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Despite US Refusal to Sign On, Global Landmine Treaty Working

Syria sole country to employ deadly mines in 2012; US among few countries still maintaining right to produce them

- Common Dreams staff

Though the US government refuses to sign it, and the Syrian government chose to lay Soviet-era landmines across its territory amid an ongoing civil war in their country, the news from the latest report on the use of landmines worldwide shows positive developments in a global trend to move away from the notoriously indiscriminate weapons.

Clearance operations next to a school in the Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2011. (Photo courtesy Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor via James Gould-Bourn/DanChurchAid) Only a single government—Syria's—continued to actively deploy new landmines in 2012 while the number of countries rejecting use of of the deadly weapons increased worldwide, according to the latest annual report released Thursday by the  International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

"This represents a milestone for us: having only one country using antipersonnel mines," Mark Hiznay, editor of the report for the ICBL, told reporters in Geneva at the unveiling of the 2012 Landmine Monitor Report. Calling the development "good news," Hiznay said progress being made on the issue was "a testament to the achievements of the Mine Ban Treaty over the past 15 years."

Despite what campaigners called positive improvements by world governments, the ICBL report notes that the US continues to be the most powerful outlier among a handful of nations that continue to defend their right to produce such weapons.

And cautioning against undue celebration, Hizney said that despite the "great gains" made towards achieving a mine-free world, "eliminating the daily impact landmines have on countless communities will require a sustained international effort for years to come.”

The last time only one country was determined to have employed landmines was in 1997, the year the international Mine Ban Treaty originated. Hiznay said the finding is a significant change from last year, when four governments (Israel, Libya, Myanmar and Syria) were found to have laid mines.

With Finland, South Sudan and Somalia signing onto the treaty this year, the list of countries rejecting landmines continues to grow, showing both the success of the ICBL's global campaign and the treaty itself. Currently, all sub-Saharan African countries have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, according to the report, with 160 countries around the world party to the treaty.

While Hiznay said the decline in mine clearance and land mine casualty rates is "good news," he noted that 2011 saw 4,286 new casualties from landmines and explosive remnants from war — about 12 casualties per day versus 32 per day in 2001.

“While the annual rate of new casualties has decreased greatly during the past decade, the total number of survivors in need of victim assistance has continued to grow around the world each year," Hiznay said. "Yet the promise of the treaty to adequately address the rights and needs of the hundreds of thousands of survivors must be fulfilled. This continues after the stockpiles have been destroyed and clearance completed."

While some countries have seen marked decreases in casualties and human suffering, the report states, others — including Libya, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria — have experienced a decrease in international funding for victim assistance. Landmine use by non-state armed groups is also up by two to six countries, which could include: Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand and Yemen. And another eight countries — China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam — still reserve the right to produce landmines.

Hiznay told reporters in Geneva that the Syrian regime appeared to be using old stockpiles of the weapons produced by the Soviet Union in the 1980s but said there was "no indication of recent supplies."

Other key findings of the study include:

  • 87 states parties have officially declared completion of stockpile destruction, collectively destroying more than 46 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines.
  • Three states parties remain in violation of the treaty, failing to complete destruction of stockpiles within a four-year deadline: Belarus, Greece and Ukraine.
  • 37 mine action programs worldwide destroyed more than 325,000 antipersonnel mines and nearly 30 anti-vehicle mines.
  • Challenges to availability and accessibility to assistance and services for survivors were identified in at least 12 countries in 2011, primarily due to declining international assistance and new or intensified conflicts.

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