12 March 2012

(Geneva, 13 March 2012): All governments should protest Syria’s use of antipersonnel landmines, a weapon banned by the majority of the world due to its devastating humanitarian impact on civilians, said the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) today. The call was issued following confirmation by eye-witnesses that the Syrian Army has been laying landmines along its borders with Lebanon and Turkey. The ICBL is especially calling on UN Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who spoke out fervently against landmines during his time as Secretary General, to speak out against this latest atrocity during his current visit to the region.

“We are outraged to see Syria using antipersonnel mines against its own people, adding to the already dire humanitarian crisis Syrian civilians are facing,” said Ms. Kasia Derlicka, ICBL Director. “The Syrian government must immediately stop laying mines and ensure those already laid are removed and destroyed,” she added.According to several media reports and ICBL founding member organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW), in recent weeks and months the Syrian army has laid both antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines on both the Turkish and Lebanese borders. A report released by HRW last night shows evidence that a former Syrian army deminer cleared about 300 newly-laid PMN-2 antipersonnel mines from an area near the border town of Hasanieih in recent days. The Syrian army has been seen planting landmines at Hasanieih, Derwand, and Jiftlek, along routes used to reach Turkey. It is reported that thousands of Syrians used these paths to flee to safety over the border, which is why locals have begun to restore access by removing the mines at great personal risk. Already reports have been received that a family of five was injured recently when trying to cross the minefields.In November 2011 the ICBL issued a global condemnation after allegations of Syrian forces laying landmines along its border with Lebanon. Several casualties have been recorded, including a 15-year-old boy who last month lost his right leg to a landmine. He told HRW that he had been walking in an area that was not previously mined. On 9 March, The Washington Post published a photograph of PMN-2 antipersonnel mines and TMN-46 antivehicle mines planted by Syrian forces by the Lebanese border town of Heet.“All governments and leaders of the international community, particularly Kofi Annan during his visits to Syria and Turkey, must publicly protest this despicable activity,” said Derlicka. “The use of antipersonnel mines is unacceptable under any circumstances. Most of the world recognises this, and has banned this weapon. Syria should do the same,” she added.A total of 159 countries have joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. Syria has not joined the Mine Ban Treaty and is last thought to have used antipersonnel mines in Lebanon during the 1982 conflict with Israel. Syria’s stockpile of landmines is believed to be comprised of mainly Russian-manufactured landmines, such as the PMN-2 antipersonnel mines. Syria is not known to be a producer or exporter of antipersonnel mines.This news comes just after the launch of the Lend Your Leg initiative, a worldwide partnership between civil society, the United Nations, governments and international organizations to raise awareness of the terrible harm landmines cause, and to urge all countries to ban them.On 4 April 2012, ICBL members around the world will take part in the Lend Your Leg global day of action alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, landmine survivors and celebrities.Mine Ban Treaty in the RegionTurkey is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty after acceding on 25 September 2003. It has put in place plans to clear the minefields on its side of its border with Syria, and is investigating the extent to which Syria has added to the existing contamination.Lebanon, which is affected by landmines, has yet to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. Last year Lebanon stated that it does not use, produce, stockpile or transfer antipersonnel landmines. In 2009, Lebanon indicated that it “looks forward” to joining the Mine Ban Treaty.Jordan’s border with Syria was mined prior to the current conflict, but it is not known if Syrian forces have laid new mines on its border with Jordan. Jordan is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty and in November 2011 said that "increasing tensions" on its northern border with Syria could delay the completion of the country’s landmine clearance program.Syria’s other neighbour Iraq is also heavily contaminated with landmines, and is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Syria is the fourth government reported to use antipersonnel mines since January 2011, joining Libya (under Muammar Gaddafi), Israel, and Myanmar (Burma).