Western Sahara

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 08 July 2019

Summary: Western Sahara cannot accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions due to its political status but supports the ban on cluster munitions. In 2014, Western Sahara provided a voluntary transparency report for the convention, stating that it has never produced cluster munitions and does not possess any stocks.

Policy

Western Sahara’s lack of official representation at the United Nations (UN) prevents it from joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Western Sahara’s sovereignty is the subject of a long-standing dispute between the government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario).

Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) provided the UN with a voluntary Article 7 transparency measures report for the convention in 2014. The report’s cover letter declares that “SADR would like to reaffirm its commitment to a total ban on cluster munitions as well as its willingness to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and be bound by its provisions.” [1] In the past, Polisario Front representatives expressed support on several occasions for the prohibition on cluster munitions. [2]

Use, production, transfer, and stockpiling

In the voluntary Article 7 report, the SADR declared that it has never produced cluster munitions and possesses no stocks. [3] Previously, in 2012, Polisario told the Monitor that it did not possess cluster munitions and has never used them. [4]

The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces used artillery-fired and air-dropped cluster munitions against Polisario in Western Sahara during their conflict from 1975 to 1991. SADR has reported that Royal Moroccan Armed Forces used air-dropped BLU-63 and MK-118 Rockeye, and surface-fired M-42 cluster munitions at multiple locations in Dougaj, Mijek, Bir Lahlu, North Wadis, and Mehariz. [5]



 [1] The report covers the period from 2005 to June 2014. The SADR provided the voluntary Article 7 report to the UN on 20 June 2014 with a cover letter signed by the Polisario’s representative to Switzerland and the UN in Geneva, dated 18 June 2014. A copy of the report was provided to the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, but the UN never placed the report on its website.

 [2] Interview with Dr. Limam El Jalil, Representative of Polisario Front to the UN in Geneva, Geneva, 27 June 2012.

 [3] SADR voluntary Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Forms B, C, D, and E, 20 June 2014.

 [4] Interview with Dr. Limam El Jalil, Representative of Polisario Front to the UN in Geneva, Geneva, 27 June 2012.

 [5] SADR voluntary Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Form F, 20 June 2014.


Mine Ban Policy

Last updated: 09 October 2018

Policy

The sovereignty of Western Sahara remains the subject of a dispute between the government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario). Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a member of the African Union, but is not universally recognized. It has no official representation in the United Nations (UN), which prevents formal accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. Polisario officials have, since 1999, stated that they would adhere to the Mine Ban Treaty if permitted to do so.

In June 2014, the SADR submitted a voluntary Article 7 report to the Mine Ban Treaty Secretariat at the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs in Geneva.[1] A July 2013 Presidential decree obligates the SADR and Polisario to abide by the Mine Ban Treaty.[2] Belgium and the ICBL welcomed the voluntary Article 7 report from Western Sahara at the Third Review Conference.[3] Previously, in November 2005, the Polisario committed to unilaterally ban antipersonnel mines through the NGO Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment. The Deed pledges the Polisario to a ban on use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, and to cooperation on mine action.

Use, production, transfer, and stockpiling

Both the Polisario and the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces used mines extensively until the 1991 UN-monitored ceasefire. There have been no substantiated allegations of mine use since that time.[4]

The Polisario is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Polisario officials claim they acquired antipersonnel mines in the past by lifting them from Moroccan minefields, especially those around the berms (defensive earthen walls).[5] Based on mines declared and previously destroyed, Polisario stocks have included antipersonnel mines of Belgian, Chinese, French, German, Israeli, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Soviet, United Kingdom, and Yugoslav manufacture.[6] As of June 2014, the SADR stated that it had a stockpile of 10,485 antipersonnel mines. The SADR reported that all mines in its remaining stockpile were captured from the Moroccan Army during the war.[7]

On 22 May 2018 the Polisario Front destroyed 2,500 antipersonnel mines.[8] Previously, on 4 November 2017, the Polisario Front destroyed 2,500 antipersonnel mines.[9] It also announced that it would destroy a 4,985 antipersonnel mines in 2018, which would finish the destruction of its declared stockpile.[10]

From 2006 to 2015, the Polisario undertook five public destructions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines, pursuant to the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.[11] On 30 March 2015, the Polisario destroyed 3000 antipersonnel mines.[12]



[1] Sent to the Mine Ban Treaty Secretariat by Maima Said, Representative of Polisario to Switzerland and UN Office in Geneva, 20 June 2014. Copy provided to Landmine Monitor on the same day.

[2] Voluntary Article 7 Report, SADR, 20 June 2014. Form A.

[3] ICBL provided a copy of the Voluntary Article 7 Report to Belgium, in its capacity as Coordinator of the Universalization Contact Group, at the recommendation of the Implementaion Support Unit (ISU). Belgium and the ICBL welcomed the voluntary submission in comments during their statements at the meeting. Monitor interview with Maj. Lode Dewaegheneir, Belgium Delegation, in Maputo, 25 June 2014. See also, ICBL, “Statement on Transparency,” First Review Conference, Maputo, 26 June 2014; and “SADR initiative welcomed by Maputo Conference on Mine Ban,” Sahara Press Service, 2 July 2014.

[4] Morocco and the Polisario have periodically traded accusations of new mine use, but both have denied it. See, Landmine Monitor Report 2009, p. 1,216.

[5] They may have acquired mines from other sources as well. Some of the stockpiled mines the Polisario has destroyed are not known to have been in Morocco’s arsenal, such as those of Belgian, Portuguese, and Yugoslav origin.

[6] “Observations made during field mission by Landmine Action UK,” provided by email from Landmine Action, 3 May 2006. See also, Landmine Monitor Report 2007, p. 1,095; and Landmine Monitor Report 2006, p. 1,196.

[7] Voluntary Article 7 Report, SADR, Form B, 20 June 2014. Its stockpile is reported to be comprised of 7,285 SB-33 (Italy); 1,327 VS-50 (Italy); 1,220 M-35 (Belgium); 417 M-966 (Portugal); 91 M-59 (French); 71 PRB-409 (Belgium); and 70 MAI-75 (Romania) anitpersonnel mines.

[9] On 4 November at Tifariti in Western Sahara. The Polisario destroyed 2,300 VS-50 (Italy), 100 SB-33 (Italy), and 100 M-966 (Portugal) antipersonnel mines. Also destroyed were eight BPRB-M3 antivehicle mines used as an explosive booster for the demolition. International Campaign against the Wall of Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara, “The Frente POLISARIO destroys 2500 mines,” 11 November 2017.

[10] International Campaign against the Wall of Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara, “The Frente POLISARIO destroys 2500 mines,” 11 November 2017.

