Geneva Call: Commitment to ban anti-personnel mines gaining headway among RP rebel groups

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 October) — Rebel groups in the Philippines have come out with varying positions as regards the use of landmines as a method of warfare, although current trends have shown relative progress in as far as compliance with the ban on specific types of such weapons is concerned, an official of a Swiss-based humanitarian organization yesterday said.

Three rebel groups in the country have signed the Deed of Commitment for Adherence to Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Landmines and Cooperation in Mine Action, Chris Rush, senior programme officer of the Geneva Call told some 30 journalists from across Mindanao in a training on reporting landmines and landmine incidents at the Waterfront Insular Hotel here.

The Deed is a mechanism with a humanitarian purpose, whereby a non-State actor can make a commitment to a ban on landmines, he explained.

Rush said the signatories are the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and two groups that broke away with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, namely, the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa ng Mindanao (RPM-M).

However, these two splinter groups have not been known to have actually waged an armed struggle, at least in recent years. About two years ago, the RPM-M, which claimed to have some 1,000 fighters in Lanao del Norte, signed a peace agreement with the government.

The National Democratic Front, the CPP-led underground alliance has only declared “unequivocal support” to the anti-personnel mine ban. In several statements, it has claimed to have stopped using anti-personnel mines but has acknowledged use of command-detonated
types, which is not forbidden under existing rules of war.

Military officials have often alleged that the NPA still uses anti-personnel mines. But the rebel group has routinely denied the accusations and evidence on whether it’s actually being used has been scant, Rush said.

The 1997 Ottawa Treaty bans the use of anti-personnel mines. Non-State actors, the generic term used by Geneva Call to refer to armed groups fighting the governments, cannot be parties to the treaty or any treaty for that matter, but they may sign the Deed of Commitment or issue declarations of intent to abide by the 1997 agreement as part of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

Rush said that aside from non-State actors, the Deed was signed by the Geneva Call and the Government of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. It has also obtained international recognition through favorable resolutions passed by the European Union and African Union and through the UN Secretary General’s Protection of Civilians Report (May 2009).

The UN Secretary General’s report states:

“Another specific and successful example is the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment, which seeks to end the use of anti-personnel mines by armed groups. To date, 38 groups have signed the Deed and have, for the most part, refrained from using anti-personnel mines, cooperated in mine action in areas under their control and destroyed stockpiles.”

At present, 41 non-State actors have signed the Deed, Rush said.

The Philippine government has been a party to the Ottawa Treaty since August 2000, but Congress has not passed a law that would guide its implementation nationwide. It declared it has already destroyed its stockpiles including claymore mines which can be used as either victim-detonated or command detonated mines.

Both the NDF and MILF have issued isolated allegations the government was not complying with its obligations.

Rush said Geneva Call monitors compliance in the Philippines mainly through news reports and dialogues with the rebel groups.

He said verification missions on the MILF’s alleged use of anti-personnel landmines were done in 2002 and 2009.

Adherence to the ban on anti-personnel mines is part of the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of the GRP- MILF Agreement of 2001. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)