Long forgotten but still present after acute conflict, explosive remnants of war (ERW), such as landmines and cluster munitions, continue to be hidden killers that lie in wait, incapable of telling an enemy apart from an innocent child. ERW are a serious and persisting global health issue that are often overlooked and dismissed. Explosive ordnance disposal should be a high priority in post-conflict efforts, behooving the need for immediate and effective transitional justice by holding those who used explosive devices accountable while preserving the human rights of those affected.
A silent and fatal environmental plague, ERW impede the livelihood of many in the developing world struggling with internal turmoil. The U.S. Department of State estimates that over 60 million landmines are in ground in over 60 countries with a global stockpile of 250 million landmines, accounting for one subtype of ERW. Cluster munitions, a newly revived form of explosive device currently used in active conflict zones, are munitions that open up mid-air to release hundreds of bomblets, which scatter over an area equivalent to several football fields. Civilians, including children, are consequently exposed to these pestilent war devices and are either killed or maimed for life.
The international community must ensure that the human rights of the people of Yemen are respected, particularly after being made more vulnerable from war. This includes the human right to health. ERW scattered throughout the country impose physical barriers to accessing healthcare and pose an immediate danger. Providing humanitarian efforts to clear affected lands of unexploded ordinance is essential to restore peace and security at a community level.
The vast majority of victims affected by ERW have been civilians, not soldiers. International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) found that an average of ten people around the world lose their life or limb to an ERW each day. As a means of strategic defense, explosive devices like landmines are used to reinforce border control by restricting population movement and defusing offensive invasions on ground. Over time, environmental elements like rain and flooding shift war remnants, exposing them to vulnerable, unassuming victims who are returning to their homes after escaping conflict. Therefore, immediate action must be taken because ERW violates fundamental rights to welfare and security for many of these civilians.
The essential need for immediate removal of ERW is a rather personal matter for me. Long before immigrating to America and becoming a graduate student at Columbia University studying Public Health and Humanitarian Assistance, I was a young girl in Yemen witnessing firsthand the internalized conflict in the Civil War of 1994 and its aftermath. Thousands of landmines were planted during the yearlong war between North and South Yemen, and since 1999, landmines have indiscriminately killed about 4,000 civilians, including 504 children.
A legacy culminating in so many lives lost ensued because there was no immediate and comprehensive effort to remove the landmines shortly after the warfare in 1994 concluded. These taxing relics of the civil war have thwarted Yemen’s development by directly and indirectly impeding the livelihood for its people. Landmines have burdened the country’s already impoverished health system, physically limited access to healthcare, and rendered vast tracts of land uninhabitable.
Conflict broke out again in 2015, with a dangerous combination of landmines and cluster munitions, both internationally banned and inherently indiscriminate. The Houthi rebel forces, struggling to keep ground, are continually planting landmines to fortify their position on land causing Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces to deploy massive rounds of cluster munitions from the air. In the midst of all this chaos and destruction, innocent Yemeni civilians suffer.
Today, Yemen is still at war. The end is uncertain but once resolved, it is imperative to place the clearing of unexploded ordnance at the top of any post-conflict agenda in order to minimize future death and disability while fostering healing for the war-torn country. International law requires that countries clear areas under their control of “explosive remnants of war” after the end of hostilities. However, it is imprecise whether the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will abide by these requirements, as it would rather shift blame onto the Houthi rebel forces. Holding both warring parties accountable in an international court of law is necessary to ensure a joint effort to clear the battlefields of landmines, improvised explosive devices, and unexploded ordnance.
The HALO Trust is one of the few non-governmental organizations that help in the immediate aftermath of war. Donor countries should allocate more funds to support such praiseworthy efforts in restoring livelihoods threatened by the dangerous remnants of war for post-conflict countries. These funds will allow organizations like the HALO Trust to work on Yemen for the future once conflict subsides, ensuring that no child loses life to debris of war.


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