[11] From 2006–2011, the Polisario destroyed a combined total of 10,141: 3,316 in February 2006; 3,321 in February 2007; 2,000 in May 2008; and 1,504 in February 2011. See, Ilaria Ercolano, “UN-backed talks on future of Western Sahara to resume next week,” UN News Centre, 3 March 2011; Landmine Monitor Report 2008, p. 1,118; Landmine Monitor Report 2007, p. 1,095; and Landmine Monitor Report 2006, p. 1,196. The UN News Centerreport from March 2011 mistakenly noted that 1,506 antipersonnel mines had been destroyed. In an email to the Monitor, Geneva Call stated that 1,506 total mines were destroyed, including 2 TMA 4 antipersonnel mines used as donor charges, bringing the total number of antipersonnel mines destroyed in February 2011 to 1,504. Email from Katherine Kramer, Programme Director and Acting Coordinator for Landmines and Other Explosive Devices, Geneva Call, 22 August 2011. The mines included are: 111 M-35 (Belgium); six Type 58 (China); 6,728 VS-50 (Italy); 276 SB-33 (Italy); 76 M966 (Portugal); 20 M969 (Portugal); 49 MAI75 (Romania); 42 MI AP DV 59 (France); 303 MK1 [or Number 7] (UK); 109 PMD-6 (USSR); 1,490 PMD-6M (USSR); 12 PMN (USSR); 60 POMZ-2M (USSR); 29 PRB M404 (Belgium); 535 PROM-1 (Yugoslavia); 267 VS-33 (unknown type, presumably Italian); 22 “NEGRO” (unknown type, attributed to Israel); and six E-58 (unknown type, attributed to Germany). The Monitor had previously reported that the 2006 and 2007 destruction events also included 284 antivehicle mines. Geneva Call, which requested clarification from the Polisario, was told that the destroyed mines were MK1 antipersonnel mines, not K1 antivehicle mines. Polisario also said that mines recorded as FMP1 were actually Portuguese-made M969 mines.

[12] On 30 March 2015, Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO) reported that they destroyed 1650 SB-33 (Italy); 1300 VS-50 (Italy); 50 M966 (Portugal), also destroying eight antivehicle mines as demolition charges in the process. Email from Samu Ami, Coordinator, SMACO, 21 January 2016.


Mine Action

Last updated: 15 November 2018

 

Treaty status

Mine Ban Treaty

Cannot accede due to its political status

Convention on Cluster Munitions

Cannot accede due to its political status

Mine action management

National mine action management actors

Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO)

United Nations agencies

Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) manages a Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC); UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS)

Mine action strategic plan

No national mine action strategic plan

UNMAS mine action strategy finalized in 2017

Mine action standards

Local mine action standards finalized in 2016

Operators in 2017

International:

Dynasafe MineTech Limited (DML)

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)

Extent of contamination as of end 2017

Landmines

91.27km2 CHA (of which 80.12 is antipersonnel mine contaminated) and 127.84km2 SHA (of which 89.36km2 is antipersonnel mine contaminated)

Extent of contamination: massive

Cluster munition remnants

2.6km2 CHA

Extent of contamination: light

Other ERW contamination

ERW contamination extent unknown

Land release in 2017

Landmines

East of the berm:
0.28km2 antipersonnel mine contaminated-area cleared but no antipersonnel mines were found
0.47km2 antivehicle mine contaminated-land cleared
32 antivehicle mines destroyed

 

Antipersonnel mine survey: 6.98km2 cancelled, 1.31km2 reduced and 89km2 confirmed
Antivehicle mine survey: 31.9km2 cancelled

 

West of the berm:
145km2 reported cleared (but improbable) between April 2017 and March 2018 with 56 antipersonnel mines and 57 antivehicle mines destroyed

Cluster munition remnants

1.45km2 confirmed
6.1km2 cleared. 688 submunitions destroyed

Other ERW

East of the berm:
190 ERW destroyed during landmine and cluster munition clearance and spot tasks
West of the berm:
Over 1,000 ERW destroyed

Progress

Mines/ERW

Western Sahara is on track to complete clearance of all mined areas east of the Berm, outside the buffer strip, by its target date of 2025

Cluster munition remnants

UNMAS strategy aims to release all recorded cluster munition strike areas east of the Berm by the end of 2019

Notes: CHA = confirmed hazardous area; SHA = suspected hazardous area; ERW = explosive remnants of war.

Mine Contamination

The exact extent of mine contamination across Western Sahara is not known, although the areas along the Berm[1] are thought to contain some of the densest mine contamination in the world.[2] The contamination is a result of fighting in previous decades between the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) forces.

According to UNMAS, the primary mine threat in Western Sahara east of the Berm, excluding both the Berm itself and the buffer strip, is from antivehicle rather than antipersonnel mines; cluster munition remnants are also a major hazard.[3] It stated that, at the start of 2017, only a limited number of areas suspected to contain antipersonnel mines remained to the east of the Berm, and the majority of mine contamination identified during ongoing and historical clearance efforts was from antivehicle mines.[4] However, UNMAS reported that during the year, as a result of non-technical survey conducted in the Agwanit Area of Responsibility, a number of large minefields previously thought to contain only antivehicle mines were found to also contain antipersonnel mines.[5]

At the end of 2017, land in Western Sahara to the east of the Berm contained a total of 27 areas confirmed and suspected to contain antipersonnel and antivehicle mine contamination covering a total of more than 218km2, as set out in the table below.[6] This is close to 34km2 less than what UNMAS reported as mine contamination remaining at the end of 2016, when it reported that a total of 37 areas with a size of 252km2 remained to be addressed.[7]

In September 2018, UNMAS reported that following non-technical survey efforts, 10 of the 27 mined areas, were reported to remain covering an estimated total of almost 120km2, and are located within the 5km-wide buffer strip and are inaccessible for clearance.[8] Clearance of the buffer strip of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) is not foreseen in MINURSO mission agreements, which according to the UN, considerably limits the ability of MINURSO military observers to patrol and verify developments.[9]

 Mine contamination east of the Berm (at end 2017)[10]

Type of contamination

CHAs

Area (km2)

SHAs

Area (km2)

AP mines

1

0.10

0

0

AV mines

8

11.15

8

37.48

AP/AV mines

5

80.02

5

89.36

Total

14

91.27

13

126.84

Note: AP = antipersonnel; AV = antivehicle.

Both the north and south of Western Sahara are known or suspected to contain antipersonnel mines, with 11 areas confirmed or suspected areas with a total size of almost 169.5km2 remaining to be addressed at the end of 2017, as set out in the table below.[11] This is compared to the end of the previous year, when a total of 11 areas confirmed or suspected to contain antipersonnel mines were reported to remain with a total size of more than 154.5km2.[12] 

Areas containing antipersonnel mines by province east of the Berm (as of end 2017)[13]

Province

CHAs

Area (km2)

SHAs

Area (km2)

North Region

3

0.31

2

0.81

South Region

3

79.81

3

88.55

Total

6

80.12

5

89.36

 

The figure of 169.5km2 of remaining suspected and confirmed antipersonnel mine contamination is not consistent with the figure reported at the end of 2016, adjusted by release and confirmation reported during the year. This figure would be just under 235km2.[14]

Neither survey nor clearance has been conducted in the 5km-wide buffer strip to the east of the Berm. The extent of contamination west of the Berm remains unknown, and as of 2018, no survey had been carried out there.[15] UNMAS reported in 2018 that there were areas of known contamination in the buffer strip that remained inaccessible for clearance due to military agreements.[16] The RMA controls territory to the west of the Berm where it has been conducting large-scale demining. According to UNMAS, the RMA cooperates with the MINURSO mine action component and submits regular monthly reports, helping to build a clearer understanding of the mine and ERW threat across Western Sahara.[17]

The significant mine, submunition, and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination in Western Sahara continues to pose a daily threat to the local, nomadic, and refugee populations, along with UN personnel and military observers, and humanitarian actors.[18] Contamination from mines and ERW negatively impacts socio-economic growth and development, limiting access to fluctuating and seasonally dependent water sources vital for animal herding and small-scale agriculture on which local populations depend.[19] According to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), the impact of contamination is primarily socio-economic, although human accidents continued to occur. In 2017, the local mine action authority, the Saharawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO), reported 11 victims in 13 incidents.[20] 

