Recommendations for action
- The Syrian Arab Republic should initiate survey and clearance of mines and cluster munition remnants as soon as possible and take other measures to protect civilians from explosive remnants of war (ERW).
Mine contamination in Syria is a legacy of Arab-Israeli wars since 1948 and a consequence of the ongoing armed conflicts. No credible estimate of the extent of contamination across Syria exists, although one Handicap International demining expert suggested it would require an “unprecedented clearance operation” and would “probably take more than 30 years to eliminate the risk entirely.”
There has been continued use of mines by pro- and anti-government forces across the country. Turkish authorities have reportedly claimed that between 613,000 and 715,000 mines had been planted along the Turkish-Syrian border, making clear they were not emplaced by Turkish forces. At the end of January 2016, United States (US) Secretary of State John Kerry criticized the Syrian government for laying mines around Madaya and other besieged towns in Syria. Soviet/Russian-made PMN-4 antipersonnel mines have been cleared from Madaya. Syrian government use of these mines was first reported in 2012.
In Kobani and the surrounding villages, which were captured from so-called Islamic State (IS) forces in 2015, humanitarian demining operators found a significant quantity of improvised antipersonnel mines. To the east, IS are said to have surrounded government-controlled areas in the city of Deir ez-Zor with thousands of landmines. According to one witness from Deir ez-Zor’s besieged al-Jura neighborhood who was cited in the media in March 2016, “After a year of living under siege, some inhabitants tried to flee driven by famine and disease. They were either killed by ISIS sharpshooters or exploding mines. Some torn corpses are still lying in the minefields.” Mine casualties are reported to have occurred in areas of Hassakeh province in the far northeast contested by IS and Kurdish forces.
Remotely delivered T-84 antivehicle mines were reportedly used in the Golan Heights in the southwest of Syria (already heavily contaminated with antipersonnel mines). (For further details see the Mine Ban country profile and the Casualty and Victim Assistance country profile.)
Cluster Munition Contamination
Cluster munition contamination in Syria is the consequence of ongoing armed conflicts since 2012. Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions extensively in the four-year-old conflict while IS has reportedly used them in a number of instances, but the extent of contamination is not known.
In 2014, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that it had identified 224 separate locations in 10 of Syria’s 14 governorates that had been attacked with cluster munitions by the Syrian government, many of them more than once. Use continued in 2015 and 2016. Between 30 September (when Syria and Russia began a joint military offensive) and 14 December 2015, cluster munitions were reportedly used on at least 20 occasions. At least 35 civilians, including five women and 17 children, were killed, and dozens more were injured by cluster munitions, according to a report by HRW. In January and February 2016, the Syrian-Russian joint military operation included use of cluster bombs in at least 14 attacks that killed or injured dozens of civilians. (For further details see the Cluster Munition Ban country profile and the Casualty and Victim Assistance country profile.)
According to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), contamination from the armed conflicts include landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), artisanal mines—some of which are connected to booby traps, and other ERW. In Kobani, an April 2015 assessment by Handicap International found that the level of weapons contamination in the city center was extremely high: an average of 10 pieces of munitions per square meter.
There is no national mine action program in Syria, no national mine action authority, and no mine action center.
On the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 2165 (2014), UNMAS was asked to provide assistance for mine action in Syria. UNMAS deployed a team to southern Turkey in August 2015. In addition to coordinating mine action operations, UNMAS has supported direct implementation of survey and clearance activities. Although a “comprehensive clearance program is not currently possible, UNMAS believes it is possible to train local capacity to survey and clear cluster munitions and other ERW.” UNMAS was planning to initiate training and mentoring for national organizations in 2016 to address specific explosive hazards.
International NGO demining operators in Syria in 2015 included Handicap International and Mines Advisory Group.
Syria does not have a comprehensive civilian program for survey or clearance of mines. UNMAS reported in early 2016 that conflict in many governorates has prevented access by mine action organizations. The extent and impact of contamination has resulted in Syrians without formal training conducting “ad hoc clearance without the technical ability to do so. The capacity of some local teams conducting clearance has been reduced by half as a result of casualties occurring during operations.”
Russian deminers arrived in Syria in March 2016. In April, the Russian military reported completing demining of the ancient part of the city of Palmyra, recaptured by Syrian and Russian forces in late March from IS militants.
The Monitor gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Mine Action Review supported and published by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), which conducted mine action research in 2016 and shared it with the Monitor. The Monitor is responsible for the findings presented online and in its print publications.
 E. Sauvage, “30+ Years Needed to Clear Syria of Explosive Remnants of War,” Handicap International USA, 2016.
 “Thousands of landmines planted along Turkish-Syrian border,” Middle East Monitor, 21 November 2013.
 US Campaign to Ban Landmines, “Presidential support for Colombia’s mine clearance,” 6 February 2016.
 Human Rights Watch, “Syria: Army Planting Banned Landmines,” 13 March 2012.
 Handicap International, “Kobani: A city of rubble and unexploded devices,” Factsheet, May 2015, pp. 3–5.
 A. Ramadan, “Land mines, the silent killers in Syria war,” Arab Weekly, 18 March 2016.
 “Landmines kill 8 in Hama and al-Hassakah,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 2 May 2015.
 M. Hiznay, “Remotely delivered antivehicle mines spotted in Syria,” Human Rights Watch, 25 April 2014.
 Human Rights Watch, “Technical Briefing Note: Use of cluster munitions in Syria,” 4 April 2014. The governorates were Aleppo, Damascus City and Rural Damascus, Daraa, Deir al-Zour, Hama, Homs, Idlib, Latakia, and Raqqa.
 Human Rights Watch, “Russia/Syria: Extensive Recent Use of Cluster Munitions. Indiscriminate Attacks despite Syria’s Written Guarantees,” 20 December 2015.
 CMC, “The injured were mostly women and children,” 8 February 2016.
 UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016.
 Handicap International, “Kobani: A city of rubble and unexploded devices,” Factsheet, May 2015.
 UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016.
 UNMAS, “Programmes: Syria,” last updated March 2016; see also, J. Schipper, “Syrian volunteers risk lives to clear landmines,” Al Jazeera, 8 April 2016.
 “Russia completes demining of archaeological site in Palmyra, Syria,” Euronews, 22 April 2016.