Tag Archives: War

In a Sudanese village, cluster munitions lay in wait

10 Jun

Image

Photo from the Independent newspaper website. Copyright not mine.

Sudanese villagers are requesting assistance to dispose of unexploded Russian-made cluster munitions, according to a recent article in the Independent newspaper. The cluster bombs, which are the first recorded use of the munitions by Khartoum in the Southern Kordofan conflict, were found by the residents of the Nuba Mountain village of Angolo.

Neither Sudan nor South Sudan have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions banning the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. Nevertheless, as the article remarks, the use of such indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas is largely viewed as a crime against international law. Khartoum’s use of such a catastrophically indiscriminate and ineffective weapon in a civilian area is very worrying and it is to be hoped that local or international assistance is provided as soon as possible to remove the weapons.

Below is a passage from the article explaining the high failure rate of the weapon:

“The Angolo bomb is a Soviet-made RBK-500 cluster weapon, filled with dozens of spherical A0-2.5RTM submunitions, designed to burst in half on impact and scatter shards of shrapnel and ball-bearings over a wide area.

Each hemisphere of the bomblet is designed to achieve a “kill radius” of 20 metres, yet there were no reported casualties in the attack or after, and none of the submunitions appear to have exploded.

Perhaps the relative obsolescence of the bomb led to its malfunction. The serial numbers visible on the undeployed submunitions indicate that they were manufactured in Russia’s Degtiarev plant in 1984.

Human Rights Watch observed a high failure rate for these submunitions in Russia’s 2006 conflict with Georgia, though there is no known precedent for such a complete failure of this type of bomb in an airstrike.”

In Memory of A Demining Hero

12 Mar

Kaido Keerdo in Dafniyah preparing munitions for destruction last month (Photo: Marcus Rhinelander)

According to the Libya Herald, an Estonian deminer was killed earlier this month by a cluster munition.

The newspaper said: “Kaido Keerdo, 31, was a veteran of the Estonian Army’s Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit and had trained in Kenya and worked in South Sudan before coming to Libya. He was working with the charity Danish Church Aid (DCA) when he died.” He was reportedly killed by a “Type 84″ anti-tank mine, a Chinese cluster munition that that seriously wounded two other de-miners working in the same area last year.

Keerdo and many other brave women and men risk their lives every day to try and eradicate cluster munitions and other repugnant explosive remnants of war. They get up every morning to go out to risky areas so that the rest of us may be safe from harm. Sadly, many die in their efforts, killed by indiscriminate and inhumane weapons of war. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you Keerdo for his selfless work and offer my heartfelt condolences to his family and every other family who has been affected by cluster munitions. Keerdo and his colleagues died doing the most noble work there is:  protecting others. May he rest in peace and may the world one day be free from cluster munitions.

Cluster Bombs: The weapon that keeps on killing

12 Sep

By Dalila Mahdawi

A deminer with MAG searches for buried cluster munitions in Kfar Joz village in South Lebanon. Credit: Dalila Mahdawi/IPS.

KFAR JOZ, South Lebanon, Sep 12, 2011 (IPS) – Even in the summer heat, the hills of South Lebanon are an impressive sight – a patchwork of green, brown and red fields interrupted only by sleepy villages, rock formations and dirt tracks.

Most residents here have traditionally depended on agriculture to provide for their families. But instead of sowing crops or herding their flocks through the grassy terrain, for the last five years locals have viewed the surrounding hills with caution. Lurking in these fields are hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, silently waiting to claim their next victim.

“Every day we find cluster bombs in between the houses and in the fields,” says Ali Shuaib, community liaison manager at the Mines Advisory Group, a British non-governmental organisation clearing landmines and other remnants of war in Lebanon. “There are tens of villages like this all over the South.”

Although Lebanon has been plagued by landmines since its 1975-1990 civil war and subsequent Israeli occupation, it faced unprecedented contamination levels from cluster munitions after Israel launched a 34-day war in July 2006. According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s use of the weapons was the most extensive anywhere in the world since the 1991 Gulf War.

In the last 72 hours of fighting, at a time when the United Nations Security Council had adopted Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate halt to hostilities, Israel dropped more than four million cluster bombs over South Lebanon. Of those, at least forty percent failed to explode upon impact, according to the UN, becoming de facto landmines across Lebanon’s agricultural heartland.

These are the most indiscriminate weapons of modern warfare; 95 percent of all victims of cluster munitions are civilians, according to the NGO Handicap International. Since the cessation of hostilities five years ago, 408 Lebanese civilians have been killed or injured by cluster munitions, 115 of them under 18 years old. Unless properly disposed of, the weapons keep killing and maiming for decades.