In 2017, mines and ERW, including cluster munition remnants, continued to block access to arable land and critical water sources for the local population and impeded the free movement of UN personnel on patrol routes and in areas of UN operations.[21] Areas near to the Berm are considered the most heavily contaminated, though mines and ERW remain a significant risk along frequently used tracks and in close proximity to traditional settlements. According to UNMAS, a number of incidents have occurred in the vicinity of the Berm in areas rich with river beds, wadis, and water sources, which are fertile for seasonal agricultural cultivation, and a direct threat to the Sahrawi population.[22]

NPA reported that, in 2017, mines and ERW continued to pose a threat to the approximately 12,000 Sahrawi nomads and internally displaced persons in refugee camps who traversed contaminated areas to graze livestock, cultivate land, and visit relatives. Once cleared, the majority of land released is put to use for pasture and grazing of livestock by nomadic and semi-nomadic communities, while released land located close to village centers is used for building.[23]

Cluster Munition Contamination

Western Sahara had approximately 2.6km2 of CHA containing cluster munition remnants east of the Berm[24] at the end of 2017. Of the 40 CHAs in total, six cluster munition strike areas, with a total size of 0.5km2, are located inside the buffer strip and are inaccessible for clearance.[25] Confirmed cluster munition contamination was a decrease from the 44 areas totaling 4.5km2 recorded by UNMAS at the end of 2016.[26]

Both the north and south of Western Sahara still contain confirmed cluster munition-contaminated areas, as set out in the table below.[27]

CMR contamination east of the Berm (at end 2017)[28]

Region

CHAs

Area (km2)

North

15

0.88

South

25

1.73

Total

40

2.61

Note: CMR = cluster munition remnants.

The Royal Moroccan Armed Forces (RMAF) used both artillery-fired and air-dropped cluster munitions against Polisario Front forces during their conflict in Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991. According to SADR, BLU-63, M42, and Mk118 submunitions were used by the RMAF at multiple locations in Bir Lahlou, Dougaj, Mehaires, Mijek, and North Wadis.[29]

While cluster munition clearance had been projected to be completed by the end of 2012,[30] discovery of previously unknown contaminated areas meant this target date was not met. New contaminated areas continued to be identified in 2017 and new strike areas are expected to be found in the future as mine action activities continue and additional information is received from local populations.[31]

The size of the six cluster munition strike areas located inside the buffer strip, with an estimated total area of 520,609m2, may increase if restrictions on access to the buffer strip are lifted, allowing survey and clearance to be conducted.[32] However, clearance of the buffer strip of mines and ERW is not foreseen in MINURSO mission agreements, which according to the UN, considerably limits the ability of MINURSO military observers to patrol and verify developments.[33] In 2017, four previously recorded areas of cluster munition contamination in Mijek covering a total estimated size of 0.4km2 were not made accessible for clearance due to security concerns on the part of the Polisario Front.[34]

Program Management

In 2013–2014, the Polisario Front, with UN support, established SMACO, which is responsible for coordinating mine action activities in Western Sahara east of the Berm and for land release activities.[35]

In Western Sahara, MINURSO manages a Mine Action Coordination Center (MACC). UNMAS contracted a survey/clearance capacity through Dynasafe MineTech Limited (DML) in 2017, with quality assurance (QA) performed externally by UNMAS staff in accordance with the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). Survey and clearance were also implemented by NPA in 2017.[36]

In 2017, UNMAS implemented an ongoing capacity development project with SMACO, funded for 28 months, which was due to end in October 2018.[37] It contracted a technical advisor for capacity development to work with SMACO to improve operations and coordination with the MACC and operators. Individual training was provided to SMACO staff on all aspects of mine action program management, including information management and support services. Training on operational skills such as prioritization, tasking, marking, accreditation, the development of mine action standards, and survey and clearance methodology were also conducted. Emphasis was placed on building the program’s capacity to translate local mine action requirements into proposals and budgets with the aim of ensuring that SMACO can independently seek funds and report on progress in the future.[38]

UNMAS stated that efforts were also aimed at regularly raising the profile of SMACO within the local and wider communities and internationally.[39] The construction of an office building for SMACO in 2017 with German funding was another significant contributor to increasing its capacity and effectiveness.[40]

Strategic planning

MINURSO MACC’s activities are conducted in accordance with the Strategy of the United Nations on Mine Action 2013–2018, the Local Mine Action Standards (LMAS), and the IMAS. UNMAS planned to develop a mine action strategy specific to Western Sahara in the second half of 2015.[41] According to UNMAS, the strategy was finalized in 2017, yet still was considered an internal document and had not been made publicly available as of September 2018.[42] According to UNMAS, the strategy foresees completion of non-technical survey in 2017–2018; release of all recorded cluster munition strike areas east of the Berm by the end of 2019; and a 50% reduction in the total number of recorded SHAs and CHAs remaining in Western Sahara by the end of 2022.[43]

In 2017, NPA reported that the development of the strategy had brought about a significant improvement in the management of mine action in Western Sahara and increased coordination between the MACC, SMACO, and the operators. Meetings were convened every two months. where all mine action stakeholders provided updates on their progress against the plan and future activities.[44]

Legislation and standards

There is no mine action legislation in Western Sahara but mine action standards were in place and implemented in 2017. The standards were developed and finalized in 2016 by UNMAS, together with SMACO, and in coordination with mine action partners, and were planned to be translated into Arabic.[45] NPA reported that operators had updated their standing operating procedures (SOPs) accordingly, and that the local mine action standards set realistic benchmarks for efficient operations.[46] A first annual review of the standards was set to be held in 2018 with a review board consisting of representatives from UNMAS, SMACO, and all implementing partners.[47] 

The MACC identifies priorities for minefield clearance to the east of the Berm in conjunction with SMACO and MINURSO. SMACO identifies priorities based on humanitarian needs for the safety and freedom of movement of local populations, while the MACC ensures that observation patrol routes are safe for military observers and the transport of logistical supplies.[48] NPA confirmed that operators were always consulted in priority setting to ensure sufficient resources and equipment were available to conduct operations in a given area.[49] 

In 2017, UNMAS reported that gender policies were implemented in accordance with UNMAS, UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and MINURSO guidelines, as well as with direction from the Polisario.[50] NPA stated that gender mainstreaming considerations were included in its Memorandum of Understanding with SMACO, in NPA’s internal strategy documents, and taken into account during recruitment processes. Additionally, during survey efforts are made to ensure the needs of men, women, girls, and boys are taken into consideration for more effective and efficient operations.[51] 

Quality management

An external quality management system was in place in 2017 and implemented by MINURSO MACC, consisting of a series of QA inspection visits for organizational and operational accreditation and periodic monitoring of clearance operations. UNMAS reported that 78 QA visits were conducted in 2017 to assess mine clearance activities.[52]

This compared to 2016, when no external QA/QC was carried out on demining activities in April–September owing to the expulsion of UNMAS and MINURSO staff from Western Sahara by Morocco.[53]

Information management

According to UNMAS, the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database for Western Sahara improved appreciably as a result of an ongoing data audit initiated at the end of 2015, a process that continued throughout 2017.[54] UNMAS reported that a revised standard operating procedure for data management was introduced, putting a stronger emphasis on verification of information.[55] In 2017, UNMAS reported regular support from the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) to correct database errors.[56]

NPA noted significant improvements in information management during the year, with better coordination and monthly updates from the database sent to operators, and easier access for SMACO to receive trainings at the MACC’s relocated office in Tindouf.[57] 

