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An Afghan orthopedic technician makes artificial limbs in a workshop at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) hospital in Kabul.  © 2019 Wakil Kohsar/AFP

(Washington, DC) – The United States should reverse its decision to allow the US to use landmines anywhere in the world in perpetuity, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch issued a question-and-answer document reviewing the landmine policy changes.

A January 31, 2020 memo by Defense Secretary Mark Esper reverses a 2014 ban on US production and acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, as well as their use outside of a future conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The policy decision nullifies years of steps by the US to align its policy and practice with the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. 

The US last used antipersonnel mines in 1991, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and has destroyed millions of stockpiled mines.

“Nations that have banned landmines are understandably dismayed by the US decision to produce and use these indiscriminate weapons,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Continued vigilance is needed to defend the emerging norm against antipersonnel mines.”

The Mine Ban Treaty president, Ambassador Osman Abufatima Adam Mohammad of Sudan, criticized the new policy for going against the US government’s “long-standing commitment to work towards the eradication of the suffering” caused by antipersonnel landmines.

Mine Ban Treaty States Parties such as Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have expressed concern and disappointment over the new US policy, as has the European Union.

The Mine Ban Treaty, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance, destruction of stockpiles, and assistance to mine victims.

A total of 164 countries have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, including all other NATO members and the US allies Australia and Japan. The US participated in the 1996-1997 Ottawa Process to negotiate the treaty, but never adopted or signed it.

More than 50 US nongovernmental organizations that are part of or support the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines issued a joint statement on February 20 that condemns the US landmine policy changes and calls on Congress to block any US acquisition or production of antipersonnel mines.

Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate.

“The US has used other means and methods to fight over the past 30 years without having to resort to using banned landmines,” Goose said. “Embracing such widely discredited weapons now will ultimately increase the risks faced by US service members.”

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