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Human Rights Developments

The year 1998 saw the coalescing of a new force in international politics, an alliance of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and what became known as the “like-minded” governments around a focused human rights and humanitarian agenda. This alliance, whose members varied according to the issue addressed, originated with the Ottawa process to develop a comprehensive international ban on antipersonnel landmines in the fall of 1996, and gathered momentum with the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997. It then turned to new issues of pressing humanitarian concern in 1998, including the international criminal court (treaty signed in July 1998), the use of child soldiers, and the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons.

The initial success of the landmines campaign and the new attention paid to the trade in conventional weapons brought hope that the international community would, for the first time since World War II and the promulgation of the foundations of modern human rights and humanitarian law—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the Genocide Convention (1948), and the Geneva Conventions (1949)—act to stem the proliferation and use of the instruments that have played a primary role in the massive humanitarian crises this half-century has witnessed. While the world’s overriding concern over weapons of mass destruction during the past fifty years was understandable given the nature of those weapons and the security imperatives driving the cold war, it could not justify the utter neglect of “the other proliferation”—of small arms and light weapons, weapons that were the real killers, especially of civilians, in armed conflicts the world over during those years. It was apt testimony to the vast changes since the end of the cold war that the prospect of an end to the landmines plague and effective curbs on the arms trade, unthinkable even ten years ago, at last began to appear realistic at century’s end.

Yet it was clear that much work remained to be done. Adoption of a new landmines treaty did not translate automatically into its active implementation, let alone significant headway in the enormous tasks of landmine removal and victim rehabilitation. Likewise, discussions on the need to tackle the proliferation of small arms and light weapons were at an early stage, with the various actors involved in the emerging campaign divided on goals and tactics. They were not helped by the complexity of the issue, the privatization of the arms trade, the problem of vested interests associated with the huge profits the arms industry rakes in, and the continuing high demand for weapons, as armed conflicts continued to be prosecuted or break out anew in Africa and elsewhere.

The Landmine Ban Treaty and Beyond

The signing of the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines by 122 governments in Ottawa, Canada on December 3-4, 1997 and the receipt of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize the following week were tremendous achievements for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the global network of over 1,000 nongovernmental organizations active in over seventy-five countries. Human Rights Watch was a cofounder of the ICBL and one of its most active members. The historic Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (the Mine Ban Treaty) marked the first time that states outlawed a weapon that was in widespread use. It was a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines in all circumstances. The treaty also required that stockpiles be destroyed within four years of the treaty’s entry into force, and that mines already in the ground be removed and destroyed within ten years.

This treaty was only the beginning of the end for these indiscriminate weapons, which were estimated to kill or maim thousands of civilians every year. The ICBL, acutely aware that the work to truly eradicate this insidious weapon had just begun, laid out an ambitious agenda for 1998, encompassing a variety of activities related to the treaty including rapid ratification, universalization, and effective monitoring, as well as expanded activities related to humanitarian mine clearance and victim assistance.

Quick ratification was a top priority so that the clock would start ticking on various treaty obligations, notably the deadlines for destruction of stockpiles and mines already in the ground, as well as for reporting requirements. On September 16, Burkina Faso became the fortieth nation to ratify, triggering an entry into force date of March 1, 1999. Thus, the Mine Ban Treaty was set to become binding international law faster than any major international treaty in history. The ICBL declared its intention to keep up the ratification effort, though, until all signatories were on board. At the time of writing, forty-seven nations had ratified the treaty.

Progress was also made in universalizing the treaty, that is, getting all nations to sign. The number of signatories and accessions rose from 122 to 133 by October with the addition of Albania, Bangladesh, Belize, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Jordan, Macedonia, Maldives, Sâo Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. The United States stated its intention to sign by the year 2006, and Russia indicated it would sign “in the foreseeable future.”

In order to monitor implementation of and compliance with the treaty, as well as global progress in dealing with the landmine crisis, an unprecedented major new initiative was launched in June by lead members of the ICBL. Called Landmine Monitor, its key elements included the establishment of a civil society-based global reporting network, a database, and production of an annual report.


Exposing The Source:
U.S. Companies and the Production of Antipersonnel Mines - HRW Campaign Update


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