Operators 

DML and NPA were the implementing operators conducting survey and clearance in Western Sahara in 2017. UNMAS reported that the overall mine action capacity in Western Sahara in 2017 consisted of nine multi-task teams (MTTs) and one community liaison/survey team, with a total of 116 operational staff in the field, 18 support staff, and eight senior staff.[58] This included six DML teams and one community liaison/survey team.[59] NPA continued its operations in Bir Lahlou and deployed two MTTs to conduct non-technical survey, technical survey, and clearance with a total of two team leaders and 15 deminers. At the end of 2017, a new team was trained to bolster NPA’s demining capacity and deployed at the start of 2018.[60] No mechanical assets or mine detection dogs were deployed in Western Sahara for mine clearance activities in 2017.[61]

This is an increase from 2016, when in January–November, there were a total of five MTTs (three DML teams and two NPA teams), with two NPA teams deployed to conduct mine clearance along with two of the three teams contracted from DML.[62]

Land Release (mines)

There was a significant increase in the cancellation and reduction of areas suspected to contain antipersonnel mines through survey in 2017 with a total of close to 8.3km2 released through survey compared to just under 1km2 in 2016, along with just under 89km2 confirmed as antipersonnel mine-affected, compared to 0.5km2 in 2016.[63]

While UNMAS reported that a total of just under 284,200m2 of area thought to contain antipersonnel mine contamination was cleared, no antipersonnel mines were found. In 2016, no areas containing antipersonnel mines were cleared.[64] 

Survey in 2017 (mines)

According to UNMAS and NPA, four areas suspected to contain antipersonnel mine contamination with a size of just under 7km2 were cancelled by non-technical survey in 2017, with a further 1.3km2 of areas suspected to contain antipersonnel mines reduced by technical survey. A total of six areas were confirmed as containing antipersonnel mines, with a total size of nearly 89km2.[65] According to UNMAS, these were areas previously thought to contain only antivehicle contamination, which were instead found to have mixed antipersonnel and antivehicle contamination.[66]

NPA reported releasing more than 3.5km2 of suspected antipersonnel mine contamination by cancellation in 2017. It reported that technical survey was also conducted to avoid the use of full clearance methodology in areas where mines were not found, resulting in the further reduction of over 1km2 of suspected antipersonnel mine contamination in its areas of operations during the year.[67] NPA did not conduct survey in any areas suspected or confirmed to contain antipersonnel mines in 2016.[68]

DML was reported to have cancelled one SHA where antipersonnel mines were suspected with a size of over 3.4km2 in 2017, and reducing a further 284,000m2 through technical survey. It confirmed five areas with a total size of close to 85.5km2 as contaminated with antipersonnel mines.[69] This was a sizeable increase in cancellation and confirmation of antipersonnel contaminated areas from 2016, when DML was reported to have cancelled two SHAs where antipersonnel mines had been suspected, covering nearly 0.46km2, and confirmed two SHAs with a size of 0.53km2 as containing antipersonnel mines.[70]

Antipersonnel mine area survey in 2017[71]

Operator

SHAs cancelled

Area cancelled (m²)

SHAs confirmed as mined

Area confirmed (m²)

Area reduced by TS (m2)

DML

1

3,446,147

5

85,517,546

284,192

NPA

3

3,534,047

1

3,446,148

1,021,273

Total

4

6,980,194

6

88,963,694

1,305,465

 

Clearance in 2017 (mines)

In 2017, according to UNMAS, a total of just under 284,200m2 of areas thought to contain antipersonnel contamination was cleared by DML. However, no antipersonnel mines were found or destroyed. Thirty-two antivehicle mines and 10 items of UXO were destroyed.[72] No areas containing antipersonnel mines were cleared in 2016, and no antipersonnel mines were destroyed during the year.[73]

In 2017, over 32.3km2 of antivehicle mine contamination was released by DML, of which 471,696m2 was by clearance and nearly 31.9km2 cancellation by non-technical survey.[74] NPA reported completing clearance of two CHAs reportedly containing antivehicle mines, though no antivehicle mines were actually found in 2017.[75] This is compared to 2016, when nearly 4.5km2 of area containing antivehicle mines and ERW was released: of which 328,355m2 was by clearance and 4,037,993m2 that was cancelled by non-technical survey.[76] As was the case in 2016, all tasked areas were believed to be contaminated with antivehicle mines and no antipersonnel mines were located during clearance.[77]

In 2017, NPA reported that 66 items of UXO were found and destroyed as spot tasks, including an aircraft bomb.[78]

To the west of the Berm, according to a UN Secretary-General report, the RMA reported, highly improbably, that it had cleared nearly 145km2 in territory under its control between April 2017 and March 2018. Clearance operations destroyed more than 1,000 items of UXO, 57 antivehicle mines, and 56 antipersonnel mines.[79]

Land Release (cluster munition remnants)

Total cluster munition-contaminated area released by clearance was just over 6.1km2 in 2017.[80] This was a near five-fold increase compared with 2016, when just over 1.21km2 was cleared, hampered by the political suspension of mine action activities in March–September.[81] The return to full freedom of movement for all civilian MINURSO and UNMAS staff to implement mine action operations, along with an increase in resources and capacity, accounted for the substantial rise in productivity to address cluster munition contamination in 2017.[82]

Survey in 2017 (cluster munition remnants)

Cluster munitions remnants survey in 2017[83]

Operator

SHAs cancelled

Area cancelled (m²)

SHAs confirmed as contaminated

Area confirmed
(m²)

Area reduced by TS (m2)

DML

0

0

53

687,211

0

NPA

0

0

4

767,361

0

Total

0

0

57

1,454,572

0 

 

In 2017, 57 areas with a size of just over 1.45km2 of cluster munition contamination were confirmed through survey, including nearly 0.69km2 by DML and 0.77km2 by NPA.[84] This is a significant increase in the size of cluster munition-contaminated area identified in 2016, when DML confirmed five previously unrecorded strike areas with a size of 0.25km2 through its survey activities.[85] 

Clearance in 2017 (cluster munition remnants)

Clearance of cluster munition contaminated-areas in 2017[86]

Operator

Areas cleared

Area cleared
(m²)

Submunitions destroyed

Other UXO destroyed*

DML

58

4,964,087

631

27

NPA

4

1,142,779

57

0

Total

62

6,106,866

688

27

* UXO = unexploded ordnance other than unexploded submunitions.

In 2017, there was a near five-fold increase compared to the previous year in the area of cluster munition contamination cleared, with the clearance of 62 cluster munition strike areas with a size of just over 6.1km2 and the destruction of 688 submunitions and 27 items of other UXO.[87] This compares to the clearance of 17 cluster munition-contaminated areas with a total size of 1.2km2 in 2016.[88]

Additionally, in 2017, DML conducted a total of 27 EOD spot tasks, locating and destroying 33 items of UXO, while NPA carried out 22 EOD spot tasks destroying 81 items of UXO.[89]

Progress towards completion of antipersonnel mine clearance

Western Sahara cannot accede to the Mine Ban Treaty due to its political status. In June 2014, however, the SADR submitted a voluntary Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 transparency report to the UN “as a sign of the support of the Sahrawi State for the goals of the Treaty.”[90] 

Under Western Sahara’s draft mine action strategic plan, non-technical survey was planned to be completed before the end of 2018 and the number of recorded SHAs and CHAs are sought to be reduced by half by the end of 2022.[91] 

Despite the significant increase in survey output in 2017, UNMAS reported that delays to clearing areas suspected to contain antipersonnel mines continued as a result of restrictions on accessing certain areas of the buffer strip established by various MINURSO and other party agreements.[92] NPA cited other challenges to operations, including working in a remote desert environment allied to serious difficulties with the procurement of certain equipment and materials.[93] Temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius in July and August, strong winds, sandstorms, and heavy rain during the wet season can also cause mine action activities to be suspended.[94]