Cluster munitions continue to wreak havoc on the Lebanese economy, too. With an estimated 36 percent of contaminated land being used for agricultural purposes, the already deprived South Lebanon has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in income, says Major Pierre Bou Maroun, chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces’ Regional Mine Action Centre in Nabatieh, which oversees all demining operations in the country. In 2007 alone, Lebanon lost an estimated 126.8 million dollars in agricultural revenue because of cluster munitions.

Israel’s use of the weapon in Lebanon helped galvanise an international ban in May 2007, when 107 countries voted for the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions. The convention prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of all forms of cluster munitions. It also requires countries to clear contaminated areas within 10 years, destroy supplies within eight years and provide assistance to victims.

Lebanon was among the first countries to sign the convention in December 2008 and although it only entered into force in May this year, officials have been keen to take an international leadership role on its implementation. This week Beirut hosts the second international meeting of states parties to the Convention. Delegates from over 110 governments, UN and other international organisations will attend the week-long conference along with survivors of cluster munitions to discuss how to further advance the Convention’s obligations.

The meeting “is a golden opportunity for Lebanon,” says Haboubba Aoun, one of Lebanon’s representative members of the Cluster Munition Coalition and International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and a member of Lebanon’s National Committees on Risk Education and Victim Assistance. “We hope the people of the world will take a closer look at the cluster bomb problem in Lebanon and decide to continue supporting clearance activities and victim assistance activities.”

Clearance teams have made formidable progress in Lebanon despite almost continuous funding concerns. “We have 2,259 well-known minefields” in addition to thousands of other contaminated areas, says Bou Maroun. Some 1,578 minefields have been now been cleared and returned to residents, but 22 million square metres of contaminated land remains. This figure does not include heavily contaminated areas along the so-called Blue Line border area between Lebanon and Israel, whose clearance has been left to the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL.

“Our vision is a Lebanon free from cluster bombs, land mines and explosive remnants of war,” Bou Maroun tells IPS. With sufficient funding and support, he says Lebanon could be cleared of cluster munitions by 2016. Following international pressure, Israel provided the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with maps showing the areas it targeted with cluster munitions. But, says Bou Maroun, as these maps do not show the coordinates of those targets, they are merely “papers for the trash”.

Mine clearance is painstakingly slow and dangerous work. Deminers sent to the field must abide by strict regulations and are flanked by ambulance and medics. “It’s a calculated risk,” says Daniel Redelinghuys, MAG’s Technical Operations Manager. Two MAG deminers have lost their lives and 18 have been injured in the five years since hostilities ceased, he adds. The LAF and other clearance organisations have also experienced considerable losses.

Yet the possibility of an accident doesn’t deter Hussein Tabaja, a mine clearance site supervisor with MAG. “You’re working for your country,” he says with a shrug. “When you see the faces of people after you have cleared their land, you see how many people you have helped, who can go back and use their fields again, it makes you happy. Sometimes during the holidays I actually miss coming to work.”

While there is growing international support for a universal ban, there remains staunch opposition from the world’s biggest producers, traders or users of cluster munitions, such as Israel, China and the U.S., who have not signed the Convention. As recently as late August, Handicap International censured Israel for laying fresh landmines along the border of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

And for many, any international ban will come too late. “I wish I could change my leg and get a new one,” says 12-year-old Mohammad Abd al-Aal, who has been left with a prosthetic leg after stepping on a cluster bomblet while herding his family’s goats. (END)

Becoming the world’s first human camera

8 Feb

What a headache: Bilal's camera implant (Image copyright 3rdi)

Dalila Mahdawi

NEW YORK, 7 Feb (IPS) – Wafaa Bilal hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in about two months. After becoming the first person to have a camera surgically implanted into the back of his head, the Iraqi- American artist is learning the hard way just how much of a headache modern technology can be.

“It’s still painful,” he tells IPS, pointing to the three titanium bolts that have been inserted into his cranium to hold the camera in place.

Bilal undertook the dramatic operation as part of a year- long project entitled 3rdi. The camera takes photographs every minute of the view behind Bilal’s head. The images, comprising everything from uninspiring shots of his kitchen cupboards to unnerving angles of objects and passers-by, are then uploaded onto the 3rdi website and streamed to Qatar’s newly inaugurated contemporary art museum, Mathaf.

