A Uniquely ASEAN Approach to
By Dwi Prameswari, Technical Officer Mine Action
& Nicholas Prehn Communications Officer, ARMAC
Within the ASEAN region, the shared legacy of past wars, conflicts and violence created a common challenge in addressing the impact of mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW).
To date, five of the 10 ASEAN Member States (AMS) – namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – remain affected by mines and ERW.
Each state faces different levels of contamination and clearance progress, while the Philippines continues to assess the extent of mine/ERW proliferation in parts of the country.
Recognizing this is a common challenge and best addressed through acommunalsolution – pooling resources, finances, knowledge and skills – the AMS established the ASEAN Regional Mine Action Center (ARMAC). The ARMAC is a center of excellence (COE) working to facilitate cooperation between interested AMS and the relevant mine action institutions, such as the United Nations Mine Action Service and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).
Origins of ARMAC
The idea for an ASEAN region-focused mine action COE was first proposed and adopted at the 21st ASEAN Summit on 18 November 2012 by the ASEAN leaders. Initiated by the Prime Minister of Cambodia as the Chair of ASEAN at the time, ARMAC was envisioned as an organisation that could tackle the shared problem of mines/ERW by leveraging existing national experience and expertise on the regional level through ASEAN’s desire for a comprehensive multilateral solution to mines and ERW.
To differentiate itself from the existing national mine action centers and entities of AMS – and to avoid a duplication of efforts – ARMAC was given a three-fold mandate to:
- Enhance awareness programs about the dangers of ERW among affected communities;
- Facilitate appropriate medical and rehabilitation assistance for victims of ERW, upon request from the affected AMS; and
- Assist interested AMS in research and knowledge sharing on the effects of ERW and efforts to address them, including writing proposals for technical assistance projects and funding at their specific and individual request.
ARMAC’s mandate and functions focus on strengthening mine risk education, enabling victim assistance and, lastly, supporting mine action research and knowledge sharing. To assist ARMAC in carrying out this mandate and facilitate communications between the center and the AMS, ARMAC is led from the top by a steering committee composed of representatives from all ten ASEAN countries, primarily drawn from ambassadors based in Phnom Penh.
In practical terms, ARMAC serves as a secretariat to AMS through following the steering committee’s directives and actioning any requests for assistance. Beyond this, ARMAC also serves a key role in helping establish platforms, workshops and other events at the regional level for national mine action actors to meet, share information and further develop one another’s capacity.
This multilateral approach, with its focus on strengthening regional cooperation, is relatively new to the mine action sector and, while organizations such as GICHD run , ARMAC is unique in that it is an initiative first catalyzed, funded and operated solely by mine-affected countries. The intense commitment to ARMAC from the AMS means its programs are inescapably complimentary rather than competitive to national mine action centers. Furthermore, each AMS’ inputs and comments are considered during the program-designing phase.
ARMAC’s Past, Present and Future Mine Action Programs
The complementary regional approach of ARMAC to ASEAN mine action can best be demonstrated on the programs and projects implemented by the center. These programs, often initiated by a request from an AMS, fall under the three objectives of ARMAC’s mandate, benefitting the ASEAN region as a whole – rather than as single national mine action authorities.
The first project implemented by ARMAC was a platform for knowledge sharing titled “Regional Workshop: Enhancing Mine Action Knowledge and Promoting Future Platforms for Mine Action Knowledge Sharing for AMS." The late-2018 event held in Siem Reap, Cambodia, brought together ASEAN and international mine action stakeholders to share their experiences across differing contexts. Featuring a number of panel sessions and interactive discussions on topics - such as gender, new and innovative technologies, strategies to enhance the assistance provided to mine survivors, and mine risk education - the Workshop gave the participants an opportunity to interact and learn from their peers.
More practical efforts were also a point of discussion with presentations on how the use of pioneering technology, including trained rats and dogs, could greatly advance the efficiency and safety of mine clearance operations. The need to consider how the introduction of a social science and humanities perspective could lead to new insights in mine action research was also an important conclusion arising from the event. Moving further afield from the ASEAN region, a session on international cooperation and assistance helped participants to highlight the global impact of mines/ERW and illustrate why a systematic international framework could lead to increased opportunities for partnership across different countries.
This Regional Workshop achieved strong positive feedback from participants as ARMAC’s first substantial project in mine action. It laid the groundwork for more coherent political action within the ASEAN region. One of the Workshop’s key successes was to improve the communication between national mine action authorities as well as call attention to areas that ARMAC could assist with in terms of strengthening through future training and capability development.
Mine Awareness Day 2019
To mark the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action (4 April), ARMAC organized a two-day event that highlighted the participation of ASEAN youths to raise mine/ERW awareness for peace, stability and resilience in ASEAN.
