Takoma Park, Maryland — On March 1 1999, the Ottawa Treaty banning the production, use, storage and trade of antipersonnel landmines entered into force. For the first time in history, a conventional weapon was banned by 122 States. Central to this victory was a coalition of six NGOs, including Handicap International.
Fifteen years later, we count 161 States Parties to the Treaty, representing a major step forward: there has been a fivefold reduction in the annual number of reported victims, more than 4,000 sq.km. of land has been demined, and 70 million mines stored by States have been destroyed.
This anniversary provides a reminder of the need to continue campaigning, particularly to put pressure on States that have not yet signed the treaty, including the United States, or those, like Syria, which still use these weapons.
Outraged by the use of anti-personnel mines, Handicap International joined forces with five other NGOs to form the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1992. On December 3, 1997, the campaign led to the signing of the international treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons. It was the first time in the history of disarmament that a civil society campaign had led to a ban on a conventional weapon. On December 10, of the same year, the member organizations of the ICBL were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The treaty is considered to be one of the most effective instruments of international humanitarian law,” explains Dr. Jean-Baptiste Richardier, executive director and co-founder of Handicap International. “Our determination has been largely successful. It has enabled us to earn the legitimacy we need to combat all uses of these weapons, even by States who refuse to sign the treaty.”
The Mine Ban Convention has 161 States Parties, with 33 countries still refusing to sign it. These countries include three of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the U.S., China and Russia.
The ban on anti-personnel mines has almost eliminated the use of these weapons in the field, and led to a fivefold reduction in the number of victims reported between 1999 and 2013. More than 4,000 sq.km. of land has been demined and 70 million mines stored by States have been destroyed. Following the implementation of this treaty, 27 States have completed the decontamination of their territory.
Handicap International is one of most active and comprehensive international humanitarian organizations in implementing the treaty in mined countries. Currently, Handicap International teams are conducting or providing support to anti-mine actions—demining, risk education, victim assistance, etc.—in 37 countries.
Unfortunately, these advances have been undermined by the renewed use of anti-personnel mines, such as in Syria within the last two years. Minefields in 71 countries and territories continue to kill and maim. Every two hours, a new victim of these weapons is reported somewhere in the world, 78% of these victims are civilians, and almost half are children.
Handicap International is keen to ensure that pressure continues to be brought on States that have yet to sign the treaty, such as the U.S.
The U.S. position contrasts with its otherwise exemplary behavior. The U.S. is the leading funder of anti-mine action, having donated $2 billion since 1993 to reduce the threat posed by these weapons and other explosive remnants of war. The U.S. has not used anti-personnel mines since 1991, has not produced any since 1997, and ended exports of these weapons in 1992.
“The fact that the United States is not yet a State Party to the Ottawa Treaty doesn’t make any sense,” says Marion Libertucci, Handicap International’s advocacy manager. “They must send out a strong signal that this norm is essential and lead by example. We’re concerned that major powers, like China and Russia, are hiding behind this failure to act on the part of the United States in order not to sign the treaty.”
President Barack Obama launched a landmine policy review in 2009, to determine if the country should join the Mine Ban Treaty. Since then, NGOs involved in this campaign, such as Handicap International, have been waiting impatiently for the results. The upcoming Third Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, which will be held in Maputo, Mozambique, in June 2014, should encourage the U.S. to make a firm commitment to joining the treaty without delay.