Interview with Miriam Coronel Ferrer of the Non-State Actors
challenges and success of the Non-State Actors Working Group are
discussed with Miriam Coronel Ferrer.
Why was it necessary to form the Non-State Actor Working Group (NSA WG)?
Miriam Ferrer: (MF):
From the beginning, the Working Group (WG) has served as the mechanism
to get together country campaigns and individuals who saw the merit of
engaging NSAs in a landmine ban, despite the fact that such work is
sensitive, dangerous and largely unchartered terrain. The group has
become the lead group in the ICBL to see through this newest agenda in
the ICBL—from convincing the rest and especially the leadership of
the ICBL to adopt this area of work as equally legitimate as the other
branches of work already established (treaty work, mine clearance,
victim assistance) to developing its concept, strategies and program of
The WG continues to undertake such
planning and coordination of efforts of country campaigns and works
closely and supportively with other programs and institutions that have
evolved to advance NSA engagement (e.g., the NSA Database hosted by the
International Alert, the Geneva Call led by Swiss campaign’s Elisabeth
Reusse Decry) Interestingly, these other programs were also initiated by
WG members who saw the merit of enjoying autonomy from the WG/ICBL
procedures/processes, but certainly find congruence in purpose and
MB: How do you go about
engaging NSAs in a dialogue?
MF: I’m sure others will have
their stories to tell — whether because they live with NSAs in their
midst, or they may be based in another country but their work requires
them to deal with one or more NSAs.
I will talk largely about our
experience in the Philippines, which you may say is a relatively open
society because political negotiations are in place; rebel leaders have
come out in the open as spokespersons, negotiating panel and technical
support staff for negotiations. They also have websites, e-mail
addresses, fax/telephone/cell phone numbers etc. that make contacting
them and accessing their positions possible. There are also legal groups
that more or less openly support these armed groups. Then we have the
traditional connections of family/kin, school contemporaries, hometown
friends and personal friends. Through these various connections we are
able to pass on letters, appeals and documents, set appointments for
face to face meetings, exchange e-mails, etc. We’ve also held
relatively formal small-group meetings with NSA representatives,
attended peace negotiation ceremonies, and arranged the attendance of
two groups to the pioneering conference held in Geneva. All these
activities and occasions can be considered part of the dialogue process.
It’s also quite important to note
that we are able to do this because we have developed the trust and
confidence of these NSAs as well as the state, because of relations (or
perhaps reputation or image) built over time not only on the landmine
issue but on other peace/national issues as well. They trust our
impartiality and at the same time know where we stand on the landmine
(and other) question/s.
MB: What was the catalyst for
engaging Non-State Actors in the landmine issue?
MF: The push started in late
1996/early 1997 from three country campaigns — Colombia, Philippines
and South Africa. These three countries have a long history of internal
conflict and are aware of the need to develop such a complementary
process to the main thrust of ICBL work that has emerged (a focus on
states towards coming up with a treaty). This initiative was led by
Colombian Eduardo Marino who at that time sat at the Coordinating
Committee of the ICBL and steered the formation of an ad hoc NSA WG,
drawing up its initial concept and bringing together country campaigns
to thresh out the mechanics.
One of the initial concerns was that
the treaty text "criminalized" all such mine use, and of
course put all such acts under the jurisdiction of the state. But
experience with working with NSAs and knowledge of NSA dynamics showed
that criminalizing NSAs may not necessarily be the best way to deal with
revolutionary/insurgent groups, and that some states in any case do not
have the capacity to exercise such jurisdiction, having no actual
control over portions of the territory.
Country campaigns in the south (like
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Kenya, Zimbabwe, India) with their own
NSAs easily saw the validity of this need and were supportive of the
initiative. Some northern campaigns (e.g., Canada, Australia, Italy, New
Zealand, UK, Germany, Ireland) were equally supportive upon learning of
this new agenda. The Swiss Campaign, through its chair Elisabeth Reusse
Decry, was there almost immediately from the beginning, especially to
deal with the problem posed as to how to see through NSA compliance
given the fact that NSAs may not be state parties to international
treaties. Eventually, the mechanism of the Geneva Call, a
Swiss-registered NGO, was put up precisely to deal with this
argument/problem. Thus, the ICBL assembly in Maputo in 1999 (at the time
of the First Meeting of State Parties) approved the regularization of
the WG, despite continuing wariness/opposition of some key ICBL
MB: Why do you feel it is
important to engage NSAs?
MF: The reasons are very basic.
One is that you cannot universalize the ban without getting this other
set of users, producers, traders and stockpilers into the mine ban camp.
Another reason is that some states use their NSAs as a reason not join
the mine ban regime. Equally important, NSAs and the communities where
they operate are victimized by landmines and would also need
MB: Who are the terrorism or
insurgency experts that advise the NSA WG?
MF: Individually, as country
campaigns, we benefit from advice of people (government/non-government)
in our own communities, among them former combatants. The WG itself
lists the following advisers: London-based Eduardo Marino, Mary Foster
currently based in Germany, Rae McGrath and retired Indian Maj. Gen.
