Mine Ban Treaty Marks 14 Years Since Becoming International Law
March 1, 2013

The United States is already acting like it has given up antipersonnel landmines, but its actions need to be confirmed in its declared policy. The US can meet its national defense needs and security commitments without antipersonnel mines.

Steve Goose, arms director

(Washington, DC) – The Obama administration, which is poised to make a decision on future US policy on landmines, should at long last embrace the ban on antipersonnel landmines on the Mine Ban Treaty’s 14th anniversary.

“The United States needs to accept that the world has moved on and there is no longer a place for antipersonnel mines,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “The US has followed the key requirements of the treaty throughout its existence – no use, no production, no trade. Washington should stop clinging to antipersonnel mines as an unneeded contingency, and instead join US allies in the comprehensive ban.”

A total of 161 nations are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which was opened for signature in December 1997 and entered into force on March 1, 1999. The treaty comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. Members include all European Union countries, all NATO members except the US, all nations in sub-Saharan Africa, all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba and the US, many countries in Asia-Pacific, and several nations from the Commonwealth of Independent States. Like the US, nearly all of the other 34 countries that have not signed the treaty follow its key provisions.

At a Mine Ban Treaty meeting in Geneva in December 2012, the US announced that the comprehensive landmine policy review initiated in late 2009 would conclude “soon.” The policy decision is understood to be in the hands of President Barack Obama.

“The United States is already acting like it has given up antipersonnel landmines, but its actions need to be confirmed in its declared policy,” Goose said. “The US can meet its national defense needs and security commitments without antipersonnel mines.”

The last recorded US use of antipersonnel landmines was more than 20 years ago, during the 1991 Gulf War. The US has had an export ban on antipersonnel mines in place since 1992. There has been no known US production of antipersonnel mines since 1997. The US is the world’s largest contributor to global mine clearance and victim assistance programs. Since 2009, the US has participated as an observer in meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty.

Since the US policy review began, the administration has received letters or statements of support for the Mine Ban Treaty from 68 Senators, 16 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, key NATO allies, senior military veterans, dozens of leaders from nongovernmental organizations, victims of US landmines, and more than 200,000 concerned Americans.

Since the Mine Ban Treaty came into force on March 1, 1999, more than 46 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines have been destroyed, 23 countries have completed mine clearance to become mine-free, and the annual number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war has decreased dramatically. In the past couple of years antipersonnel landmines have been used only by Syria, Burma, Israel, and Libya, none of which have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, as well as a small number of rebel groups.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, together with its coordinator, Jody Williams, for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.