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Landmine Treaty: Progress in Phnom Penh

US Should Conclude Policy Review and Join Mine Ban

(Phnom Penh) – The international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines is making strong progress toward its objective of a mine-free world, Human Rights Watch said today, as a major meeting on landmines wrapped up in Phnom Penh. However, the United States’ review of its policy has regrettably entered its third year without conclusion, Human Rights Watch said.

“We’ve largely succeeded in stigmatizing this coward’s weapon, but antipersonnel mines continue to claim too many lives and limbs in Cambodia and elsewhere years after they were laid,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “It is very encouraging that more and more countries continue to embrace the movement to ban landmines, and that impressive progress is being made in landmine clearance and stockpile destruction.”

The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. A total of 158 nations are party to the treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, and another two states have signed, but not yet ratified.

A total of 97 countries participated in the Mine Ban Treaty’s Eleventh Meeting of States Parties, held in Phnom Penh from November 27 to December 2, 2011 – 82 states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and 15 countries that have not yet joined. Observer delegations participated from China, India, Burma, Singapore, the US, and Vietnam.

The meeting reviewed progress and challenges in implementation and universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty. Major developments included the following:

  • Finland’s minister of international development, Heidi Hautala, announced that her government will join the  treaty in the coming weeks;
  • Somalia declared that it would join in the next few months, if not sooner;
  • The two newest treaty members – South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, and Tuvalu – actively participated in the meeting;
  • Turkey announced it has completed the destruction of its stockpile of 2.9 million antipersonnel landmines, a very significant achievement since it had missed its treaty-mandated deadline of March 1, 2008;
  • Belarus, which also missed its stockpile destruction deadline of March 1, 2008, said it would complete the job in May 2013;
  • Burundi and Nigeria declared the completion of their mine clearance obligations, bringing the total of mine-free states parties to 18.

“The United States needs to stop sitting in the back row as an observer in Mine Ban Treaty talks,” Goose said. “The US needs to conclude its landmine policy review, join the rest of the international community that has rejected this weapon, and play a positive leadership role.”

In late 2009, the US began a comprehensive landmine policy review “initiated at the direction of President Obama.” The Clinton administration, in 1998, 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 intend to join.

The US and nearly all of the 38 other states that remain outside the ban treaty are in de facto compliance with most of the treaty’s provisions. Every NATO member has foresworn the use of antipersonnel mines except for the US, as have other key allies, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

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 millions of antipersonnel mines for potential use.

Cambodia, the host of the meeting, is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. According to Landmine Monitor, Cambodia has approximately 44,000 survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war. An extensive mine action program established in 1992 has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of new mine victims, but lives continue to be lost. There were at least 286 Cambodian casualties in 2010 from mines, explosive remnants of war, and cluster munitions.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives. In 1991, Human Rights Watch issued a ground-breaking report on “Landmines in Cambodia: The Coward’s War”.

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