Colombia, Afghanistan, Gaza: Switzerland supports the elimination of landmines and unexploded ordnance

Bern, 04.04.2016 - In 2015 Switzerland actively engaged in humanitarian mine action as a concrete contribution to peace and security. It supported specific projects in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, Gaza, Mali and Myanmar, among others, and seconded an average of ten specialists to UN mine action programmes. This engagement bolsters humanitarian aid, development cooperation and peacebuilding, as it has in Colombia, where one of the longest civil wars has come to an end. The latest annual report provides an overview of the activities carried out by the Confederation in 2015.

Landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) often pose a threat to the local civilian population and to members of humanitarian and peacebuilding missions years, or even decades, after the end of a conflict. Although the number has decreased significantly over the last twenty years, an average of ten people continue to fall victim to landmines and ERW every day. Explosive remnants of war often impede humanitarian access to affected populations, endanger members of international missions involved in post-conflict rehabilitation and can be a serious obstacle to the return of displaced persons, reconstruction, long-term development and food security.

The Confederation has been active in humanitarian mine action efforts since the 1990s. Switzerland has also been one of the most important donor countries to mine action for many years. This commitment represents a long-term contribution to peace and security. Switzerland’s current efforts at the political and operational levels are based on the mine action strategy of the Swiss Confederation 2012-2015. As part of this strategy, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) coordinate their activities.

The Confederation spent some CHF 18.5 million on humanitarian mine action in 2015. These funds were used directly to implement the political and operational goals of the strategy. At the political and diplomatic levels, Switzerland continued to leverage its efforts to further the institutional strengthening of the relevant agreements (Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, Convention on Cluster Munitions, UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) as well as multilateral political dialogue, particularly in Geneva. Success stories in the year under review include Switzerland's active support for sustainable, long-term financing for the implementation and, in particular, the secretariats of the conventions. These measures counteract any flagging commitment to the efforts against anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions and other explosive  remnants of war. In this context, Switzerland also notes with great concern reports of the possible use of cluster munitions in recent conflicts.

At the operational level Switzerland supported numerous projects in affected countries and regions with financial resources from the FDFA and technical expertise from the DDPS and the Swiss Armed Forces. Swiss experts, for example, supported the information and data management of mine action programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, provided logistics support to mine action programmes in South Sudan and contributed in New York and Geneva to managing UN operations. The contributions made by the, on average, ten Swiss specialists within the framework of UN mine action programmes on the ground, as well as at UN headquarters in New York and Geneva, are internationally recognised and greatly appreciated.

In accordance with the strategy guidelines, the Confederation allocated about half of its mine action contribution to support the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD), which has an excellent international reputation. In collaboration with national authorities, international organisations and civil society, the GICHD formulates norms and standards, imparts specialist knowledge, and supports operational activities in the countries and regions affected.

Measured against the strategic guidelines, the Confederation considers the activities carried out during 2015 to have been successful. But much still needs to be done to ensure the universal application of international legal instruments, clear affected areas and provide assistance to victims. For this reason, Switzerland notes with some concern a loss of momentum in international efforts in some areas.

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