According to UNMAS, clearance of all mined areas containing antipersonnel mines in the three northern districts of Western Sahara, Bir Lahlou, Tifiariti, and Mehaires, is planned to be completed in 2018. After this, clearance operations will commence in the southern sector, in Agwanit district, following the completion of non-technical survey and the confirmation of all hazardous areas identified in re-survey in 2017. It did not expect significant changes in clearance capacity, funding, or output in 2018.[95]

In keeping with previous estimates, UNMAS has estimated that all high and medium hazardous areas in Western Sahara east of the Berm could be released by 2025.[96] Specifically, UNMAS maintained that survey and clearance of all antipersonnel mine contamination in Western Sahara could be completed within three to seven years, between 2021 and 2025, depending on financial support and a stable political and security environment.[97]

NPA reported that as of 31December 2017, only three minefields remained to be addressed in its area of operations, in the remote region of Bir Lahlou, which it planned to complete by mid-2018. However, as of September 2018, clearance was still ongoing in the last remaining minefield, where NPA reported that teams were finding and clearing antipersonnel mines, which was scheduled to be completed at the end of October 2018.[98]

On 27 April 2018, the UN Security Council voted to extend MINURSO’s mandate in Western Sahara for six months until 31 October 2018, a change from prior resolutions, which extended MINURSO’s mandate for one year.[99] In 2017–2018, UNMAS reported no restrictions on movement in UNMAS’s areas of operations east of the Berm.[100]

Progress towards completion of cluster munition clearance 

Western Sahara cannot accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions due to its political status, and therefore does not have a specific clearance deadline under Article 4.

Despite the significant increase in clearance output in 2017, UNMAS reported that delays to clearing confirmed cluster munition-contaminated areas continued as a result of restrictions on accessing certain areas of the buffer strip established by various MINURSO mission agreements.[101] NPA cited other challenges to operations, including working in a remote desert environment allied to serious difficulties with the procurement of certain equipment and materials.[102] Extremely high temperatures, strong winds, sandstorms, and heavy rain during the wet season can also cause mine action activities to be suspended.[103]

Under Western Sahara’s draft mine action strategic plan, all recorded cluster munition strike areas to the east of the Berm, outside of the buffer strip, should be released by 2019.[104] UNMAS expected to complete clearance of all cluster munition contamination in the Northern Sector (Bir Lahlou, Mehaires, and Tifariti districts) east of the Berm by the end of 2018.[105] It did not expect a change in funding in 2018.[106]

Five-year summary of CMR clearance

Year

Area cleared (m2)

2017

6,106,866

2016

1,208,930

2015

1,841,225

2014

1,756,566

2013

985,000

Total

11,898,587

Note: CMR = cluster munition remnants.

 

The Monitor acknowledges the contributions of the Mine Action Review (www.mineactionreview.org), which has conducted the primary mine action research in 2018 and shared all its country-level landmine reports (from “Clearing the Mines 2018”) and country-level cluster munition reports (from “Clearing Cluster Munition Remnants 2018”) with the Monitor. The Monitor is responsible for the findings presented online and in its print publications.



[1] A 2,700km-long defensive wall, the Berm, was built during the conflict, dividing control of the territory between Morocco on the west, and the Polisario Front on the east. The Berm is 12-times the length of the Berlin Wall and second in length only to the Great Wall of China.

[2] See UNMAS, “About UNMAS in Western Sahara,” updated May 2015; and Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), “Making life safer for the people of Western Sahara,” London, August 2011.

[3] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[4] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017.

[5] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017.

[8] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 14 September 2018. The buffer strip is an area 5km wide east of the Berm. MINURSO, “Ceasefire Monitoring Overview,” undated.

[9] “Report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara,” UN doc. S/2017/307, 10 April 2017, p. 8.

[10] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. This includes areas recorded as having mixed antipersonnel and antivehicle mines.

[13] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[14] Ibid., 21 September 2016.

[15] Ibid., and 5 May 2018; and UNMAS, “2017 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects: MINURSO,” undated.

[16] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[17] Ibid., 14 September 2018; and UNMAS, “2017 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects: MINURSO,” undated.

[18] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[19] Ibid.; and UNMAS, “2016 Portfolio of Mine Action Projects: MINURSO,” undated.

[20] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, Programme Manager, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[21] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[22] Ibid., and 5 May 2018.

[23] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[24] A defensive wall (the Berm) was built during the conflict between the RMA and the Popular Front for the Polisario Front forces, dividing control of the territory between Morocco on the west, and the Polisario Front on the east.

[25] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[26] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 17 May 2017.

[27] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[28] Ibid. Bir Lahlou (also spelled Bir Lehlou), Mehaires (also spelled Meharrize), and Tifariti are considered to make up the north, and Mijek and Agwanit the south. Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 9 June 2015.

[29] SADR, Voluntary Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Form F, 20 June 2014; and Cluster Munition Monitor, “Cluster Munition Ban Policy: Western Sahara,” updated 12 August 2014.

[30] Email from Karl Greenwood, Chief of Operations, AOAV/Mechem Western Sahara Program, 18 June 2012.

[31] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[32] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 15 March 2017; from Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 23 May 2016; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 27 May 2016. The six areas were identified in a 2008 survey.

[34] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 18 and 31 May 2018.

[35] Response to questionnaire by Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 24 February 2014; and email, 25 February 2014.

[36] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[41] Email from Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 5 June 2015.

[42] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 18 May and 14 September 2018.

[43] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 8 April 2017.

[44] Ibid., 14 March 2018.

[45] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 24 April and 29 March 2017; from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 8 April 2017; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 31 May 2018.

[46] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[47] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[50] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[51] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[52] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 1 March 2018; and from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 24 April and 29 March 2017.

[56] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[57] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[58] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[59] Ibid., and 18 May 2018. Of the six DML teams contracted by UNMAS, three were funded by the mission and three by the German Federal Foreign Office.

[60] Email from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March 2018.

[61] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[62] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 10 May 2017.

[63] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[64] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017.

[65] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[66] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[67] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018.

[68] Ibid., 8 April 2017.

[69] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[70] Ibid., and 7 September 2017.

[71] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[72] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[73] Ibid., 7 and 26 September 2017.

[74] Ibid., 14 September 2018.

[75] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018. NPA reported that two antivehicle mines had been found in 2016.

[76] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 24 August 2016.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March and 31 May 2018.

[79] “Report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara,” UN doc. S/2018/277, 29 March 2018, p. 8.

[80] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 20 May 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 and 27 May 2018.

[81] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 15 March 2017; and from Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 21 April 2016.

[82] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 18 May 2018.

[83] Ibid., 1 March and 22 May 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 and 27 May 2018.

[84] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 22 May 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 and 27 May 2018.

[85] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 15 March 2017; and from Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 21 April 2016. DML declined to provide data directly to Mine Action Review and requested that UNMAS data be used instead. Email from Melanie Villegas, Project Executive, DML, 3 March 2017.

[86] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 20 May 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 and 27 May 2018.

[87] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 20 May 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 and 27 May 2018.

[88] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 15 March 2017.

[89] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018; and from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 20 May 2018.

[90]SADR initiative welcomed by Maputo Conference on Mine Ban,” Sahara Press Service, 2 July 2014.

[91] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017.

[92] Ibid., 15 March 2017; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 14 September 2018.

[93] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 8 April 2017 and 14 March 2018.

[94] UNMAS, “About UNMAS in Western Sahara,” updated January 2017.

[95] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[96] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 10 May and 29 March 2017; and from Sarah Holland, UNMAS, 21 April and 18 May 2016.

