Mine Ban Treaty conference ends

11th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty comes to a close.

Landmines, which continue to injure and kill civilians worldwide, claimed 15 new casualties last week in Bosnia and Cambodia. Fewer than 124 miles from the accident in Cambodia, States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty were gathered in Phnom Penh last week for the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. These new victims served as a stark reminder to States Parties of the need for further progress in terms of meeting treaty obligations, such as mine clearance, stockpile destruction and universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty. The presence of non-States Parties, such as the United States and Myanmar (Burma), exemplified the international recognition of this treaty.

On December 1st, an anti-vehicle landmine exploded in Pursat province, Cambodia – one of the most mine-polluted countries in the world. The accident left six people injured. In Bosnia, three anti-personnel mine accidents killed three people, including a child, and severely injured six others. These tragic accidents serve as a reminder that the fight to ban these indiscriminate weapons is not over. More than 4,000 accidents caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war are identified each year in 60 states and territories, a figure that does not take into account unreported accidents.

Although mine-action funding increased this year, the percentage allocated to victim assistance – approximately $43 million -- remains low for the more than 500,000 survivors of mines or explosive remnants of war who are in need of life-long assistance.

The fight to ban landmines, which began 20 years ago when Handicap International and other NGOs began to draw attention to the human tragedy caused by these weapons, continued last week at the conference in Cambodia:

- Finland and Somalia – one of the most mine-polluted countries in the world – announced accession to the treaty in the coming months.

- Burundi and Nigeria were declared cleared of landmines, bringing the total number of States cleared of landmines to 20.  Uganda, Jordan and Guinea-Bissau will be completely cleared as of next year.

- Turkey announced destruction of its stockpiles, after several years of being in violation of Article 5 of the Treaty. "The pressure of the States Parties and organizations, such as Handicap International, has enabled this new victory,” said Paul Vermeulen, Head of Advocacy and Institutional Relations at Handicap International.

Fifteen non-States Parties were also present at this conference, including China, India, the United States and Myanmar (Burma). This was the first international meeting about landmines that Myanmar, which still regularly uses landmines, has attended. Handicap International welcomed the presence of States not party to the treaty at last week's international conference.

The United States, which attended the conference as an observer, confirmed that the review of U.S. landmine policy that was launched two years ago, is still underway, and that the Obama administration has still not announced plans to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and end the use of anti-personnel landmines.

The U.S. has not used anti-personnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced landmines since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. However, it still retains 10.4 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines for potential future use. The U.S. is one of only 38 countries in the world that have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty. It is also the only member of NATO that is not a signatory, and the only country in the Western Hemisphere, aside from Cuba, that has not joined.

"The United States must demonstrate that they will officially refrain from being the future leaders of new victims of these weapons,” said Vermeulen.