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child landmine victim

Mohammed Kadish's grandson Ahmed, who had his left hand blown off in a landmine explosion, is seen though a window of a hut in Abs District, Hajjah province, Yemen, on July 4, 2020. (Photo: Mohammed ALwafi/Xinhua via Getty)

Lawmakers Tell Biden US Has 'Moral Obligation' to Ban Landmines

"If the United States takes these steps it will be welcomed around the world."

Andrea Germanos

A bipartisan group of 21 lawmakers on Tuesday called on President Joe Biden to swiftly reinstate constraints on the use of landmines tossed out by the Trump administration and put the U.S. on a "definitive path" to joining an international treaty banning the use and stockpiling of the weapons.

"It is the right thing to do for our country, for the world, and for our men and women in uniform," the signatories, members of both the House and Senate, wrote (pdf) to Biden.

The letter was led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Leahy, as well as signatory Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), have spearheaded efforts in Congress to ban landmines.

Earlier this year, outrage was directed at the Biden administration after it announced it had not reversed loosening of restrictions on landmines implemented by the Pentagon under former President Donald Trump.

Trump had ordered a rolling back of Obama-era constraints on landmines that had limited their use to the Korean Peninsula and brought the U.S. closer to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, signed by 164 nations.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden vowed to "promptly" undo the Trump policy, calling it a "deeply misguided decision."

In their letter, the lawmakers say Biden must begin by reinstating the landmine limits put in place under President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president, "to reduce the carnage caused by anti-personnel mines." The group also urged Biden to task the Pentagon with drafting a classified report laying out landmine-free options for protecting South Korea and "finally putting the United States on a definitive path to accede the treaty" by 2024.

The lawmakers urged Biden to "put America on a path to make this longstanding goal a reality. If the United States takes these steps it will be welcomed around the world, it will enhance our credibility in seeking to stigmatize the use of anti-personnel mines, and it will put added pressure on other governments to renounce them."

In a statement to Common Dreams, McGovern expressed hope the Biden administration would "quickly reverse Trump's policy, returning the U.S. to a path toward compliance and laying out a roadmap for how we can join the international treaty to ban landmines"—an action the lawmaker said he's pushed for since his "very first day in office."

"These indiscriminate weapons cause long-lasting and indescribable suffering to innocent civilians and our own men and women in uniform," said McGovern. "They should be banned forever, everywhere, so that everyone can walk the earth safely."

The letter was welcomed by the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines-U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition (USCBL-USCMC).

"Ending the use of landmines is a moral issue, not a partisan one," Jeff Meer, steering committee chair for USCBL-USCMC and U.S. executive director of Humanity & Inclusion, said in a statement.

"We continue to encourage President Biden to retire landmines and bring the United States into the Mine Ban Treaty," he added. "The majority of the world's countries and all our NATO allies have done this, recognizing that a weapon that routinely kills indiscriminately has no place in the arsenal of a modern and just military."

The lawmakers' letter came two months after a coalition including dozens of heads of arms control, human rights, and veteran groups as well as former members of Congress similarly urged Biden to fully ban landmines and accede to the 1997 treaty. 

In their letter to the president, they rejected as insufficient United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield's April 8 statement that "President Biden believes we need to curtail the use of landmines."

"Decades of efforts to enhance the 'safety' of landmines have failed. No matter the technology, landmines are indiscriminate weapons. Regardless of their lifespan, they are victim-activated and do not distinguish between a combatant or a civilian while active, rendering them incapable of abiding by international humanitarian law," the group wrote.

"We have a moral obligation to the past victims of landmines and to future generations to do better," they said.

According to USCBL-USCMC, the U.S. has not used anti-personnel landmines since 1991, with the exception of a single munition in 2002.

A mine-free world is still not yet reality. According to the latest Landmine Monitor, they caused over 5,400 new casualties in 2019, overwhelmingly affecting civilians.

This article has been updated to include comment from Rep. McGovern.


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