[97] Emails from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March and 5 May 2018.

[98] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 14 March, 31 May, and 14 September 2018. NPA reported that operations had to be halted in 1 July–15 August due to the high temperatures.

[99] The Security Council Report’s “What’s in Blue” analysis reported that it appeared that the decision to only extend the mandate for a six-month period rather than a year “was done to increase pressure on the parties to the conflict to resolve the current tensions and bring them to the table for a fifth round of formal negotiations.” It further stated that “In this regard, the draft resolution also requests the Secretary-General to brief the Council ‘on a regular basis, and at any time he deems appropriate during the mandate period, on the status and progress of these negotiations.’ A renewal of MINURSO’s mandate in October will also allow the Council to consider the strategic review of the mission scheduled for mid-2018.” What’s in Blue: Insights on the work of the UN Security Council, “Western Sahara: Mandate Renewal,” Security Council Report, 27 April 2018.

[100] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[101] Email from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 15 March 2017.

[102] Emails from El Hadji Mamadou Kebe, NPA, 8 April 2017, and 14 March 2018.

[103] UNMAS, “About UNMAS in Western Sahara,” updated January 2017.

[104] Emails from Virginie Auger, UNMAS, 29 March 2017; and from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 31 March 2018.

[105] Email from Graeme Abernethy, UNMAS, 1 March 2018.

[106] Ibid.


Support for Mine Action

Last updated: 19 November 2018

In 2017, international assistance to mine action activities in the territory of Western Sahara amounted to US$2.9 million from three donors.[1]

Additionally, Switzerland provided in-kind assistance valued at CHF500,000 ($508,027) in support of clearance operations in Western Sahara.[2]

International contributions: 2017[3]

Donor

Sector

Amount

(national currency)

Amount

(US$)

Germany

Clearance

€1,871,998

2,115,545

Norway

Clearance

NOK6,055,000

732,350

Spain

Clearance

€45,000

50,855

Total

   

2,898,750

Since 2013, international contributions toward mine action in Western Sahara have fluctuated between $2.9 million in 2017 and $0.7 million in 2014, and totaled almost $8 million.

Summary of international contributions: 2013–2017[4]

Year

International contributions ($)

2017

2,898,750

2016

1,956,196

2015

1,217,020

2014

681,494

2013

1,200,179

Total

7,953,639

 



[1] Germany, Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report, Form J, 2 March 2018; Spain, Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Form I, April 2018; and email from Ingrid Schoyen, Senior Adviser, Section for Humanitarian Affairs, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25 September 2018.

[2] Switzerland, Convention on Cluster Munitions Article 7 Report, Form I, 30 April 2018. Average exchange rate for 2017: US$1=CHF0.9842.US Federal Reserve, “List of Exchange Rates (Annual),” 11 January 2018.

[3] Average exchange rate for 2017: €1=US$1.1301; NOK8.2679=US$1. US Federal Reserve, “List of Exchange Rates (Annual),” 11 January 2018.

[4] See previous Monitor profiles.


Casualties

Last updated: 21 October 2018

Casualties[1]

All known casualties (between 1930 and 2017)

1,427 mine/unexploded remnants of war (ERW) casualties: 56 killed, 1,351 injured, and 20 unknown/unharmed

Casualties in 2017

Annual total

24

Decrease from
34 in 2016

Survival outcome

4 killed; 20 injured

Device type causing casualties

2 antipersonnel mine; 13 antivehicle mine; 7 ERW; 2 unexploded submunition

Civilian status

11 civilian; 13 military

Age and gender

6 men; 18 unknown

 

Casualties in 2017—details

The majority of casualties, 19, were in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara (west of the berm[2]), and five occurred in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara (east of the berm, also known as the Liberated Territories). The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported confidence that almost all casualties in 2017 were recorded.[3]

The total number of mine/ERW casualties in Western Sahara is not known. As of May 2018, UNMAS and the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Center (SMACO) are in the process of cleaning up the casualty database. Sources of casualty data include a casualty survey conducted by the Saharawi Association of Landmine Victims (Asociación Saharaui de Víctimas de Minas, ASAVIM) with the support of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) in 2012, and ongoing casualty surveillance.[4] ASAVIM had collected detailed information on 1,006 victims of mines, cluster munitions, and other ERW who are living in and around the Rabouni refugee camps on the Algerian border with Western Sahara.[5] The Polisario authorities reported a total of 1,413 people killed and injured by mines/ERW through April 2014.[6] UNMAS data included 1,427 casualties east and west of the berm in total. This total contains 1,213 adults, 18 children, and 196 of unknown age. Out of all casualties, 311 victims were recorded with a military/police status and 41 victims were deminers.[7] Morocco reported a total of 2,536 mine/ERW casualties (831 killed; 1,705 injured) from 1975 to the end of 2012; it was not reported how many of these occurredin Morocco versus Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.[8]

Cluster munition casualties

In total, 184 cluster munition casualties have been identified in Western Sahara. Two unexploded cluster submunition casualties were reported in 2017, an increase on 2016 when none were reported. There were four unexploded cluster submunition casualties in 2015, including at least one child.[9] Prior to that, in September 2013, a boy was injured by an unexploded submunition.[10] ASAVIM identified 177 casualties of unexploded submunitions occurring between 1975 and 2012.[11]



[1] Unless otherwise indicated, casualty data for 2017 is based on: email from Mischa Kaufmann, Information Management Officer, UNMAS, 27 February, and 5 April 2018.

[2] Berms are earthen walls about three meters high that Morocco built in 1982–1987 to secure the northwestern corner of Western Sahara.

[3] Email from Mischa Kaufmann, UNMAS, 27 February 2018.

[4] Interview with Mischa Kaufmann, UNMAS, in Tindouf, 18 May 2018.

[5] Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[6] Polisario authorities cited the ASAVIM database as the source for their casualty data, though ASAVIM was unable to confirm the total reported by the Polisario authorities. SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H; and email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[7] Email from Mischa Kaufmann, UNMAS, 27 February 2018. This does not include some data provided directly to the Monitor by other sources. See Monitor report for 2017. Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[9] Casualty data provided by email from Graeme Abernethy, Programme Manager, UNMAS, 6 February 2016.

[10] Email from Jonas Tappolet, MINURSO MACC, 4 June 2014.

[11] Email from Gaici Nah Bachir, Advisor, ASAVIM, 24 July 2013.


Casualties and Victim Assistance

Last updated: 17 December 2014

Victim assistance commitments

Western Sahara has a significant number of landmine survivors, cluster munition victims, and survivors of other explosive remnants of war (ERW) who are in need. The Polisario authorities signed Geneva Call’s “Deed of Commitment” in 2005 which obliges them to support humanitarian mine action activities, such as victim assistance among other commitments.[1] In 2014, the Polisario authorities submitted a voluntary Article 7 report to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “reaffirm its commitment to a total ban on cluster munitions as well as its willingness to accede to the [Convention] and to be bound by its provisions.”[2]

Casualties Overview

All known casualties by end 2013

At least 2,500

Casualties in 2013

23 (2012: 40)

2013 casualties by outcome

1 killed; 22 injured (2012: 5 killed; 35 injured)

2013 casualties by item type

1 antipersonnel mine; 2 antivehicle mines; 1 cluster submunition; 4 ERW; 15 unknown explosive items

In 2013, the Monitor identified 23 mine/ERW casualties in Western Sahara.[3] Most (13) casualties were civilians; there were three casualties among security forces.[4] There was at least one child casualty; however, it is possible this number was much higher because the age and sex of the majority of the casualties recorded (19 of 23) were unknown. There were no confirmed female casualties.

