ICBL: Turkey slow to fulfill obligation and clear mined areas


The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL) released its annual report for 2013, stating that Turkey has been slow to fulfill its obligation under article 5, concerning the destruction of antipersonnel mines in mined areas, of the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty:

In the nine years after acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty, Turkey cleared a total of 1.15km2 of mined area and three-quarters of this occurred in one year (2011). It did not record any land release in 2012.

Antipersonnel mines are according to the Mine Ban Treaty “designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.”

As of October 2013, Turkey was one of 30 states with very heavy mine contamination (more than 100 km2). Turkey has retained more than 12,000 mines for training and research purposes, the same number as Finland and Bangladesh.

At a meeting in December 2011, Turkey said it would not be able to complete its clearing of mine areas near its border with Syria until 2016 and submitted therefore in 2012 a request for extension until 2022. The National Ministry of Defense reportedly cancelled the clearing of mines in July 2013 due to the war in Syria.

In 2012, some victims in Turkey could “apply to receive a one-time payment under laws dedicated to compensating victims of terrorism or counter-terrorism.” Turkey was 1 of 7 countries with a significant number of victims that by 2013 did not have a plan or was not developing a plan of action for victims of mine explosions.

The report further stated that

Lingering and new allegations of antipersonnel mine use in States Parties South Sudan, Sudan and Turkey warrant further investigation.

The report mentions 2 instances where the Turkish Armed Forces have allegedly used antipersonnel mines in North Kurdistan (Southeastern Turkey), more specifically near the border with Iraq, in Sirnak province (April 2009) and Hakkari province (May 2009).

The first incident was a report published by Turkish newspaper Taraf belonging to 23rd Gendarmerie Division Command that stated the Turkish military had placed antipersonnel land mines in Sirnak Province. In May 2013, Turkey reported to the other members of the Mine Ban Treaty that it had destroyed the mines in question together with those in stockpile before 2009 and had undertaken an investigation into the matter.

The second incident involved 7 Turkish soldiers who were killed and 8 who were wounded by an antipersonnel land mine in Hakkari Province on May 29, 2009. Initially, the Turkish Army stated the mine was placed by PKK, the Kurdish rebel group, but a month later Turkish media reported that the mine had been placed by the Turkish forces not long before it went off. An investigation was undertaken and in May 2013, Turkey informed members of the Mine Ban Treaty that a Turkish Brigadier General had been sentenced an initial verdict of 6 years and 8 months in prison.

According to the article “Amidst Hopes Of Peace With Kurds, Turkey Still Faces Scourge Of Land Mines” from May 9, 2013, the ratio of landmines to people is higher in the Kurdish areas:

There is a land mine for every 73 people in Turkey according to the initiative A Landmine-Free Turkey. This ratio rises to a land mine for every 10 people in certain locations, such as the provinces of Mardin, Batman, Van, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Bingol, Agri and Sirnak, where about 800 village roads are mined, including some 50% considered at “high-level threat” of detonating.

The article goes on to say that data by anti-land mine NGOs show that most of the Turkish land mines have been placed at the Syrian border (about 613,000), the Iranian border (about 195,000), the Iraqi border (about 69,000) and the Armenian border (about 22,000).

Selahattin Demirtas (BDP, pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party) said both the Turkish military and the PKK should offer information on the locations of the mines:

Land mines were laid at areas close to the civilians and named conflict zones in recent years. We know hundreds of locations were mined with the logic of ambush, but there is no map for where the mines were laid,” he said. “Theses mines are now a danger to everybody. Both sides have duties since we entered a period of non-conflict, PKK is preparing to begin the withdrawal [and] important steps are being taken for the solution of the Kurdish problem.

The coordinator of the Initiative for a Mine-Free Turkey, Muteber Ögreten, stated in a presentation of the ICBL report that “because of land mines, one person is either killed or wounded every three days.”

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reported 831 victim-activated mine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) casualties in Turkey between 1999 and 2008, including 250 killed and 581 injured.

The Monitor analysed information from the press collected by the Initiative for a Mine-Free Turkey and found 59 casualties in 2011: 43 people were either killed or injured by an undefined mine type, 9 by victim-activated IED, 3 by ERW and 4 by unknown device. 19 of them were civilians (8 of them children) and the rest were security personnel.

The extension of the deadline for mine clearing is indeed worrying; until the mines are removed, the number of casualties will remain constant or perhaps even increase as refugees from Syria cross the border to Turkey and are in danger of getting near or stepping on a mine.