Ukraine Symposium – Landmines and the War in Ukraine

by , | Mar 20, 2023


Human Rights Watch has documented the use of both anti-vehicle and anti-personnel landmines in Ukraine. Following reports that Ukraine is using anti-personnel landmines (APLs) in violation of the Ottawa Convention, the Ukrainian authorities acknowledged this allegation and reaffirmed the State’s commitment to its international obligations.

This post addresses the legal framework applicable to the use of landmines in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Because Ukraine and Russia have different legal obligations regarding landmines, this framework is complex. What is clear is that the use of APLs by Ukraine is unlawful in all circumstances. For Russia, the legality of employing APLs depends on the way they are used.

Regulating the Use of Landmines

The use of landmines was first regulated in 1980 in the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Protocol II to the CCW was one of the three protocols States originally adopted. Article 2(1) of Protocol II defines landmines as “any munition placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and designed to be detonated or exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or vehicle.” Protocol II adopts a design-based approach, clarifying that any munition could be qualified as a mine if it is designed to operate in any of the ways indicated. Consequently, only those devices designed to operate as mines are covered by the Protocol, regardless of their labelling. Munitions that may occasionally behave, or be used, as mines are excluded from its regulatory framework provided these are not specifically designed for such use.

Protocol II regulates not just manually emplaced landmines, but also remotely delivered landmines (RDLs) whose use is subject to different restrictions (art. 5). In summary, Protocol II limits the use of RDLs to areas constituting “a military objective or which contains military objectives” and requires effective advance warning to be given to potentially affected civilian populations.

The restrictions applicable to manually emplaced mine warfare are largely a restatement of the targeting rules contained in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. Protocol II to the CCW also provides detailed limitations on the use of landmines in populated areas. In particular, Article 4(2) states that mine warfare is prohibited “in any city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians in which combat between ground forces is not taking place or does not appear to be imminent” unless landmines are placed close to the enemy’s military objectives or appropriate measures are taken to protect civilians, such as the posting of warning signs. The Protocol II obligations on recording the location of minefields are rather weak.

Towards a More Civilian-Friendly Regulation of Landmines

Efforts to strengthen the regulation of landmines within the CCW led to the adoption of Amended Protocol II in 1996. It contains specific provisions on the use of APLs, understood as any mine “primarily designed” to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure, or kill one or more persons. Amended Protocol II prohibits the use of such mines which are “not detectable” as specified in the attached Technical Annex, and which do not comply with specific requirements of self-destruction and self-deactivation.

The prohibition of non-detectable APLs in Amended Protocol II is absolute, but the prohibition of non-remotely delivered APLs that are unable to self-destruct or -deactivate, is not. Belligerent parties may still use such APLs within perimeter-marked areas, or, under certain conditions, outside of such areas. The evident aim of these exceptions, as noted by Air Commodore Boothby, is to enable belligerent States to continue using APLs that do not comply with the more stringent standards of Amended Protocol II without, however, allowing the employment of long-term APL minefields (p. 164).

Amended Protocol II also made some useful improvements with regard to mine clearance, making each belligerent party responsible “for all mines…employed by it” and “to clear, remove, destroy or maintain” these in the area it controls after the hostilities. Further, the Amended Protocol strengthens the precautionary obligations to protect civilians from the effects of landmines. It absolutely prohibits the use of landmines against civilians and civilian objects by way of reprisal, and introduces more stringent recording obligations.

In relation to remotely delivered landmines (RDLs), Amended Protocol II introduced a number of restrictions which affect both their design and use. Most notably, it prohibits the use of all such mines which are not fitted with self-deactivation or self-destruction mechanisms. It also significantly improved the recording obligations. With regard to anti-personnel RDLs, Amended Protocol II created a special regulatory framework identical to that of non-remotely delivered APLs, which aims to further restrict their use.

