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US: Trump Administration Abandons Landmine Ban

Reversal means its forces can use mines indefinitely, anywhere.

WASHINGTON - The Trump Administration’s decision to cancel a policy to eliminate all antipersonnel landmines reverses years of steady steps toward alignment with the 1997 treaty banning the weapons, Human Rights Watch said today. The new United States policy rolls back the US prohibitions on landmine production and use.

“Most of the world’s countries have embraced the ban on antipersonnel landmines for more than two decades, while the Trump administration has done a complete about-face in deciding to cling to these weapons in perpetuity,” said Steve Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch. “Using landmines, which have claimed so many lives and limbs, is not justified by any country or group under any circumstances.”

The new policy repeals a 2014 policy directive issued by the Obama administration, which banned US production and acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, as well as their use outside of a future conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The directive included a commitment not to assist, encourage, or induce other nations to use, stockpile, produce, or transfer antipersonnel mines.

The US participated in the Ottawa Process, which led to the creation of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The Clinton administration set the goal of joining in 2006. However, in 2004, the Bush administration announced a new policy rejecting the treaty. The 2014 policy by the Obama administration once again set the goal of joining the Mine Ban Treaty, but President Barack Obama never sent the treaty to the Senate recommending US accession.

A total of 164 countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999. Human Rights Watch chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate, together with Jody Williams.

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“With this policy, the US is marching out of step with its allies,” said Goose. In recent years, landmines have only been used by regimes known for their human rights abuses in Burma and Syria, and by non-state armed groups like ISIS.

While the administration claims landmines are necessary for US forces, the US has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and has destroyed millions of stockpiled mines.

Similarly, in December 2017, the Trump administration announced a new policy ending a longstanding US policy not to use unreliable cluster munitions and to destroy its stocks, a move that completely disregarded the widely accepted international ban on these weapons. Cluster munitions typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving unexploded duds that can act like landmines for years to come unless cleared and destroyed.

“Trump’s new policy to use antipersonnel mines any time anywhere in the world is a retrograde action that should be condemned,” Goose said. “All presidential candidates should endorse the goal of banning landmines.”

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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.

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