WASHINGTON - February 29 - Today, on the five-year anniversary of entry into force of the historic 1997 treaty prohibiting antipersonnel mines, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) condemned the Bush administration policy announcement that the United States will keep antipersonnel mines, reversing a ten-year policy to eradicate them.
The U.S. announcement casts a sinister shadow over our commemoration of the progress made globally since March 1999 to eradicate antipersonnel mines, said Jody Williams, co-laureate, together with the ICBL, of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. But, the Mine Ban Treaty has been extraordinarily successful at alleviating the global landmine problem without U.S. support for many years, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.
Under the policy, the United States will keep its 8.8 million smart antipersonnel mines that are fitted with self-destruct mechanisms designed to blow the mines up after a period of time. The U.S. will stop using what it calls persistent, or dumb, antipersonnel and antivehicle landmines after 2010four years later than the previous target date.
So-called smart mines still pose unacceptable risks for civilians, still cause new mine victims, in Chechnya for example, and the clearance task will still be time-consuming, costly and dangerous for deminers, said Stan Brabant, of Handicap International, a mine action NGO and founding member of the ICBL. The governments that negotiated the treaty back in 1997 recognized this and chose to prohibit all antipersonnel mines.
In 1994, the United States was the first country to call for the eventual elimination of all antipersonnel landmines setting in motion a chain of events leading to the negotiation of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The new policy announced 27 February reverses a 1998 Clinton administration decision to give up the use of all antipersonnel mines and join the treaty by 2006, if landmine alternatives are in place.
The process leading to the successful conclusion and implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty has been historic as it has pushed forward the development of international humanitarian law in a multilateral effort that includes the critical voice of civil society, said Elizabeth Bernstein, coordinator of the ICBL. By abandoning the near universally-held objective of total eradication of all antipersonnel mines, the U.S. has again rejected this new way of diplomacy. Today it stands completely alone to the great disappointment of its citizens and allies she added.
The new U.S. policy stands in stark contrast to the emerging international norm against antipersonnel mines. Globally, 150 countries, including every member of NATO except the U.S., have joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits all use, production, trade and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. Treaty membership has been growing in recent months as Belarus, Burundi Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, Sudan, and Turkey have joined.
According to the ICBLs Landmine Monitor initiative, adherence by States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty remains strong on the five-year anniversary of entry into force of the agreement. Landmine Monitor has found no concrete evidence of use of antipersonnel mines by any State Party to the treaty. A total of 68 States Parties have destroyed nearly 30.5 million mines, while another 13 are in the process of doing so. The compliance rate by States Parties in meeting their initial transparency-reporting requirement stands at 88 percent.
Virtually all the governments that have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty have endorsed the notion of a complete ban on all antipersonnel mines at some point in the future, a notion the United States now rejects. Many countries that are not party to the treaty have been taking important steps toward it, such as cessation of production and export.
There still remain between 15,000 and 20,000 new landmine victims per year, adding to the hundreds of thousands of landmine survivors requiring a lifetime of care. Despite the sustained efforts by mine action practitioners, landmines still litter 82 countries around the world, causing victims and affecting the socio-economic development of entire communities.
The most significant diplomatic meeting since the 1997 negotiations, the First Review Conference of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, will take place in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of November 2004. The ICBL urges all governments, including the United States, to participate in this 2004 Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World.