Happy 17th Birthday to the Mine Ban Treaty


The first ban on a conventional weapon in the history of disarmament, the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty entered into force 17 years ago on March 1, 1999. Handicap International played a decisive role in this historic advance in international humanitarian law. But the fight against anti-personnel landmines, the victims of which are 80% of civilians, continues, especially as the world awaits Treaty support from world powers such as the United States.

On March 1, the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines, of which Handicap International U.S. is an active member, sent a letter to the U.S. Administration, urging President Obama "to send the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty... to the Senate for its advice and consent on U.S. accession before you leave office." (Read the full letter by clicking here.)

The treaty, which bans the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines, has been a major success. A total of 162 States have signed the treaty. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the number of new casualties has fallen fivefold, from 20,000 annually to under 4,000 in 2014[1]. In the last five years alone, deminers have cleared 1,000 square kilometers of land and destroyed almost 1.5 million anti-personnel mines.[2]

Campaigners must remain vigilant. Thirty-five States, including the U.S., China, and Russia have not joined the treaty, while 57 States and four territories are still contaminated by anti-personnel mines[3]. In a recent, worrying development, there has been an increase in the use of “homemade” improvised explosive devices such as mines by non-State armed groups in the Syrian and Iraq conflicts.

Eradicating mines

The fight against mines can be won, as shown recently in Mozambique, where officials declared the country officially mine-free in September 2015. Handicap International played a major role in this achievement by decontaminating 16 million square meters of land between 1998 and 2015.

Since 1999, 28 State parties to the treaty have declared themselves mine-free. Assistance to the people injured by landmines will form an important component of mine action in the future, as they’ll continue to need assistance, care, and special equipment long after a country is deemed free of landmines.

Handicap International is conducting clearance operations, risk education, victim assistance, or advocacy actions in 43 countries, including in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Between 2010 and 2015, teams cleared 71 million square meters of land—twice the surface area of Brussels. By conducting surveys to identify and mark hazardous areas, Handicap International helped clear thousands of additional square meters of land.

Image: Senegal demining team member, Souleye, checking his equipment in Diagnon in December 2015. The demining program in Senegal is generously funded by the U.S. Department of State.

[1] For 2014, the Landmine Monitor 2015 recorded 3,678 mine/ERW casualties

[3] Idem