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CONTACT: Human Rights Watch (HRW)
US: Join Allies in Banning Landmines
Obama Should Reverse US Stance as Landmark Treaty Marks 10th Anniversary
WASHINGTON - February 27 - The United States should reconsider its stance and join the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said today. Sunday, March 1 will mark 10 years since the treaty became binding international law.
"In the decade since the Mine Ban Treaty took effect, the weapon has become so stigmatized that it is almost inconceivable that the United States would ever use it again," said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. "The US should stop being the odd man out and join its allies in banning antipersonnel mines."
Except for the US, every NATO member has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines, as have other key allies, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Australia, and Japan. In the Western Hemisphere, only the US and Cuba have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty.
"A decision to sign the Mine Ban Treaty would certainly reinforce President Obama's stated commitment to international humanitarian law, protection of civilians, arms control and disarmament, and multilateralism," said Goose.
The Clinton administration in 1997 set the objective of joining the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, but the Bush administration reversed course in February 2004 and announced that it did not ever intend to join.
On March 1, 1999, the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, just 15 months after it was negotiated - the shortest time ever for a modern international treaty. The treaty comprehensively bans all antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, requires destruction of mines already in the ground within 10 years, and urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines.
Since the treaty came into force, the use of antipersonnel mines has largely dried up; in recent years only the pariah government of Burma and a few rebel groups have laid significant numbers of mines. Trade in these weapons has virtually stopped. Only about a dozen of the more than 50 countries that manufactured antipersonnel mines in the past still retain the capacity. Some 42 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed from stockpiles. Large tracts of land have been cleared of these mines and returned to productive use. The number of civilians killed and wounded by mines each year has fallen dramatically.
A total of 156 nations are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, and another two states have signed, but still not ratified. China, Russia, and the United States are among the 37 states that have not yet joined. But nearly all of those states are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty's provisions.
The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. But it still stockpiles more than 10.4 million antipersonnel mines for potential use in the future.
"The US did not need to use antipersonnel mines in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any place else in the past 17 years," said Goose. "Clearly the weapon has little or no military value to US forces today, and the political costs of using landmines would be very high."
On February 10, leaders from 67 national nongovernmental organizations issued a letter calling on President Obama to join the Mine Ban Treaty. Though he was supportive of efforts to restrict landmines during his time in the US Senate, the new administration has not yet taken a position on the agreement.
The letter also called on the Obama administration to join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was opened for signature in Oslo in December 2008 and has been signed by 95 governments to date. The Bush administration chose not to participate in the development or negotiation of that convention banning cluster munitions, which was modeled on the Mine Ban Treaty.
Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL is commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty with events and activities in more than 50 countries. In New York City, a treaty event featuring Steve Goose and the Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams will be held at 6 p.m. on March 2 at Scandinavia House.