The majority of casualties (19 or 83%) were in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara (west of the berm[5]) with the remainder occurring in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara, east of the berm. This was similar in percentage to 2012 when 35 of the 40 casualties identified occurred in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.

The 23 casualties identified in 2013 represented a significant decrease from the 40 casualties reported in 2012, although an increase compared with the 11 casualties report in 2011.[6] Casualty data is not comprehensive, making it difficult to determine clear casualty trends over time. [7]

The total number of mine/ERW casualties in Western Sahara is not known, although it was estimated in 2011 that there had been some 2,500 since 1975.[8] Morocco reported a total of 2,536 mine/ERW casualties, 831 persons killed and 1,705 injured, from 1975 to the end of 2012; it was not known how many of these occurred in Morocco versus Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.[9] As of August 2014, the Saharawi Association of Landmine Victims (ASAVIM) had collected detailed information on 1,006 victims of mines, cluster munitions, and other ERW who are living in and around the Rabouni refugee camps on the Algerian border with Western Sahara.[10] The Polisario authorities reported a total of 1,413 people killed and injured by mines/ERW through April 2014.[11]

Cluster munition casualties

A 14-year-old boy was injured by an unexploded submunition in September 2013.[12] As of July 2013, ASAVIM had identified 177 casualties of cluster munition remnants occurring between 1975 and 2012.[13]

Victim Assistance

As of August 2014, ASAVIM had collected data on 1,006 landmine and cluster munition victims (including some family members of persons killed) as well as 473 other war victims and persons with disabilities in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara.[14] From 1975 to the end of 2012, Morocco has reported a total of 1,705 mine/ERW survivors.[15] It is likely that most of these occurred in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.[16]

Victim assistance since 1999

Victim assistance in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara, extremely limited since monitoring began in 1999, is worsened by the fact that most survivors live in extreme poverty in refugee camps. A lack of public transportation in the region made it very difficult for survivors to access the limited services available. With the start of the Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) mine/ERW clearance program in 2006, AOAV began providing emergency aid and transportation in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara to complement a similar service provided by the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. However, given the vast and remote territory, emergency response and transportation remained inadequate.

The Chehid Cherif National Center for Mine and War Victims consistently provided basic medical care for war victims, including landmine survivors. The center also offered vocational training programs (when funding allowed), although demand for services consistently exceeded supply. All medical services in refugee camps were free but facilities lacked adequately trained staff and resources. Rehabilitation and prosthetics improved in 2008 and continued to be provided through 2013 with the start of an ICRC-supported program in the Rabouni rehabilitation center, serving Saharawi refugees from Polasario-controlled Western Sahara; before this, obtaining access to physical rehabilitation was virtually impossible as no services were available for those living in nearby refugee camps. International technical and financial assistance for physical rehabilitation decreased in 2011 as the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled ceased providing support to the rehabilitation center in Laâyoune, in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara.

There was an acute lack of economic opportunities for survivors; psychological support in the camps was insufficient to address the needs of the population. ASAVIM was founded in 2005 to collect information about survivors and their needs, refer survivors to available services, and advocate on their behalf. There was no government coordination of victim assistance by Morocco during the period, but there was regular coordination between the Chehid Cherif Center and ASAVIM in the refugee camps and in Polasario-controlled Western Sahara.

Victim assistance in 2013

In August 2013, the Polisario authorities established the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO) to coordinate activities “related to landmines, demining and landmines victims.”[17] At the end of 2013, ASAVIM was awarded a grant by the ICBL-CMC’s Survivor Network Project (SNP) to provide peer support and referrals to survivors and other persons with disabilities and  to strengthen the network.

Assessing victim assistance needs

During 2013 and into 2014, ASAVIM continued to work in cooperation with the Polisario government to identify mine/ERW victims and other victims of armed conflict and to assess their needs. Collected data was added to the database established in 2012 by ASAVIM, with support from AOAV.[18] The Ministry of Defence shared their database on veterans with disabilities for inclusion in the survey.[19]

In order to improve victim assistance planning, coordination, and the provision of services, the results of the survey were shared with representatives of the Polisario government (including the ministries of social affairs, health, education, and cooperation), and also with survivors, the ICRC, and other international organizations such as the Spanish Red Cross, UNHCR, and MINURSO.[20] Data from the survey were included in the voluntary Article 7 report submitted by Polisario authorities to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[21]

Victim assistance coordination

SMACO, established by presidential decree in July 2013, is the national authority responsible for the coordination of all activities related to landmines and cluster munitions (including victim assistance) and has been designated as the national victim assistance focal point. The Polisario authorities also named ASAVIM as “an institution that is in charge of all questions related to mine victims such [as] compiling data about them and assessing their needs as well as finding ways for financing, educating and supporting them in all aspects of life.”[22]

In 2013 and into 2014, SMACO, ASAVIM, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Public Recruitment and Vocational Training, representatives of the legislature, and representatives of international organizations met to promote the rights of mine and ERW victims and to consider the drafting of a national law to protect these rights. A draft law was under consideration as of February 2014.[23]

Survivor participation and inclusion

Survivors, through ASAVIM, coordinated regularly with the Chehid Cherif Center and relevant Polisario government institutions in order to refer survivors to available services.[24] ASAVIM’s Secretary General, Aziz Buchar Haidar, himself a landmine survivor, headed the delegation of the Sahrawi Republic to a workshop on victim assistance held jointly by the African Union and the ICRC in March 2014.[25]

ASAVIM was involved in the ongoing implementation of data collection and needs assessment. ASAVIM and its survivor members also implemented an economic inclusion program, provided peer support, and carried out advocacy activities.[26]

Service accessibility and effectiveness

Victim assistance activities[27]

Name of organization

Type of organization

Type of activity

Changes in quality/coverage of service in 2013

Chehid Cherif Landmine and War Victims Center

Public center (supported by Polisario authorities)

Medical attention, nutritional support and vocational training center; host for ICRC rehabilitation center; facilitated transportation to access services

Ongoing

Rabouni Hospital

Public hospital

Provided psychological assistance to mine/ERW survivors in nearby refugee camps

Ongoing

ASAVIM

Survivor Association in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara

Advocacy for victim assistance and for the inclusion of victims in existing development and training initiatives; needs assessment; economic inclusion; peer support and referrals

Continued the only ongoing needs assessment/data collection; strengthened peer support

Moroccan Association of Mine Victims (l’Association marocaine des victimes des mines)

Survivor Association in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara

Awareness of victims’ rights and risk education

Ongoing

AOAV

International NGO

Emergency response to mine/ERW incidents in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara; support to ASAVIM for survivor needs assessment, and support to the Chehid Cherif Center

Ongoing

ICRC

International organization

Support for physical rehabilitation at Rabouni Rehabilitation Center; outreach to refugee camps to identify beneficiaries and raise awareness of available services; referral system in hospitals; support for education for children of mine victims

Transferred main physical rehabilitation center from Noukheila to the Rabouni hospital, closer to refugee camps

UNHCR

International organization

Basic services for all refugees; emergency medical services and evacuation; support for vocational training for persons with disabilities

Ongoing

Emergency and ongoing medical care

MINURSO staff provided emergency response following mine incidents in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, while AOAV provided the same service in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara.[28] UNHCR’s medical unit also provided emergency medical services and casualty evacuation.[29]

However, in 2013 as in previous years, it was reported that emergency response times for people involved in mine/ERW incidents in remote areas could be several hours or even days, resulting in some casualties dying from their wounds before receiving medical attention.[30] Morocco reported having modern medical facilities where survivors could access services for free.[31]