3rdi is, in many ways, a reflection of Bilal’s own traumatic experiences of loss. Having been raised in a conservative family under Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, the soft- spoken artist was forced to flee during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait after publicly rejecting his conscription into the army. He spent two years living in a makeshift refugee camp in the Saudi Arabian desert before being granted asylum in the United States.

“It was one of the toughest experiences of my life,” recalls Bilal, who is also an assistant professor of photography at New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts. In the camp, “We were subjected to very harsh treatment by Saudi soldiers and many people lost their lives. Art became a way to remind myself I was still alive.”

With little to remind him of the places and faces he had to abandon so abruptly, 3rdi has become Bilal’s way of recording chaotic, poignant and yet often banal moments of departure. “Individually, they might not look significant,” he says of the images, but when taken together, they form “quite a nice mosaic of someone’s life.”

Since unveiling the project, 3rdi has evolved to speak about many other aspects of modern life, such as government surveillance of its citizens (the camera tracks Bilal’s whereabouts via GPS) and the aggressive intrusion of technology.

“There is no such thing as a private life anymore,” says Bilal. “Instead of creating something to serve us, these machines have enslaved us.”

Although the camera’s physical presence leaves the artist susceptible to infection and sleepless nights, he insists the pain is an integral part of the 3rdi project. “Performance is about endurance,” he explains. “It’s a physical reminder of what you are doing.”

It’s not the first time Bilal has used his own body as his canvas. Physical intervention has been a central, and often controversial, feature of much of his work.

In 2010, Bilal held a 24-hour performance in which he had the names of Iraqi cities tattooed on his back. More than 100,000 dots marking Iraqi casualties were also tattooed on with invisible ink, symbolising the anonymous victims of a war that most Americans feel so far removed from. Bilal also has plans to tattoo on some 5,000 dots in homage to the U.S. soldiers also killed in the U.S.-led war.

For an earlier project, called “Shoot an Iraqi/Domestic Tension”, Bilal confined himself in a prison-like cell for 30 days and was subjected to the whims of his audience, who could shoot a remote-controlled paintball gun at him from the internet or gallery. Following newspaper articles about the project, hackers infiltrated the software and programmed the gun to shoot at Bilal once every minute.

“The hope is you build a platform not to engage those already engaged in political dialogue,” but to attract those who typically shy away, he says. It seemed he succeeded in that attempt: by the end of the exhibition, over 65,000 people from more than 130 countries had fired at Bilal.

His work became more overtly political following the killing of his younger brother by a U.S. drone missile in Iraq in 2004. Bilal says he wanted to bring people living in “the comfort zone” into the realm of the “conflict zone”, Iraq.

With that goal in mind, the artist has also subjected himself to water boarding, the simulated-drowning torture technique former U.S. president George W. Bush notoriously admitted to using in Iraq.

“My work is driven from within as a concerned person, as someone who has been directly affected by his surroundings,” Bilal says. “My job has to become a mirror to reflect that social condition.”

It may be another 10 months before Bilal can enjoy a proper night’s rest again, but if having eyes at the back of his head has taught the artist anything, it is to savour the present more.

“Most of the time we don’t exist in the present, and I think in the process we fail to exist in the place we are in,” he says. “I think this is a call to slow down, look at these corners of our lives and live in the moment we are in.”

3rdi is online until December 2011.

http://www.3rdi.me/ and http://wafaabilal.com/

Eyes on the back of his head (Image copyright 3rdi)

Lebanon closer to signing land-mine-ban pact

16 Nov

Country’s actions in sync with global trend to curb use of mines, cluster munitions
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 16, 2009

BEIRUT: Despite not signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Lebanon has made considerable progress on mine clearance operations in recent years and appears to be moving closer to signing the treaty, a report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has said. “Landmine Monitor Report 2009: Towards a Mine-Free World,” released Thursday at the UN, said that although Lebanon was continuing to carry out mine-clearance activities, these efforts were facing significant set-backs because of a lack of funds.

Lebanon’s actions were in sync with a global trend to curb the use and effects of mines and other unexploded remnants of war, the 1,253-page report said.

“The norm against mine use is firmly taking hold,” said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch, Landmine Monitor’s Ban Policy editor. “Antipersonnel mines have been stigmatized as an unacceptable weapon globally, including by countries still outside the Mine Ban Treaty.”

Lebanon is contaminated by land and sea mines laid by Israel during its withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 and during a 34-day war in July 2006, and to a lesser extent, by mines planted by Syria during the 1975-90 Civil War. Around 5 percent of the country’s agricultural land is affected by cluster munition contamination.