MB: Will the recent world
events have an impact in the way NSAs may be engaged now and in the
MF: I think the basic strategy
and framework would continue to hold. There is, however, danger that
current action against Afghanistan, especially if prolonged, would fan
the flames of radicalism among Islamic groups in various countries,
including the Philippines. In our case, this would set back current
negotiation and rehabilitation efforts — sort of bringing us to a
square one position once more. It is obviously more difficult to talk in
a situation of high-intensity conflict.
Of course, this consideration is
already operative even before the current global conflict — e.g., one
Islamic group talking to another Islamic group about a ban is definitely
more effective, especially since such a dialogue would be founded on
Islamic principles. But perhaps such unifying — or is it dividing? —
lines will become more crucial if this conflict ends up polarizing the
MB: What has been the response
by state parties in engaging NSAs? Do you expect this to change?
MF: We are working in different
contexts. As I said the Philippine campaign has the benefit of working
in a more open society. We will not get arrested for talking to our NSAs.
We can even perhaps expect our government to assist us if we get into
trouble for talking to other countries’ NSAs. This is not the same
situation for the other campaigners in South Asia, Burma.
Of course, one would expect that a
state party to the Ottawa Convention would be supportive of such efforts
— e.g., Colombia, Philippines. But then again, this may not
necessarily be the case because the state (or elements of the state such
as the military/certain military officials or foreign affairs officials)
may fear that doing so would legitimize the NSAs. In countries with
large-scale demining operations and victim assistance programs underway
like in Sudan, Afghanistan (until recently), the approach and responses
have also been different. Basically positive cooperation from the ruling
authorities was sought and established to make possible such programs.
Other states and NSAs that cannot be
approached in their own country by the country campaign (or perhaps in
the absence of a country campaign) are being approached by
country/individual campaigners in other countries through their
embassies/consulates in the case of states, or through their exiled
leaders or foreign offices in the case of NSAs. WG members in some of
the North countries are doing this as their contribution to the effort.
MB: Because of a constantly
evolving political/military climate in many NSAs operating countries, is
it difficult to monitor their compliance with a landmine ban?
MF: For monitoring, we rely on
reports of country campaigners on the ground, and reports finalized and
published in the Landmine Monitor. Follow
ups/verification/appeals are then made with the concerned parties by
country campaigners, but the more established mechanism being developed
is through the Geneva Call.
For example, the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front in the Philippines signed the Deed of Commitment of the
Geneva Call in 2000 but subsequently planted mines when they were forced
to retreat from their camps by the Philippines army several months
later. Geneva Call is currently organizing a fact-finding mission that
will look into the reported violation and recommend subsequent courses
MB: Do you see a risk that
states parties combating internal NSAs may change their position to
signing the Ottawa Treaty if being engaged in the process legitimizes
MF: The opposite seems to be
truer. I understand from the dialogues conducted by ICBL/WG campaigners
that the signing of the SPLA of the Deed of Commitment is actually
facilitating the ratification of the Treaty by the Sudanese government.
States may not want their NSAs to be legitimized in this manner, true,
but getting their NSAs to commit to a ban actually puts states in a
defensive position because they lose some of their justification for
resisting the ban. To react the opposite way would be irrational and
hard to defend from a moral/political plane. I also imagine that real
"hardline" states would not even merit these NSAs by crediting
these NSAs for any position/policy that they adopt.
MB: Have you seen a
demonstrable benefit or drawback to engaging NSAs in the issue of
landmine use? How so?
MF: The benefit is really more
evident not in the political gain of getting commitments, but in the
impact on the ground. NSA cooperation as our colleagues in the UK
Landmine Action Group have experienced, greatly facilitate demining
operation, which contributes to preventive action and victim assistance
programs, in all to make the world a safer place [see Rae McGrath’s,
Aleyu Aleu’s and SPLA/M representative’s input in the NSA Conference
Proceedings (chapter 7,4, & 5 respectively)]. We hope also to reach
this point — though the scale of our landmine problem is much smaller,
in our lobby for joint mine clearing operation in Mindanao between our
army and the MILF.
You may say that the universality
principle is the most important advantage of the landmine campaign
compared to the small arms lobby. We are asking all state and non-state
actors to stop use, production, trade of landmines whereas the regime
envisioned in the small arms campaign is one where use and production
would be mediated only among states. This can be problematic for people
living under rogue states/illegal or repressive regimes and for NSAs,
fighting what they perceive as state terrorism. It would be very hard to
ask NSAs to accede to the terms of such a campaign. But the landmine ban
comes across as more impartial, fair and just in that everyone is being
asked to stop using landmines.
Also, while we have not yet achieved
this, the other benefit of engaging beyond the terms of the Treaty is
that through other mechanisms — such as unilateral and bilateral
declarations — not only APMs but other mines and potentially other
weapons can be the subject of such a ban.
MB: Do you feel the
"Declaration of Non-Use" has legitimized NSAs in the political
MF: In undertaking this work,
we adopt the position of the Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions,
that compliance with international humanitarian law does not affect the
legal status of the parties to the conflict.