Ongoing healthcare remained very limited and treatment for complex injuries or chronic conditions is scarce and in some cases non-existent. The ASAVIM/AOAV needs assessment found that 71% of survivors were in need of some form of medical attention and at least a quarter could not access the assistance they needed where they lived.[32]

Physical rehabilitation, including prosthetics

In 2013, the ICRC-run Rabouni Rehabilitation Center within the Chehid Cherif Center was transferred to the Rabouni hospital to be closer to refugee populations which it was serving in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara. The ICRC maintained its referral network with area hospitals and its outreach visits to refugee camps.[33]

There were also reported to be rehabilitation centers in two hospitals as well as in medical centers in each of the five refugee camps near Rabouni.[34] Among the survivors who were surveyed in 2012, 57% indicated the need for prosthetics or other mobility aids.[35]

Economic inclusion

In 2013, ASAVIM provided support to survivor cooperatives to support income-generating projects through a grant program launched in August 2012. ASAVIM had established a national project commission to monitor the implementation of the project. The commission included representatives from among several victim assistance stakeholders, including the ministries of social affairs and women’s promotion; cooperation; education; and defence. Cooperatives received training in project and business planning. At least 27 cooperatives had received support for their business proposals in 2013.[36]

A limited number of vocational training and income-generating programs were available to refugees in the area of the Rabouni refugee camps through the Polisario government and international organizations, such as UNHCR, including some targeting persons with disabilities.[37] However, in general survivors based in refugee camps were not aware of such programs.[38]

Just 15% of survivors surveyed by ASAVIM received financial assistance (which was very limited) in the form of a small pension for persons with severe disabilities referred to as “the encouragement,” provided by the Polisario authorities.[39] Survivors in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara were entitled to financial assistance from the Moroccan government; however, it was estimated in 2010 that about one in six survivors lacked the documentation needed to access this assistance, which was deemed insufficient to meet basic needs.[40] Morocco reported having government programs for the economic and social inclusion of these survivors.[41]

Psychological support

In 2013 and into 2014, ASAVIM increased the availability of psychological assistance by providing peer support, along with information on where to access services, while continuing to collect information on the needs of survivors. ASAVIM continued to provide such support on an ongoing basis through its office and during meetings of members.[42] Some psychological assistance was also available through the Rabouni hospital.[43] Many survivors did not know about psychological assistance services and have reported a complete absence of professional psychological support.[44]

Laws and policies

The Polisario constitution guarantees the rights of all Sahrawi citizens with special mention for the rights of “those wounded in war.”[45] In 2013, as a result of advocacy efforts by national associations including ASAVIM, discussions began among relevant government bodies to develop a draft law entitled the “National Law to Protect the Rights of Victims of Mines and Cluster Bombs.” As of February 2014, a complete draft was prepared and pending approval by the Polisario legislature.[46]

It was reported that medical care, rehabilitation, and economic inclusion programs that were relevant to mine/ERW survivors were implemented in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[47]

 



[1] Since 1979, the Polisario authorities have been recognized by the UN as the representative of the people of Western Sahara. Geneva Call, “Western Sahara,” undated.

[2] Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR), Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H; and email from Awala Lehib, Director, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[3] Email from Jonas Tappolet, Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) Officer, UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Mine Action Coordination Centre (MACC), 4 June 2014.

[4] The civil status of seven casualties was unknown.

[5] Berms are earthen walls about three meters high that Morocco built in 1982–1987 to secure the northwestern corner of Western Sahara.

[6] 2012 casualty data provided by email from Karl Heinz Stierli, IMSMA Officer, MINURSO MACC, 24 June 2013; and Monitor media review 1 January 2012–31 December 2012.

[7] MINURSO, the principal source of information on casualties in Western Sahara, only began collecting casualty data in 2008 and for 2011 it did not include all of the casualties identified by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

[8] AOAV, “Making life safer for the people of Western Sahara,” London, August 2011, p. 7; and Louise Orton, “Killed in Western Sahara by a bomb shaped like a ball,” BBC News (Western Sahara), 17 May 2011.

[9] Morocco did not make statements during Mine Ban Treaty meetings in 2013 or 2014 nor did it submit an Article 7 report for calendar year 2013. Statement of Morocco, Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration, Geneva, 24 May 2012; and Morocco reported 36 landmine casualties for 2012 (four people killed and 32 injured), all occurred in the areas of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2012), Form I, April 2013.

[10] Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[11] Polisario authorities cited the ASAVIM database as the source for their casualty data though ASAVIM was unable to confirm the total reported by the Polisario authorities. SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H; and email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[12] Email from Jonas Tappolet, MINURSO MACC, 4 June 2014.

[13] A more updated figure was not available as of December 2014. Email from Gaici Nah Bachir, Advisor, ASAVIM, 24 July 2013.

[14] Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[15] Morocco did not make statements during Mine Ban Treaty meetings in 2013 or 2014 nor did it submit an Article 7 report for calendar year 2013. Statement of Morocco, Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration, Geneva, 24 May 2012; and Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for calendar year 2012), Form I, April 2013.

[16] It is possible that some, though few, may have occurred in Morocco. Morocco does not collect data on casualties occurring in Polisario-controlled Western Sahara.

[17] SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014.

[18] By August 2014, the total number of people surveyed was 1,479. AOAV, “Understanding and Addressing Needs of Victims and Survivors of ERW in Western Sahara,” London, September 2012, p. 11; and email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[19] Email from Gaici Nah Bachir, ASAVIM, 24 July 2013.

[20] Email from Aziz Haidar, ASAVIM, 20 June 2012.

[21] SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014.

[22] Ibid., Form H.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.; and email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[25] ICBL-CMC’s SNP, “Survivor Leaders at Key ICRC African Union Meeting,” 5 March 2014.

[26] Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[27] ICRC Physical Rehabilitation Programme (PRP), “Annual Report 2013,” Geneva, 2013; email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014; SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H; and “Dakhla: Les mines antipersonnel font de nouvelles victims” (“Dakhla: Landmines are the cause of new victims”), Aujourd hui, 28 June 2013.

[28] SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H; and Ginevra Cucinotta, “Mine Action Activities in Western Sahara,” Journal of Mine Action, Issue 14.3, Fall 2010.

[29]Report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara” (New York: UN Security Council, 8 April 2013), S/2013/220, p. 9.

[30] Email from Gaici Nah Bachir, ASAVIM, 24 July 2013; and SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H.

[31] Statement of Morocco, Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration, Geneva, 24 May 2012.

[33] ICRC PRP, “Annual Report 2013,” Geneva, 2013.

[34] SADR Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H.

[36] Email from Gaici Nah Bachir, ASAVIM, 4 October 2013.

[37] Interview with Aziz Haidar, ASVIM, 23 February 2012; and “Report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara” (New York: UN Security Council, 8 April 2013), S/2013/220, p. 13.

[38] Response to Monitor questionnaire from Gaici Nah Bachir, ASAVIM, 5 May 2012.

[40] John Thorne, “Western Sahara conflict’s explosive legacy,” The National (Smara), 8 May 2010.

[41] Statement of Morocco, Mine Ban Treaty Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration, Geneva, 24 May 2012.

[42] Email from Awala Lehib, ASAVIM, 10 August 2014.

[43] SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H.

[44] Response to Monitor questionnaire from Gaici Nah Bachir, ASAVIM, 5 May 2012.

[45] Article 41, Sahrawi Constitution, as quoted in SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H.

[46] SADR, Convention on Cluster Munitions voluntary Article 7 Report (reporting period 2005 to June 2014), submitted 16 June 2014, Form H.

[47] Ibid.