(Washington, DC) - The United States should participate in a milestone meeting of the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines and make a commitment to the join the agreement, Human Rights Watch said today.
"In the decade since the Mine Ban Treaty took effect, antipersonnel mines have been thoroughly stigmatized and relegated to the dustbin of history," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. "The US has much to gain and nothing to lose by joining the treaty."
The Second Review Conference of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty is scheduled to open in Cartagena, Colombia on November 30, 2009. More than 100 governments are expected to attend this event, also known as the "Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World." The US has been invited, but has not yet indicated whether it will participate. A special event to promote participation in the meeting is being held at the United Nations in New York on October 23.
"The Cartagena Summit represents an opportunity to get US policy on landmines back on the right track and reverse the damage of the Bush administration," said Goose. "The administration should engage with US allies on the landmine ban."
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. President Obama supported efforts to address the issue during his time in the US Senate, but the new administration has not yet taken a position on the landmine ban.
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.
A total of 156 nations are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, and another two countries have signed, but have not yet ratified. Nearly all of the 37 that have not yet joined are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty's provisions. Since the treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, the use of antipersonnel mines has largely dried up, with Burma the only government to make significant use of the weapon in recent years.
Trade in these weapons has virtually stopped, and only about a dozen of the more than 50 countries that manufactured antipersonnel mines in the past still retain the capacity. More than 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.
It is notable that one of Obama's fellow Nobel Peace Laureates is the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the prize in 1997 for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives. Human Rights Watch is a founding member of ICBL.
Goose is speaking at the treaty event at the United Nations, at 1:15 p.m. on Friday, October 23 in UN Conference Room IV.