large parts of Georgia from landmines and other unexploded remnants of war. Ambassador Maisurazde said that whilst Georgia had not yet acceded to the Anti Personnel Mine Ban Convention, it had approximated its position to many of its provisions. He reiterated that Georgia does not produce landmines, and does not export landmines to any other country.
Ambassador Iskanderov spoke of the huge challenges facing his country as a result of landmine contamination, and said that this was hindering the process of return of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by conflict, even though the conflict has now ended. Ambassador Iskanderov said that whilst the countries of the South Caucasus had not yet adhered to the Convention, they were still obliged to follow international humanitarian law, and called on every country to do so. Ambassador Iskanderov said that the 44 day Karabakh War in 2020 had shown that landmines were an ineffective weapon of war, even if they continue killing and maiming non combatants long after a conflict has ended.
There were then interventions from representatives from civil society in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Hafiz Safkihanov, Director of the Azerbaijan Campaign to Ban landmines said it was tragic that people displaced by the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict were dying as they tried to reach their ancestral homes, even though they knew that the area was heavily contaminated by mines. He called for urgent international action to help Azerbaijan cleaned its lands from landmine pollution. Safikhanov called on Azerbaijan and other countries in the region to join the Ottawa Convention.
Leonid Nersissian, Research Fellow at the Applied Policy Research Institute in Yerevan, spoke about the extent of the landmine problem in Armenia, which was mainly concentrated in border areas. He also mentioned that Armenians in Karabakh had also for a long time suffered as a result of extensive landmine contamination. Nersissian said that whilst locked in war between each other Armenia and Azerbaijan found it difficult to join the Ottawa Convention, but that given that there is now prospect for peace between the two countries joining the convention can be part of the package of agreements.
Giorgi Arziani, Director of the Tbilisi School for Social Research, said that despite the fact that progress had been made in clearing Georgia from landmine contamination, at least six areas remained problematic. Furthermore Russia’s continued occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia complicated the process of cleaning Georgia fully from landmines. Arziani called on the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to join the Ottawa convention. He hailed the work of the regional campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus, and said that the Campaign was helping to inform the young generation of the problem of landmines, which is a legacy they will have to deal with. He welcomed the establishment of 30 November as the 'Day of Solidarity with the victims of landmines in the South Caucasus' and called on the governments of the region to start officially marking this day.
There followed a discussion during which representatives of a number of governments, international organisations and international non governmental organisations took the floor. Speakers welcomed the constructive and positive tone of the meeting. They positively assessed ideas that had been presented during the meeting, and asked that they be taken forward.
Participants thanked LINKS Europe and the Campaign Landmine Free South Caucasus for convening the meeting.
photo: Speakers and panelists at the event "Towards a landmine Free South Caucasus by 2030" held in Geneva on 19 June 2023 (c) commonspace.eu