Although Amended Protocol II went to great lengths to reinforce the law applicable to mine warfare, it failed to achieve an outright ban on APLs. This became the overarching goal of the Ottawa Convention, which was negotiated outside the framework of the CCW. It dictates that States parties shall “never under any circumstance” use, nor “develop, produce or otherwise acquire” APLs. Instead, States parties are required to destroy their stockpiles of APLs.

Customary Nature of the Rules

The fact that a number of highly relevant States such as the United States, China, Russia, and India are not party to some, or all the instruments described above begs the question whether their norms reflect customary international law. The influential ICRC Customary Law Study identifies only three basic customary rules applicable to mine warfare (rules 81 to 83). The more developed rules, including the ban on the use of APLs, thus seemingly lack customary status.

The Russia-Ukraine War

Russia and Ukraine have different obligations regarding mine warfare. While Russia and Ukraine both ratified Protocol II and Amended Protocol II, only Ukraine is a party to the Ottawa Convention. Thus, Ukraine may only use anti-vehicle landmines, whether manually or mechanically emplaced, or remotely delivered. In doing so, it must comply with all the precautionary and protective measures set out in Amended Protocol II.

Conversely, Russia may lawfully use any type of landmine, including APLs, provided that it observes the specific design, monitoring, and clearance requirements indicated in the Technical Annex of Amended Protocol II. Like Ukraine, Russia is expected and bound to comply with all precautionary and protective measures contained in Amended Protocol II when using landmines of any sort and to observe the strict recording criteria contained in the Technical Annex when manually or remotely positioning APLs.

HPD Anti-Vehicle Mines 

An illustrative example of the complex regulation of mine warfare in Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is whether the belligerents may lawfully use French Mine Antichar a Haut Pouvoir de Destruction (HPD) anti-vehicle mines. According to open sources, these mines may detonate if their anti-handling device comes into contact with mine-detector signals. This functionality may give the impression that the use of these mines is unlawful, and indeed, pro-Russian sources have made such allegations against Ukraine. However, Article 3(5) of Amended Protocol II only prohibits the use of landmines that are “specifically designed” to explode by the proximity of “commonly available” mine detectors. The necessary consequence of this language is that mines occasionally operating in this manner (such as HPD mines) but not “specifically designed” to do so, are generally exempted from the prohibition. Therefore, provided all due precautions are taken, the use of HPD mines by Ukraine is consistent with Amended Protocol II.    

Concluding Thoughts

The use of landmines by Russia and Ukraine is not categorically prohibited. This may seem unsatisfactory from a strictly humanitarian perspective, but the war in Ukraine demonstrates the military utility of landmines. For example, dense Ukrainian minefields near Pavlivka stopped a Russian advance on Vuhledar. Nevertheless, the use of landmines, particularly APLs, during armed conflicts remains a matter of concern. These weapons are inherently unable to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and they may also remain a hazard for the civilian population even after the conflict has ended.


Dario Pronesti is pursuing a Master of Laws degree in Public International Law at the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Jeroen C. van den Boogaard is Legal Counsel in International Law at the Legal Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He is also a lecturer and researcher at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed in this contribution are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, or of any of the other professional affiliations of the author.


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Symposium Intro: Ukraine-Russia Armed Conflict

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Russia’s “Special Military Operation” and the (Claimed) Right of Self-Defense

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Legal Status of Ukraine’s Resistance Forces

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February 28, 2022

Cluster Munitions and the Ukraine War

by William H. Boothby

February 28, 2022

Neutrality in the War against Ukraine

by Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg

March 1, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and the European Convention on Human Rights

by Marko Milanovic

March 1, 2022

Deefake Technology in the Age of Information Warfare

by Hitoshi Nasu

March 1, 2022

Ukraine and the Defender’s Obligations

by Eric Jensen

March 2, 2022

Are Molotov Cocktails Lawful Weapons?

