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(Cartagena) - The United States should follow through on its commitment to a thorough review of its landmine policy and join the international treaty banning the weapon, Human Rights Watch said today at the conclusion of a five-year review conference of the agreement in Cartagena, Colombia.

In a statement at the conference on December 1, 2009, the head of the US delegation, James Lawrence, said the US has begun a comprehensive landmine policy review "initiated at the direction of President Obama." This reversed a statement by a State Department spokesperson on November 24 that the US had completed a policy review and would not join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The US statement in Cartagena came after a swift outcry by congressional leaders and civil society, including Human Rights Watch.

"The US has taken an important step by attending this conference and promising to review its policy," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch. "Now it needs to follow through and then join the treaty, along with nearly all of its key allies."

This was the first time the US had participated in a formal meeting of the Mine Ban Treaty, which 156 nations have joined. More than 1,000 representatives of government and nongovernmental organizations, including dozens of ministers and other high-level officials, attended this second five-year review conference of the treaty, the "Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World."

At the review conference, states parties to the treaty agreed on an ambitious five-year action plan on demining, victim assistance, stockpile destruction, and to universalize membership of the treaty.

Albania, Greece, Rwanda, and Zambia announced that they have completed mine clearance and that their countries are now mine-free. Regrettably, Ukraine said that it would not be able to meet its June 2010 treaty-mandated deadline for stockpile destruction and may need another five or more years. Belarus, Greece, and Turkey, which missed their March 2008 stockpile destruction deadlines, still could not provide firm dates for finishing their stockpile destruction programs.

The US has not used, produced, or exported antipersonnel mines in the 12 years since the Mine Ban Treaty was established in 1997. That year, the Clinton administration set the objective of joining the treaty in 2006, but that course was reversed by the Bush administration. Nearly all of the 37 states that have not yet joined are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty's provisions.

"This policy review needs to be conducted with an openness to joining the Mine Ban Treaty," Goose said. "It should identify obstacles to joining the treaty and figure out how to overcome them, consulting with US allies, congressional leaders, and outside experts, including civil society."

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate. Goose is head of the 400-member civil society delegation to the Cartagena Summit.

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