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On December 3rd, Burma's recently freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi added her name to the list of 15 other Nobel Peace Laureates who signed a letter sent November 30th to President Obama calling on the United States to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Suu Kyi added her name after speaking with Jody Williams, who received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize together with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Among other items, the two women spoke about the ongoing casualties in Burma caused by continued use of landmines by both government and opposition forces.

(Washington, DC) - Fifteen Nobel Peace Prize recipients have sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to ban antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch said today. The letter was sent on November 30, 2010, as the Obama administration's formal review of US landmine policy entered its second year.

The letter was signed by: Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams (1976), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Elie Wiesel (1986), Oscar Arias Sánchez (1987), His Holiness Dalai Lama (1989), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), F.W. De Klerk (1993), José Ramos-Horta (1996), Jody Williams (1997), John Hume (1998), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Wangari Maathai (2004), and Mohamed El Baradei (2005).

Jody Williams, an American, was awarded the prize along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) largely for their role in bringing about the Mine Ban Treaty.

"As a Nobel Peace Laureate himself, President Obama should exercise the moral weight that the prize carries and heed his fellow laureates' call to ban landmines," said Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the ICBL. "This letter is a powerful sign of support for the US to join the Mine Ban treaty."

On December 1, 2009, a State Department official confirmed that President Obama had initiated a comprehensive review of US landmine policy. The Nobel letter expresses hope that the landmine review, still under way, "will be guided by the humanitarian concerns that have already led 156 nations to ban the weapon, including nearly all U.S. military allies."

The letter says:

United States accession to this important instrument would bring great benefits to the U.S. and the world. It would strengthen U.S. national security, international security, and international humanitarian law. It would help strengthen the fundamental goal of preventing innumerable civilians from falling victim to these indiscriminate weapons in the future, and help ensure adequate care for the hundreds of thousands of existing survivors and their communities. U.S. membership would help spur to action the 39 states that remain outside the treaty.

The United States is participating as an observer in the Tenth Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty in Geneva, Switzerland, which began on November 29. The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, and urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the ICBL. Human Rights Watch also serves on the steering committee of the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Several Nobel Peace laureates have long expressed concern at the humanitarian impact of antipersonnel mines and have worked for their eradication:

  • The nongovernmental organization founded by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980), Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ), has worked to ensure that the Mine Ban Treaty is ratified and implemented throughout Latin America.
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984) publicly endorsed the call for a ban on antipersonnel mines in March 1995, when he was president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. Tutu opened a regional conference on landmines in South Africa in May 1997 that proved instrumental in building African-wide support for creating a strong treaty to ban antipersonnel mines.
  • His Holiness Dalai Lama (1989) endorsed the call for a total ban on landmines in 1995 at the urging of the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism, Maha Ghosananda, and Cambodian landmine survivors.
  • Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992), Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire (1976), and the three other founders (Williams, Ebadi, and Maathai) of the Nobel Women's Initiative, established in 2004, have actively supported the ICBL. Activities have included statements to annual meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty, media work, and outreach to governments that have not yet joined.
  • José Ramos-Horta (1996) spoke out against landmines and other weapons designed to inflict pain and death in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. When he became the Timor-Leste's first foreign affairs minister, the government acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, making it the first disarmament treaty that the new country joined after independence.
  • Jody Williams (1997) was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her leadership role as founding coordinator of the ICBL. Williams spearheaded the civil society-based campaign that cooperated with a group of small and medium-sized countries through the "Ottawa Process" to create the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
  • Shirin Ebadi (2003) opened the "Mine Clearing Collaboration Campaign" in 2004 to demand that Iran take greater action to clear mines laid during the Iran-Iraq war, assist mine victims, and join the Mine Ban Treaty.
  • Wangari Maathai (2004) participated in several events at the First Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, in Nairobi, Kenya in November and December 2004.

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