by Sean Watts

March 2, 2022

Application of IHL by and to Proxies: The “Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk

by Marco Sassòli

March 3, 2022

Closing the Turkish Straits in Times of War

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

March 3, 2020

The Abuse of “Peacekeeping”

by Alexander Gilder

March 3, 2022

Prisoners of War in Occupied Territory

by Geoff Corn

March 3, 2022

Combatant Privileges and Protections

by Laurie R. Blank

March 4, 2022

Siege Law

by Sean Watts

March 4, 2022

Russia’s Illegal Invasion of Ukraine & the Role of International Law

by Michael Kelly

March 4, 2022

Russian Troops Out of Uniform and Prisoner of War Status

by Chris Koschnitzky and Michael N. Schmitt

March 4, 2022

On War

by Andrew Clapham

March 5, 2022

Providing Arms and Materiel to Ukraine: Neutrality, Co-belligerency, and the Use of Force

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 7, 2022

Keeping the Ukraine-Russia Jus ad Bellum and Jus in Bello Issues Separate

by Rob Mclaughlin

March 7, 2022

The Other Side of Civilian Protection: The 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention

by Jelena Pejic

March 7, 2022

Special Forces, Unprivileged Belligerency, and the War in the Shadows

by Ken Watkin

March 8, 2022

Accountability and Ukraine: Hurdles to Prosecuting War Crimes and Aggression

by Lauren Sanders

March 9, 2022

Remarks on the Law Relating to the Use of Force in the Ukraine Conflict

by Terry D. Gill

March 9, 2022

Consistency and Change in Russian Approaches to International Law

by Jeffrey Kahn

March 9, 2022

The Fog of War, Civilian Resistance, and the Soft Underbelly of Unprivileged Belligerency

by Gary Corn

March 10, 2022

Common Article 1 and the Conflict in Ukraine

by Marten Zwanenburg

March 10, 2022

Levée en Masse in Ukraine: Applications, Implications, and Open Questions

by David Wallace and Shane Reeves

March 11, 2022

The Attack at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant and Additional Protocol I

by Tom Dannenbaum

March 13, 2022

The Russia-Ukraine War and the Space Domain

by Timothy GoinesJeffrey BillerJeremy Grunert

March 14, 2022

Fact-finding in Ukraine: Can Anything Be Learned from Yemen?

by Charles Garraway

March 14, 2022

Status of Foreign Fighters in the Ukrainian Legion

by Petra Ditrichová and Veronika Bílková

March 15, 2022

Law Applicable to Persons Fleeing Armed Conflicts

by Julia Grignon

March 15, 2022

Ukraine’s Legal Counterattack

by Michael Kelly

March 17, 2022

The ICJ’s Provisional Measures Order: Unprecedented

by Ori Pomson

March 17, 2022

Displacement from Conflict: Old Realities, New Protections?

by Ruvi Ziegler

March 17, 2022

A No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine and International Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 18, 2022

Time for a New War Crimes Commission?

by Diane Marie Amann

March 18, 2022

Portending Genocide in Ukraine?

by Adam Oler

March 21, 2022

Are Mercenaries in Ukraine?

by Robert Lawless

March 21, 2022

Abducting Dissent: Kidnapping Public Officials in Occupied Ukraine

by Katharine Fortin

March 22, 2022

Are Thermobaric Weapons Unlawful?

by Matt Montazzoli

March 23, 2022

A Ukraine No-Fly Zone: Further Thoughts on the Law and Policy

by Terry D. Gill

March 23, 2022

The War at Sea: Is There a Naval Blockade in the Sea of Azov?

by Martin Fink

March 24, 2022

Deportation of Ukrainian Civilians to Russia: The Legal Framework

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 24, 2022

Weaponizing Food

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 28, 2022

Command Responsibility and the Ukraine Conflict

by Noëlle Quénivet

March 30, 2022

The Siren Song of Universal Jurisdiction: A Cautionary Note

bySteve Szymanski and Peter C. Combe

April 1, 2022

A War Crimes Primer on the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

by Sean Watts and Hitoshi Nasu

April 4, 2022

Russian Booby-traps and the Ukraine Conflict

by Michael N. Schmitt

April 5, 2022

The Ukraine Conflict, Smart Phones, and the LOAC of Takings

by Gary Corn

April 7, 2022

War Crimes against Children

by Véronique Aubert

April 8, 2022

Weaponizing Civilians: Human Shields in Ukraine

by Michael N. Schmitt

April 11, 2022

Unprecedented Environmental Risks

by Karen Hulme

April 12, 2022

Maritime Exclusion Zones in Armed Conflicts

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

April 12, 2022

Ukraine’s Levée en Masse and the Obligation to Ensure Respect for LOAC

by Jann K. Kleffner

April 14, 2022

Cultural Property Protection in the Ukraine Conflict

by Dick Jackson

April 14, 2022

Results of a First Enquiry into Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Ukraine