Through the submission of artwork or essays clarifying the dangers of mines/ERW and the efforts to address them, thirty-two ASEAN-based students were selected from over five hundred applicants for presentation of their submissions. On the first day, these selected students had an opportunity to join a study tour and demonstration of mine action-related activities at the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces Cambodia’s (NPMEC) Training School for Multinational Peacekeeping Forces. They also visited the Vocational Training Center for Persons with Disabilities coordinated by the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA). The tour allowed the students to learn about the mine action sector, primarily mine clearance and victim assistance, as well as equip them with the necessary knowledge for their post-commemoration awareness activities in their home countries.
On the following day, a seminar attended by 370 participants including students from the AMS, ASEAN universities, mine action related international and local NGOs, UN agencies, development partners and government ministries was held alongside an exhibition of student work. After the seminar, a group discussion was held addressing: 1) mine action in the Southeast Asian region; and, 2) the means of raising awareness about the dangers of mines/ERW and efforts to address them. This discussion aimed to stimulate the students’ critical thinking and sharpen their future action plans to promote mine awareness among broader communities.
Upon returning to their home countries, the students contributed to raising mine awareness by utilising digital media, including creating websites, films, brochures and social media content. Some students opted to organise discussion sessions for their peers, held video screenings, or developed articles to be published in local newspapers. In addition, some students from Cambodia visited landmine victims and created a Volunteer Student Association. With the success of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action in Cambodia commemoration, ARMAC hopes future commemorations will be held in other AMS, encouraging a sense of community and regional momentum to address mines/ERW.
Mine Risk Education
Beyond providing platforms for knowledge sharing and networking, ARMAC also began to implement specific mine action programs that will work to directly strengthen AMS mine action capacity. Launched in 2019, ARMAC, with funding from the Government of Japan through its Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), it developed a project to enhance Mine Risk Education (MRE) by creating an integrated approach to MRE based on the best practices of AMS in educating their populations.
Through a set of consultative meetings, the project aims to bring mine/ERW affected ASEAN countries together to speak and learn from one another so that a collaborative community of MRE experts and stakeholders can take root. With this, ARMAC intends to build upon the existing successes of MRE in some countries and share these with the broader community so that all AMS and those individuals most at risk are educated on how to avoid mines/ERW and what to do when encountering them.
In addition to the development of an integrated approach to MRE, the funding provided by JAIF will also contribute significantly towards enriching ARMAC’s public dissemination of mine/ERW-related information through a redesigned website and social media accounts. The funding will also support the launch of an MRE magazine to spread awareness on mines/ERW and share examples of successes, recent innovations, new approaches, and case studies highlighting individual AMS’s current mine action programs running in affected communities.
Victim assistance is one of the core components of ARMAC’s work. ARMAC conducted a programme feasibility study in Cambodia in 2018 in collaboration with SingHealth, the largest public healthcare service provider in Singapore, to progress its efforts in this area. The study assessed the needs and resources for mine/ERW victims in Cambodia by mapping local stakeholders and their activities. This was primarily achieved through a meeting attended by a range of partners from the health, disability and mine action sectors, which reviewed the scope and status of physical and psychosocial victim assistance programmes available in Cambodia. These efforts included a field visit of victim assistance service providers (i.e. physical rehabilitation centres, public health centres and NGOs) to identify available services and specific needs of survivors of mines/ERW and other persons with disabilities. This mapping and field study exercise helped ARMAC in formulating a comprehensive programme on victim assistance. The program, “Enhancing Victim Assistance Programmes in the ASEAN Member States,” aims to strengthen the assistance to victims through the achievement of five principle objectives:
- To promote the establishment of a victim assistance network as a regional platform for various stakeholders within ASEAN;
- To assist the AMS in victim assistance-related knowledge sharing, needs and resources assessments and its mobilisation;
- To assess the needs of the victims of mines/ERW in the affected AMS for further assistance;
- To assist the AMS in providing psychosocial support to the victims of mines/ERW; and,
- To conduct research regarding “Mine Victim Assistance Inclusive Services in Cambodia,” as well as “Community Perspectives on Humanitarian Mine Action in Laos and Vietnam.”
Continuous Research and Knowledge - Sharing Commitment
Evidenced from the highlights of ARMAC’s program activities, research and ongoing commitment to knowledge sharing of ASEAN mine action are a key driver of the Center’s mission. As it looks towards the future, ARMAC strives to expand its operations and programs to ensure ASEAN’s mine action sector is resilient and impactful. ARMAC developed a three-year work plan to accomplish this and will further engage with mine action partners and donors to implement projects that contribute to peace, stability and development within the ASEAN region.
Dwi is the Technical Officer of Mine Action at ARMAC. She completed a Master’s Degree in Disaster Management from the University of Copenhagen, and a Bachelor of International Relations from the Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. During her studies in Indonesia she was involved with the Humanitarian Action Programme with the Institute of International Studies and participated in several research programmes, including the UGM-Osaka University Research Programme and tandem research with the German Academic Exchange Service’s Support at the University of Freiburg.
Nicholas is the Communications Officer at ARMAC where he oversees and implements the Center’s efforts to enhance their communications to the general public as well as to key partners. Nick holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Queensland and a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Commerce from the Australian National University. Prior to ARMAC he worked for the Australian Institute of International Affairs and the United Nations at UNESCAP in Bangkok.