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US: Join Allies in Banning Landmines

Obama Should Reverse US Stance as Landmark Treaty Marks 10th Anniversary


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

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.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.