Some 80 percent of the world community has signed the Mine Ban Treaty, and though 39 countries, including Israel and the US, have yet to join, most are more or less in compliance with the treaty’s core provisions.

“Positive movement toward [Lebanon] joining the treaty in 2005 and 2006 was set back” by a war with Israel in 2006, ICBL said. Like Israel, Beirut has cited regional tensions as the reason why it can’t sign the document, although it appears to be slowly moving towards formal acceptance. “Lebanon’s signature of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions has given rise to hopes it will also join the Mine Ban Treaty,” said the report, adding Beirut “appears generally committed to mine action.”

Although there are thought to be at least 2,720 mine and explosive remnants of war survivors in Lebanon, victim assistance programs fall short of expectations, ICBL said, citing a similar global trend.

“Victim assistance has made the least progress of the major mine action sectors over the last decade, with both funding and the provision of assistance falling short of what is needed,” said Stan Brabant of non-governmental organization Handicap International, a Landmine Monitor editorial board member. “Progress in the most affected states has been variable, with some countries actively engaged, and others hardly at all. Hundreds of thousands of people need more and better assistance, and they need it now.”

In Lebanon, the report found the cost of services and transport, insufficient psychological and financial support, and lack of awareness of services available were barriers to the rehabilitation of survivors. Risk education programs also needed improvement.

The ICBL report also noted that although Lebanon was the fourth top recipient of mine action funding in 2008, receiving some $28.2 million, donor fa­tigue has since led to serious cut-backs in clearance operations.

There were 64 mine-clearing teams operating in Lebanon in the months following the war in 2006, with Hizbullah volunteers also working to clear an unknown number of cluster submunitions. Today only 18 teams remain. But with seven deminers and peacekeepers killed and 12 injured since 2002, 352 people injured or killed by cluster bombs since the cessation of hostilities in 2006, and the fact that “areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants [in the agriculture-dependent South Leba­non] … are very difficult to mark,” clearance efforts are es­pecially urgent, the report noted.

ICBL used its annual report to encourage states that have not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty to sign up, and urge signatories to make greater efforts to protect their citizens from the effects of war. “The Mine Ban Treaty has led to lives and limbs saved over the past decade,” said Jacqueline Hansen, Landmine Monitor’s Program Manager. “In the next decade more countries must meet their clearance obligations and efforts to educate affected communities about mine hazards should be sustained to ensure no more people are killed or injured by these indiscriminate weapons.”

Enforced Idleness in Nahr al-Bared

24 Jun
With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

With the old camp destroyed, the people of Nahr al-Bared have nothing

BEIRUT: Fiddling with mobile phones, chain smoking and sitting around: enforced idleness is the burden of almost every single resident in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.

Their abysmal situation is the focus of a new film, “A Sip of Coffee,” produced by a-films, an international anarchist film collective presently focusing its efforts on the camp. Those in the collective run film-making workshops within the camp in the hope of promoting film-making as a tool for political activism, a-films activist Ray Smith told The Daily Star. He produced with film along with novice film-maker Mohammad Eshtawi.

Situated 16 kilometers North of Tripoli, Nahr al-Bared used to be a source of pride for its residents – with a thriving economy and bustling market attracting both Lebanese and Palestinian customers, it was the most prosperous of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. Its luck turned for the worst in 2007 when a militant Islamist group, Fatah al-Islam, sought refuge in the camp. A three-month battle between the group and the Lebanese Armed Forces, ending on September 2, resulted in the total annihilation of the camp. Nahr al-Bared’s Palestinian residents found themselves displaced for a second time in history, losing everything they had saved and built up over the last 60 years. Two years on from that devastating war, the camp has been partially cleared of rubble, but the people of Nahr al-Bared remain in limbo: living in temporary housing units as they wait for the reconstruction to begin. Nahr al-Bared’s once robust economy was destroyed along with the camp.

“A Sip of Coffee” revolves around the testimonies of Mohammad, an unemployed camp resident in his twenties, and his father Ziyad. Through their voices, the 26-minute film illustrates the issues that matter most to Nahr al-Bared’s residents: unemployment, reconstruction, displacement and endless, stifling monotony.

Mohammad spends most of his days doing nothing. “Although the week has seven days, we feel as though it only has one day, and it’s always the same one,” he says in the film. “There’s nowhere to go, there are no clubs and no libraries to borrow books to try and educate oneself.”

