by Jon Unruh
Recently the Geneva Centre for International Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) explored new ground in linking land rights to ‘mine action’. Mine action is essentially all the activities related to demining efforts–certainly taking mines out of the ground but also the related activities of survey, record keeping, education, advocacy, turning cleared land over to government, dealing with local communities, etc. The Centre commissioned seven studies on the relationship between landmines and land rights (Afghanistan, Yemen, Angola, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, South Sudan, and Bosnia) and then held a workshop in Cambodia on the topic designed to chart a way forward for policymakers.
Coming at the topic from a land tenure perspective I found it all quite intriguing. The studies revealed a lot more connections than I had realized. The spatial aspect of both land tenure and landmines certainly bring the two together in a variety of ways, but so does sequencing of areas to be cleared, strategies of mine laying and clearing, different approaches to dealing with local communities, government demining and legal capacity, and the different ways of operating for domestic and international private, humanitarian and government organizations that engage in a variety of types of demining.
Two of the more problematic linkages are land grabbing that occurs on the heels of demining, and lack of awareness on the part of demining organizations. The first occurs in a variety of ways and to such a degree that some communities do not want their land to be demined because they fear it will be seized, while others purposefully plant mines to deter seizure, demarcate, or otherwise provide for fairly strange forms of tenure security in wartime settings. The second is related to the first in that most demining organizations are very unaware of the land problems they can leave in their wake. With very little capacity to deal with land issues, or even enough awareness to avoid land conflicts that they contribute to or cause, most demining organizations seek safety in their stated and much valued notions of ‘neutrality’.