by Marco Sassòli

April 14, 2022

Comprehensive Justice and Accountability in Ukraine

by Chris Jenks

April 15, 2022

Maritime Neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

by David Letts

April 18, 2022

Cyber Neutrality, Cyber Recruitment, and Cyber Assistance to Ukraine

by Nicholas Tsagourias

April 19, 2022

Defiance of Russia’s Demand to Surrender and Combatant Status

by Chris Koschnitzky and Steve Szymanski

April 22, 2022

The Montreux Convention and Turkey’s Impact on Black Sea Operations

by Adam Aliano and Russell Spivak

April 25, 2022

Lawful Use of Nuclear Weapons

by Jay Jackson and Kenneth “Daniel” Jones

April 26, 2022

Litigating Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

by Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne

April 27, 2022

Military Networks and Cyber Operations in the War in Ukraine

by Heather Harrison Dinniss

April 29, 2022

Building Momentum: Next Steps towards Justice for Ukraine

by Philippa Webb

May 2, 2022

Counternormativity and the International Order

by Dan E. Stigall

May 3, 2022

Destructive Counter-Mobility Operations and the Law of War

by Sean Watts and Winston Williams

May 5, 2022

Are We at War?

by Michael N. Schmitt

May 9, 2022

The Ukraine Conflict and the Future of Digital Cultural Property

by Ronald Alcala

May 13, 2022

Neutral State Access to Ukraine’s Food Exports

by James Kraska

May 18, 2022

Negotiating an End to the Fighting

by Michael N. Schmitt

May 24, 2022

Is the Law of Neutrality Dead?

by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo

May 31, 2022

Effects-based Enforcement of Targeting Law

by Geoff Corn and Sean Watts

June 2, 2022

U.S. Offensive Cyber Operations in Support of Ukraine

by Michael N. Schmitt

June 6, 2022

War Sanctions Steadily Degrade the Russian Maritime Sector

by James Kraska

June 7, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 1

by Chris Jenks

June 22, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 2

by Chris Jenks

June 24, 2022

The Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group & Ukrainian Prosecutions of Russian POWs – Part 3

by Chris Jenks

June 28, 2022

Putting “Overall Control” to the Test of the Third Geneva Convention

by Alessandra Spadaro

July 6, 2022

The Risk of Commercial Actors in Outer Space Drawing States into Armed Conflict

by Tara Brown

July 8, 2022

The Release of Prisoners of War

by Jeroen van den Boogaard

July 8, 2022

The Attack on the Vasily Bekh and Targeting Logistics Ships

by James Kraska

July 11, 2022

Lessons from Syria’s Ceasefires

by Marika Sosnowski

July 12, 2022

Documentation and Investigation Responses to Serious International Crimes

by Brianne McGonigle Leyh

July 13, 2022

Rebel Prosecutions of Foreign Fighters in Ukraine

by René Provost

July 15, 2022

Forced Civilian Labor in Occupied Territory

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 2, 2022

Forced Conscription in the Self-Declared Republics

by Marten Zwanenburg

August 8, 2022

Amnesty International’s Allegations of Ukrainian IHL Violations

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 8, 2022

Oil Tankers as “Environmental Time Bombs,” or Not

by Mark Jessup

August 12, 2022

The Escalating Military Use of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

by Tom Dannenbaum

August 22, 2022

Protected Zones in International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

