Filda lost her leg in a landmine explosion in Uganda. She faces discrimination in her community and has not benefitted from government livelihood assistance programs.

© 2010 Martina Bacigalupo/Agence VU

(New York) – The United States and other countries that have not yet banned antipersonnel landmines should join the treaty to eradicate these weapons, Human Rights Watch said today on the 20th anniversary of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which it co-founded.

“The international treaty is making a significant and lasting impact in ridding the world of antipersonnel mines, weapons that are now widely acknowledged to be unacceptable relics of the past,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “The United States and other holdouts need to get on the right side of humanity and join the treaty.”

A total of 160 nations are parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires clearing the mines and assisting their victims.  The United States and 35 other countries have not joined; but nearly all, including the US, follow the treaty’s key provisions and have not used, produced, or exported antipersonnel mines in many years.

In January 2012, Finland became the most recent country to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.  Poland has signed it and has promised to ratify by the end of this year. Other nations known to be actively considering joining the Mine Ban Treaty include Laos, Lebanon, Oman, and Tonga.

The US began a comprehensive landmine policy review in late 2009 to determine if the US should join the treaty. Inter-agency deliberations were reportedly concluded earlier this year, but no decision has been announced.

“Our work is far from complete as countries outside the Mine Ban Treaty still stockpile millions of mines and some armed forces continue to use them,” Goose said. “Any new use of antipersonnel mines should be strongly condemned by those who care about protecting civilians during and long after armed conflict.”

Antipersonnel landmines have been used during 2012 by Syria and Burma and in 2011 by Burma, Israel, and Libya. Government forces led by Muammar Gaddafi, then the Libyan leader, laid thousands of landmines during the 2011 conflict, drawing from a stockpile that is believed to number in the hundreds of thousands. A shrinking number of rebel groups also continue to use mines.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize together with its coordinator Jody Williams, for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives. The campaign was established by six nongovernmental organizations at the New York offices of Human Rights Watch in October 1992.

The ICBL consists of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations active in more than 100 countries working to ensure full universalization and effective implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty. Its Landmine Monitor initiative provides civil-society-based verification for the treaty and monitors the international humanitarian response to clear landmines and assist victims. Since the Mine Ban Treaty came into force on March 1, 1999, more than 45 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines have been destroyed, 20 countries have completed mine clearance to become mine-free, and the annual number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war has decreased dramatically.

Several co-founders of the ICBL are speaking at a special event hosted by Human Rights Watch in New York on the evening of October 19, including Williams, Goose, Jean-Baptiste Richardier of Handicap International, Nick Roseveare of the Mines Advisory Group, Susannah Sirkin of Physicians for Human Rights, and Firoz Alizada of the ICBL.