Mohammad has tried to get a job but there simply aren’t any. What work he can find is often casual day labor. Mohammad’s father Ziyad has also struggled to find work after losing his two shops in the camp’s siege. “After the destruction of Nahr al-Bared and its declaration as a military zone, the economy was reduced to point zero … the camp’s economy depended on the [Lebanese] residents of the Akkar region,” he tells the camera in a resigned voice. He now scrapes money together by fishing and running a makeshift cafe.

Resentment is growing steadily among the camp’s residents as the many promises made to rebuild the destroyed camp falter. The stifling living conditions in the temporary housing units, oppressively hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, only aggravate their anger. “I’m sorry to say it, but we live in cow sheds,” Mohammad says. NGOs call the cramped iron and concrete structures temporary but they feel permanent to many of those struggling inside. “When my family and I gather in the evening, I hardly know where to sit – it’s very crowded,” Mohammad says.

Ziyad shares his frustration. “The population density always causes problem between the families who aren’t used to each other,” he says. Ziyad, like many others, fear they will be displaced forever, and participate in protests urging the authorities to begin immediate reconstruction of the camp.

“People rightfully feel that they’ve lost control over their lives, because their lives are being ‘managed’ by NGOs and UNRWA (the UN agency dedicated to providing assistance to Palestinian refugees), and because their movement is limited by the Army’s checkpoint and permit system,” said Smith. 

Although a ceremony was held this March to mark the beginning of reconstruction, nothing has happened since then.

Ziyad appears to have given up hope that Nahr al-Bared will ever be rebuilt, saying he’ll only believe in the promises of officials when he sees construction material entering the camp. “I can’t believe in all these empty promises and lies by [Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora and [PLO Representative in Lebanon] Abbas Zaki.”

UN Chief ‘Urges Israel to Pay Lebanon $1 billion’

10 Sep

UN chief ‘urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion’
Request aims to compensate environmental damage
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, September 08, 2008

UN chief 'urges Israel to pay Lebanon $1 billion'

 

BEIRUT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has renewed calls for Israel to pay Lebanon around $1 billion in compensation for damage inflicted during the summer 2006 war with the Jewish state, news reports said on Saturday. The figure, which is based on calculations made by the World Bank, is intended to reimburse Lebanon for environmental and material damage it suffered during the war but most notably Israel’s bombing of the Jiyyeh power station, said the daily Al-Akhbar newspaper.

The attack, considered to be Lebanon’s worst ever environmental disaster, released between 12,500 and 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, polluting two-thirds of Lebanon’s coastline and endangering already vulnerable marine life. It also affected northern neighboring countries, including Syria.

Ban will present a report on the oil spill to the UN General Assembly before October this year, said Al-Akhbar. The report is said to include findings by the Lebanese National Center for Scientific Research and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea, both of which have gathered evidence in Lebanon showing the increase of such medical conditions as skin diseases and pneumonia following the war.

In addition to environmental destruction, Lebanon suffered substantial damage to its infrastructure during the 34-day war, in which 1,200 Lebanese – mostly civilians – were killed and 4,409 wounded. Throughout and following the conflict, Israel maintained a tight sea and air blockade on the country, hampering humanitarian assistance and evacuation efforts.

A report published by the UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon in November 2006 found that Israel had used “excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force” during the conflict, which followed Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers.

The Lebanese government said 32 “vital points” came under attack, with 109 bridges, 137 roads and 137 factories targeted by Israeli air strikes. Thirty UN positions came under “direct attack,” added the report, resulting in the death of internationally “protected personnel.” A number of medical facilities and private homes also came under fire.

The UN report said it was “convinced” that the bombing of Jiyyeh was a “premeditated” attack and that it “considers that it will take years for Lebanon, with the help of the international community, to be able to rebuild all the damaged buildings and other facilities.” Israel’s actions, which the UN dubbed “collective punishment,” led to the internal displacement of 735,000 people and the evacuation of 230,000 others.

The report also stated that the “failure” of Israel “to take the necessary precautionary measures violated Israel’s obligations to protect the natural environment and the right to health. In particular it caused significant damage to the Byblos archaeological site, included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.”

Lebanon also continues to suffer from the presence of unexploded cluster munitions. Israeli artillery and warplanes dropped an estimated 4 million cluster bombs over South Lebanon, most during the last 48 hours of the conflict – after a cease-fire was assured – the UN estimated. Earlier this month, the body responsible for de-mining efforts in Lebanon, the UN Mine Action Co-ordination Center, said it would be forced to halt its work due to a lack of funds.

Israel has ignored all UN requests made since August 2007 to compensate Lebanon.