August 24, 2022

Photos of the Dead

by William Casey Biggerstaff

August 19, 2022

Deception and the Law of Armed Conflict

by William Casey Biggerstaff

September 8, 2022

Data-Rich Battlefields and the Future of LOAC

by Shane ReevesRobert Lawless

September 12, 2022

Russian Crimes Against Children

by Oleksii KaminetskyiInna Zavorotko

September 14, 2022

Targeting Leadership

by Mehmet Çoban

September 16, 2022

Illegality of Russia’s Annexations in Ukraine

by Lauri Mälksoo

October 3, 2022

Russia’s Forcible Transfer of Children

by Alison Bisset

October 5, 2022

The Kerch Strait Bridge Attack, Retaliation, and International Law

by Marko MilanovicMichael N. Schmitt

October 12, 2022

Russian Preliminary Objections at the ICJ: The Case Must Go On?

by Ori Pomson

October 13, 2022

The Complicity of Iran in Russia’s Aggression and War Crimes in Ukraine

by Marko Milanovic

October 19, 2022

Attacking Power Infrastructure under International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

October 20, 2022

Dirty Bombs and International Humanitarian Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

October 26, 2022

Doxing Enemy Soldiers and the Law of War

by Eric Talbot JensenSean Watts

October 31, 2022

Are Civilians Reporting With Cell Phones Directly Participating in Hostilities?

by Michael N. SchmittWilliam Casey Biggerstaff

November 2, 2022

Using Cellphones to Gather and Transmit Military Information, A Postscript

by Michael N. Schmitt

November 4, 2022

State Responsibility for Non-State Actors’ Conduct

by Jennifer Maddocks

November 4, 2022

Reparations for War: What Options for Ukraine?

by Luke Moffett

November 15, 2022

Further Thoughts on Russia’s Campaign against Ukraine’s Power Infrastructure

by Michael N. Schmitt

November 25, 2022

Russia’s Allegations of U.S. Biological Warfare in Ukraine – Part I

by Robert Lawless

December 2, 2022

Russia’s Allegations of U.S. Biological Warfare in Ukraine – Part II

by Robert Lawless

December 9, 2022

The THeMIS Bounty Part I: Seizure of Enemy Property

by Christopher Malis and Hitoshi Nasu

December 12, 2022

Classification of the Conflict(s)

by Michael N. Schmitt

December 14, 2022

The THeMIS Bounty Part II: Stealing Enemy Technology

by Christopher Malis, Hitoshi Nasu

December 16, 2022

The “I Want to Live” Project and Technologically-Enabled Surrender

by David Wallace, Shane Reeves

January 13, 2023

UN Peacekeepers and the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant

by Alexander Gilder

January 20, 2023

What’s in a Name? Getting it Right for the Naval “Drone” Attack on Sevastopol

by Caroline Tuckett

January 23, 2023

Ukraine’s “Suicide Drone Boats” and International Law

by Charles M. Layne

January 25, 2023

The Impact of Sanctions on Humanitarian Aid

by Alexandra Francis

January 27, 2023

A Wagner Group Fighter in Norway

by Camilla Cooper

February 1, 2023

The Legal and Practical Challenges of Surrendering to Drones

by William Casey Biggerstaff,Caitlin Chiaramonte

February 8, 2023

Field-Modified Weapons under the Law of War

by Ronald Alcala

February 13, 2023

The Wagner Group: Status and Accountability

by Winston Williams, Jennifer Maddocks

February 23, 2023

The Law of Crowdsourced War: Democratized Supply Chains – Part I

by Gary Corn

March 1, 2023

Reprisals in International Law

by Michael N. Schmitt

March 6, 2023

The Law of Belligerent Occupation

by David A. Wallace 

March 8, 2023

Seizure of Russian State Assets: State Immunity and Countermeasures

by Daniel Franchini

March 8, 2023

The Law of Crowdsourced War: Democratized Supply Chains – Part II

by Gary Corn

March 15, 2023

“Damn the Torpedoes!”: Naval Mines in the Black Sea

by Ben Rothchild, Mark Jessup

March 15, 2023