Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to injure or kill people.
They are placed under, on or near the ground, where they lie hidden for years or even decades until a person or an animal sets them off.
Landmines wound and kill wound indiscriminately, posing a severe risk to civilian populations, peacekeepers and aid workers—sometimes decades after a conflict has ended.
The vast majority of landmine victims are civilians
Year after year, Landmine Monitor reports that civilians account for 70 to 85 percent of casualties. Landmines are still killing and maiming ordinary people every day. This is not just during a conflict–most of the countries where casualties are reported are no longer at war.
Thanks to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, landmine use has dropped dramatically in recent years. While some countries are still producing them, the global trade has almost entirely halted. However, more than 75 countries and territories are essentially polluted by landmines and/or explosive remnants of war. The weapon poses a significant and lasting threat to communities living in contaminated areas.
Antipersonnel landmines were used systematically in international and internal conflicts from the Second World War onwards. Originally intended to protect anti-tank minefields from removal by enemy soldiers, the weapons were designed to maim rather than kill an enemy soldier, with the idea that more resources are taken up on the battlefield in caring for an injured soldier than dealing with a dead soldier.
Due to their low cost and perceived high effectiveness, landmines became increasingly popular weapons. From the 1970s, they were used as offensive weapons to terrorize civilian populations, denying communities access to their farmland and restricting population movement.
Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground. They are designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the sub-munitions and scattering them over an area that can be as large as several football fields.
When sub-munitions explode, they fire hundreds of fragments of metal that travel at the speed of a bullet. Anybody within the area, military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured. Unlike landmines, which are designed to maim rather than kill, cluster bombs are much more likely to kill and to cause multiple casualties. Even if a victim lives, they will suffer various injuries such as loss of limbs, burns, ruptured eardrums, blindness and internal complications.
An inaccurate weapon that doesn't always explode on impact
Many sub-munitions fail to explode on impact, and huge quantities are left on the ground, leaving a fatal threat to civilians decades after conflict ends.
In many countries, accidents occur when ordinary people try to move unexploded sub-munitions out of economic necessity, curiosity or social responsibility. Civilians might attempt to clear land for farming or to prevent children from playing with bomblets.
In Afghanistan, for example, shepherds, farmers and children collecting firewood are common victims. In many poor communities, people are often injured trying to salvage bomb containers in order to sell the scrap metal.
A life-saving convention banning cluster munitions
These weapons are illegal under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which became international law on August 1, 2010. Work remains to encourage every nation to join the Convention and to ensure that States Parties fulfill their obligations.
The U.S. has yet to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. To join the Campaign to ban this weapon, please visit the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions.
Cluster Munition Monitor 2016
A global overview of developments in cluster munition ban policy for every country in the world
Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC) Humanity & Inclusion is a co-founder of the CMC. Visit the CMC website to learn more about the international campaign against cluster bombs.
Video: Watch The Gift that Keeps on Giving, courtesy of The Cluster Project.