Landmark Treaty Marks 12th Anniversary
February 28, 2011
The United States has not used antipersonnel mines in two decades. They are a deadly relic of the past and should never be used again.
Steve Goose, Arms division director at Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) The ongoing review of United States landmine policy should result in a decision to ban all types of antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said today. March 1, 2011, will mark 12 years since the international treaty banning antipersonnel mines became binding international law.

"The United States has not used antipersonnel mines in two decades," said Steve Goose, Arms division director at Human Rights Watch."They are a deadly relic of the past and should never be used again."

The US already follows most of the key provisions in the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively bans all antipersonnel mines and requires clearance of contaminated areas and assistance to victims of the weapon. The US has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 in the first Gulf War, has not exported them since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997. It is also the biggest donor to mine clearance and victim assistance programs around the world. But it still stockpiles millions of antipersonnel mines for potential future use.

As of January 1, under a 2004 Bush administration policy decision, the US will no longer use so-called "dumb mines" or "persistent mines" anywhere in the world, including in South Korea. These landmines, the most common type, are usually buried in the ground and remain there, awaiting a victim. The US is in the process of destroying its stockpile of more than one million of these mines.

However, the US says it reserves the right to use "smart" or "non-persistent" mines anywhere in the world.  These mines have "self-destruct" features designed to blow the mine up after a period of time. The Mine Ban Treaty also prohibits these mines because they too pose unacceptable dangers to civilians. They are typically dispersed indiscriminately by aircraft or artillery in the hundreds or thousands over large areas. Many fail to explode as designed, and lay in wait for a victim or a mine clearer.   

The US began a comprehensive landmine policy review in late 2009, at the direction of President Barack Obama. The Clinton administration in 1998 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 intend to join.

Over the past year of the policy review, there have been notable expressions of support for a US ban on landmines. In November 2010, 16 Nobel Peace Prize laureates - including Mohamed ElBaradei, Shirin Ebadi, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, and Jody Williams - wrote to President Obama, himself a Nobel laureate, urging a US decision to join the Mine Ban Treaty. In May 2010, 68 US Senators sent a letter to Obama expressing strong support for the ban on antipersonnel mines. Under the US constitution, a two-thirds Senate majority is necessary for the US to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.

A total of 156 nations are parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, and another two have signed but not yet 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. Every NATO member except the US has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines, as have other US allies, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, just 15 months after it was negotiated - the shortest time ever for a multilateral treaty.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.