At the same time, one cannot be naive
not to see that NSAs engage in order to earn political points, just like
states. But engaging also creates demands on them and puts them at risk,
should they go against their commitments, of losing more points —
again, just like states.
Depending on the scale of the landmine
problem, humanitarian considerations rather than political tactics may
in the end be the bigger consideration of some NSAs — e.g., of some
Burmese groups. It perhaps may not be avoided that in engaging NSAs, we
antagonize some governments. After the NSA Conference, we had to face
the ire of two such governments. This is, in fact, understandably, one
source of fear on the part of some ICBL colleagues whose work has been
to get the support of governments/states. Even among governments,
thinking has changed quite fast on this matter. Only last June, the
European Parliament passed a resolution recognizing this necessity. The
Managua Declaration at the Third Meeting of State Parties likewise
acknowledged this need. Certainly, we are slowly making states have a
broad-minded attitude about peacefully engaging NSAs.
MB: Do you see this declaration
by NSAs as a possible step by NSAs in following humanitarian law?
MF: Yes. But perhaps our
lawyers in the campaign like Sol & Saliya and IHL experts like
Eduardo can elaborate more on this point.
MB: Given that even horrible
war crimes have difficulty being prosecuted in international criminal
courts, what leads you to believe prosecution of an NSA, or anyone else,
for APL use is viable?
MF: This possibility was
considered in the NSA Conference, particularly in the workshop on tools
of engagement. We have not really extensively discussed this as a WG and
have no unified position on the matter as yet. Prosecution at the
national level is already possible under the Ottawa Convention as
operational zed in State parties’ implementing legislation.
MB: Are there any types of NSAs
that are more likely to engage in the declaration than other NSAs? If
MF: I don’t think we have
enough cases to draw up a typology. Also, we work on a very pragmatic
basis — we are engaging these NSAs because we have people who could do
it or have already been doing it in the past. Also, you may have noticed
that although NSA is a very encompassing term, we most of the time refer
to insurgent/rebel/revolutionary groups, rather than armed syndicates
engaged in criminal activities (though they may have links with the
One type of NSA that will engage in
this arena is the politically astute/sophisticated ones. Another type
would be those who may or may not be politically sophisticated in global
politics but because of humanitarian considerations see the benefit of
joining the ban.
MB: The Taliban has issued a
declaration that was read at the NSA working group meeting held in
Geneva by the ICBL. Many say they have carried out crimes against
humanity. Do you feel that by engaging certain NSAs, that it can
undermine the NSA working group and/or the ICBL?
MF: The Afghan campaign was
instrumental in getting the Taliban to this position and in doing so was
crucial for them to get about their mine clearance work. The Taliban
statement on "landmines as un-Islamic" was also supportive of
our work with other Muslim groups toward a landmine ban. We did not
consider it as promoting the Taliban but supportive in advancing our own
dialogues with our Muslim rebels because of its foundation in Islam.
All these approaches support our
humanitarian goal and benefit the most affected people. The landmine
question will remain no matter the outcome of Afghanistan’s or other
countries’ civil war or the current global conflict. And it would be
important to deal with whoever is in power — or the new NSAs that
would emerge from these conflicts — and to engage them first in their
own terms, if we are to have a stepping-stone towards a universal ban.
Of course, approaches on such sensitive cases vary. The same dilemma
applies to dealing with states. Take the case of Burma — to engage or
not to engage Burma not only on the landmine question is a big debate in
the international community.
Does this work undermine the WG/ICBL?
It might have an initial consequence of doing so in some cases but this
is all part of the dialogue process. This consideration highlights the
need for coordination within ICBL, the WG and among partners, as well as
parallel initiatives that can complement work with states and non-states
at the same time.
MB: How does your definition of
the "Law of War" apply to NSAs when there is no clear
definition of a "combatant"?
MF: From my understanding of
IHL [International Humanitarian Law], certain criteria/qualifications
exist to define a combatant. In any case, the status of combatant may
not be a big question if we recognize that our current effort in
engaging NSAs largely utilizes the "soft" persuasive approach
even as all these initiatives are founded on the principles of
international humanitarian law.
MB: Overall, have the
priorities of the NSA Working Group changed since September 11, 2001?
MF: I guess not, except to be
very particularly concerned about the safety and setback in the work of
our campaigners in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MB: Would the NSA WG refuse
engagement with an NSA based on past behavior?
MF: If they are ready to
commit, then we welcome their commitment and ask them to validate this
by compliance in the future and cooperation on action to deal with
existing landmines stockpiled or on the ground. I do not think the ICBL
has refused engagement with a state based on past behavior.
MB: What are the future plans
for the working group?
MF: Continue work in the field;
consolidate research on NSA landmine use, production, etc.; continue
advocacy on the need to engage NSAs within ICBL, with states and other
NSAs; build strength, capability, resources to continue with the work.
MB: Are any follow-up
MF: Yes, but small, low-key
ones where NSAs within/across countries can continue/start the dialogue
Miriam Coronel Ferrer is co-chair of the Non-State
Actors Working Group and president of the Geneva Call.
c/o IA, 1 Glyn Street
London SE115HT UK