Handicap International and other members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) are gravely concerned by reports of antipersonnel landmine use by members of the Turkish Army. Turkey is bound by the Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use of antipersonnel mines in any circumstances. “The ICBL condemns any use of antipersonnel mines by any actor, and we are especially concerned when it comes to reports of use by a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty,” said Sylvie Brigot, Executive Director of the ICBL. On 15 April 2010, the Turkish newspaper Taraf published documents reportedly belonging to the 23rd Gendarmerie Command that appear to indicate that members of the Turkish armed forces planted M2A4 antipersonnel mines in Turkey’s southeastern province of Sirnak on 9 April 2009.
In May 2009, six Turkish soldiers were killed by a mine explosion in the same area. “The explosion took the lives of six members of the very army that may have laid the mines. It is another appalling example of the cruelty and absurdity of these weapons. Using antipersonnel mines serves no one’s interest,” said Muteber Ögreten, coordinator of the Initiative for a Mine-Free Turkey (Mayinsiz Bir Türkiye Girisimi), the Turkish arm of the ICBL. Families of two of the soldiers killed requested legal action by the office of the Chief Prosecutor in Van province, and the trial is now underway. If the trial confirms antipersonnel mine use, this would represent a serious violation of the Mine Ban Treaty.
As a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty, Turkey has an obligation to fully investigate the incident to determine who was responsible for the mine use, and to report fully on steps that are being taken, including the status of the legal procedures, the type of mine used, the number of casualties, and where the mines came from. Turkey must also investigate if antipersonnel mine use has occurred elsewhere. The ICBL urges States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty to request an immediate clarification of the incident from the Turkish government and measures taken to investigate it.
In June 2009, the Turkish newspaper Zaman published an apparent transcript of a conversation between two members of the Turkish Armed Forces that seemed to indicate the mine-laying was the personal initiative of an individual commander. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, Turkey must take every measure to prevent the use of landmines by any actor on its territory, including ensuring the military are properly trained and informed about the prohibition on use. Penal sanctions are also required for any actor that violates this ban.
If the allegations of antipersonnel mine use by members of the Turkish Armed Forces prove true, another critical question would be the origin of the landmines used. Were they lifted from the ground and replanted elsewhere, or taken from mines retained for training deminers? States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty must destroy their stockpiles of antipersonnel mines, but may retain a minimal number for research and training in mine clearance. Turkey has retained a total of 15,125 antipersonnel mines for research and training; this is the highest total of mines retained by any State Party.
Turkey has already been responsible for a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty, by failing to meet its 2008 deadline for destroying their landmine stockpiles. According to informal reports by Turkish officials, Turkey still had 450,000 antipersonnel mines in stock at the end of February 2010 (in addition to the 15,125 mines retained for training). Destruction is ongoing and is expected to be finished in 2010. Turkey must also comply with the Treaty-mandated deadline to complete clearance of its mined areas by 1 March 2014. So far it has offered little information about progress on clearance of these areas.