Landmines Banned, And Still Kill Thousands

Landmines Banned, And Still Kill Thousands

BRUSSELS - Ten years after an international ban on the use of landmines was agreed, the weapons still claimed thousands of lives during 2007, a new report has calculated.

Even though only two countries -- Burma and Russia -- continue to use landmines, deaths and injuries are still being caused by those set during a large number of conflicts around the world, and that have never been deactivated.

According to the annual Landmine Monitor report, landmines and other 'explosive remnants of war' such as grenades, mortars and cluster bombs killed 5,426 people last year.

Stan Brabant, a spokesman for Handicap International, which launched the report in Brussels Nov. 21, described this finding as "very scary". The true number of lives lost is likely to be considerably higher.

Nonetheless, he noted that steady progress has been made in reducing casualties caused by landmines since an international mine ban treaty was agreed in 1997. During the 1990s mines and related weapons caused about 26,000 deaths per year.

Under the treaty, which has been ratified by 156 nations, governments have 10 years to clear landmines on their territory. Britain is among a coterie of states to be "at risk of violating the treaty," said Brabant, because it has made little progress in clearing mines in the Falkland Islands, a territory in the South Atlantic over which former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's government went to war with Argentina in 1982.

One of the most positive effects of the treaty is that it appears to have 'stigmatised' landmines to the point that it has even deterred many of those countries which have refused to sign it to destroy at least part of their stockpiles. Some 42 million landmines were destroyed last year. And while Russia has used landmines in the recent conflict in Chechnya, it destroyed about a million of these weapons.

The report also notes that international aid for dealing with the consequences of landmines totalled 431 million dollars in 2007, a drop of 45 million dollars from the previous year. The European Union, which is the largest donor, contributed 200 million dollars, a 25 percent decrease from 2006.

The campaign against cluster bombs received a major boost in May when 107 countries supported a ban on their use at a conference in Dublin. The treaty is to be formally opened for signature at a ceremony in Oslo next month.

But the agreed ban did not prevent the use of cluster bombs during the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August.

Investigations by Human Rights Watch concluded that at least 16 civilians died as a result of these weapons, which are known to tear limbs off a victim's body, and another 56 were injured.

Although Russia has denied allegations that it dropped cluster bombs, the Georgian authorities have admitted that they used these weapons, which they had bought from an Israeli manufacturer.

Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch, travelled to Georgia to assess the use of these bombs. He said that thousands of them remain unexploded in the province of Gori, and that it could take six months before they are cleared. Georgia is probing why a large number of the bombs it used appear to have been defective.

The U.S. has been one of the most strident opponents of the international ban. George W. Bush, the outgoing president, is known to have personally telephoned foreign leaders urging them to resist a watertight ban. But campaigners are hoping that his successor Barack Obama will adopt a more constructive stance to both this agreement and the 1997 treaty against landmines, which the U.S. has failed to ratify.

Garasco argued that the U.S. is at odds with most other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). "The vast majority of the U.S.'s NATO allies -- the UK, Germany, Canada, France -- feel comfortable in giving up these two weapons, landmines and cluster bombs," he said. "So there is really no reason for the U.S. not to."

Meanwhile, a study funded by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has identified over 16,000 firms that manufacture equipment for use in torture.

Conducted by the Omega Foundation, a group based in Manchester in the UK, the study also identified 6,000 items that can be used to inflict pain on detainees.

The study is designed to track what progress has been made since EU regulations against the 'torture trade' were introduced. It follows a 2007 report, undertaken jointly by Omega and Amnesty International, that pinpointed major weaknesses in the regulation. Some of the most notorious tools used by torturers -- such as a baton with spikes known as a sting stick and ropes designed for executions -- are not covered by it.

EU officials say that discussions on extending the scope of the measure are scheduled to take place in Brussels in early 2009.

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