Continuing to strike long after the end of conflicts during which they were used, the mines have a human, social and economic cost totally disproportionate from their military use. Unable to distinguish between a fighter and a non-fighter, these weapons kill or maim hundreds of people every month, mainly civilians among whom women and children represent a high proportion. The medical expenses for the victims weigh so heavily that they overstretch the public health structures of the African countries concerned. Furthermore, the mine victims are a heavy burden for their families and communities. The loss of one limb, indeed, makes them unfit for work. At the economic level, the mines have devastating consequences. They cause the collapse of social structures and considerably hamper agricultural and pastoral activities. They prevent the rehabilitation of road, railway and electric networks; they perturb the domestic market and induce inflationist moves. In a more general manner, these weapons complicate the process of emerging from conflict situations and peace-building: on the one hand, because they lengthen the list of budget priorities with the obligation of undertaking costly mine clearance operations; on the other, hand because they impede the restoration of state authority.
Considering all these elements, the OAU, in consort with the ICRC, organized, during the first half of 1995, three Regional Seminars in Addis Ababa, Harare and Yaounde. It was to sensitize the Member States about the magnitude of the proliferation of mines and the stakes of the Review Conference of the 1980 UN Convention and its Protocol II on Mines, Booby Traps and other devices, then scheduled in Vienna in September 1995.
On its part, the Council of Ministers had, at its 62nd and 63rd Ordinary Sessions, held in Addis Ababa respectively in June 1995 and February 1996, adopted Resolutions CM/Res. 1593 (LXII) and CM/Res. 1628 (LXIII) on the revision of the 1980 UN Convention and on problems posed by the proliferation of anti-personnel mines in Africa. In its Resolutions, Council expressed deep concern about the fact that Africa is, throughout the world, the Continent with the largest presence of anti-personnel mines and is, as a result, paying the heaviest toll.
It affirmed its awareness that only appropriate measures adopted by the entire international community would eventually put an end to the scourge of mines. It condemned the cases of flagrant violation of the International Humanitarian Law, through the indiscriminate use of anti-personnel mines and pronounced itself in favour of a total ban of mines and the development of Inter-African Cooperation in the field of mine clearance and assistance to victims as well as an increased assistance from the International Community. In its Resolution CM/Res. 1662 (LXIV), adopted in Yaounde in July 1996, Council reaffirmed the African Common Position as stated in Resolution CM/Res. 1628 (LXIII) and the need to adopt national and regional measures to ban anti-personnel mines.
Sign of the deep concern roused by the scourge of mines, other organs of the OAU adopted resolutions on the matter. Thus the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, at its 17th Session held in Lome, from 13 to 22 March 1995, recommended "that concrete and effective measures be taken urgently to ban the manufacture of anti-personnel mines and that, in the meantime, the existing stockpiles be destroyed and an international monitoring mechanism be established". On its part, the 5th Ordinary Session of the Conference of African Ministers of Health, held in April 1995 in Cairo, pronounced itself for the ban of anti-personnel mines.
As it is known, the extreme weakness of the provisions contained in the revised Protocol II (3 May, 1996) and the need to put a definitive end to the ravages caused by the mines led a number of States, in favour of the total ban of mines, to consider the short and medium term measures to be taken to attain that objective. They grouped around the "Fast Track" of the Ottawa Process.
The OAU participated in the Ottawa Conference of October 1996 and contributed actively to the implementation of the Declaration which was then adopted. Thus, it organized from 19 to 21 May 1997, in Kempton Park, South Africa, the First Continental Conference of African Experts of Anti-Personnel Mines. That Conference, which was attended by more than forty Member States and many non-African countries, International Organizations and NGOs, adopted a Plan of Action based on the following :
At the political level, the Conference particularly requested the African countries to adopt, as objective, the elimination of all anti-personnel mines and the transformation of Africa into a zone free of these weapons and to lay down national legislation totally banning anti-personnel mines;
As regards mine clearance and assistance to victims, the Conference stressed the urgent need to build the national capacities of African countries and Inter-African Cooperation in these fields;
Finally, with regard to international cooperation, the Conference appealed for assistance from the International Community and stressed the moral responsibility of the powers that laid anti-personnel mines in the African countries during the Second World War and / or during conflicts which preceded their accession to independence.
The 66th Ordinary Session of the OAU Council of Ministers, held in Harare, at the end of May and beginning of June, 1997, approved that Plan of Action, urged the Member States to participate fully and actively in the Ottawa Process, particularly in the meetings then scheduled in Brussels in June 1997, Oslo in September 1997 and Ottawa in December 1997, and called upon those that had not yet done so to accede, as early as possible, to the 1980 UN Convention and its Protocol II. Within the framework of the implementation of that decision, about 30 African countries participated in the Oslo Diplomatic Conference which led to the adoption of the Convention on the total ban of mines. The OAU Member States also participated in large numbers in the signing ceremony of that Convention, which was held in Ottawa in December, 1997.
To maintain the dynamism generated by the Ottawa Conference, the OAU Secretary General, on 27 April, 1998, addressed a letter to the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Member States, requesting them to take all the necessary measures for the signing and ratification, as soon as possible, of the Convention on the Ban of Mines. He also stressed the need for the African countries victims of the scourge of mines to design projects to take advantage of the disposition shown by the donors.
Following that letter, many Member Countries reported on the measures taken, at their level, for the ratification of the Convention and expressed their readiness to contribute to the development of Inter-African cooperation in the field of mine clearance and assistance to the victims. In that connection, the South African Minister for Foreign Affairs informed the Secretary General about the signing of an agreement between his country and Mozambique for the demining of the province of Maputo and other areas and the training given to the members of the Angolan Demining Institute.
As of 8 February, 1998, 41 African countries had signed the Ottawa Convention while 14 of them had ratified it. Three member countries - South Africa, Mali and Zimbabwe - announced the total destruction of their stocks of anti-personnel mine. Furthermore, it should be stressed that, within the framework of the continued sensitization of the Member States, the OAU General Secretariat, in cooperation with the Institute for Strategic Studies, based in Johannesburg, launched a newsletter on small arms, part of which is devoted to the mine problem. Other initiatives meant to speed up the implementation of the Kempton Park Plan of Action and the Ottawa Convention are being considered and would be announced as soon as they were finalized.
Today, there is a double priority. On the one hand, there is need to ensure that those African States which are not yet parties to the Convention become so, as soon as possible. On the other hand, the conditions for the effective implementation of the Convention must be established. In this connection, the mobilization of the donor community is crucial to assist the African countries financially and technically.