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January 31, 2020

Trump cancels Obama landmine policy; ensures civilian suffering with new mine use potential

Abdul, who stepped on an explosive remnant of war in Afghanistan, receives physical therapy from Humanity & Inclusion.

Silver Spring, Maryland—The Trump Administration has announced a deadly landmine policy shift, effectively committing the U.S. to resume the use and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines. Landmines are devastating, victim-activated devices that cannot discriminate between the footstep of a child or that of a soldier.

“This move is a death sentence for civilians,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “There are acts in war that are simply out of bounds. Nations, even superpowers, must never use certain weapons because of the superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering they cause. Landmines fall directly into this category. There is no use for landmines that cannot be accomplished by other means that do not so significantly and indiscriminately kill and maim civilians.”

The move is a direct reversal of President Obama’s 2014 commitment that inched the U.S. closer to compliance with the 1997 Ottawa Convention, known as the Mine Ban Treaty. President Obama’s move left only the Korean peninsula as an exception, due to ongoing mine use in the demilitarized zone.

Failure rate

The announcement states, "The Department of Defense is issuing a new landmine policy. This policy will authorize Combatant Commanders, in exceptional circumstances, to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces."

Non-persistent mines are typically laid on the ground surface, and they should be able to destroy themselves within a relatively short period of time—from a few hours to days.

“Don’t be fooled,” warns Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager. “Everything that man creates has a failure rate. What happens if they don’t neutralize as intended? Our teams see, first hand, how weapons often marketed as “self destructing” continue to injure, maim, and terrorize civilians all over the world on a daily basis. The idea that so-called “advanced” landmines will be safer than older types of devices, is absurd. Who will explain these devices and their unknown fail rates to the parents of children killed while playing or walking to school?” 

Mine Ban Treaty

The U.S. is one of the few countries that has yet to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, sharing ranks with China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia. There are 164 States parties to the treaty, making the ban on landmines a universal norm of international humanitarian law. However, the great paradox of this policy shift is that for nearly 30 years, the U.S. has refrained from using or trading antipersonnel landmines.

“The U.S. claims that the protection of civilians is at the core of their defense policy,” adds Al-Osta. “For the last four decades, Humanity & Inclusion has been documenting the indiscriminate effects of landmines on civilians. This announced setback on landmines is thus in contradiction with existing U.S. policy.”

What’s more, the policy change sends a very negative signal, essentially handing a blank check to States or groups willing to continue or expand their use of landmines, which had significantly decreased after the entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty.

Humanity & Inclusion’s decades of experience with clearing landmines, as well as taking care of survivors of landmine explosions, leads to the conclusion that no use is safe. “We oppose in the strongest terms the idea that military commanders will feel empowered to use mines,” Meer notes. “The safest landmine is the one that is never produced.”  

Humanity & Inclusion will work with our partners at the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines to encourage U.S. authorities to reverse this deadly plan in the months ahead.

Backward step

“Make no mistake, this is absolutely a step backward,” Meer adds. “This significant and negative development is a thunderclap for all of the thousands of individuals who have survived contact with a landmine, as well as the family and friends of hundreds of thousands who have not.” 

Humanity & Inclusion runs projects to minimize the impact of landmines on civilians in dozens of countries, returning land to communities through demining, teaching people to spot, avoid and report explosive remnants of war through risk education, and providing support and care to victims of landmines. The organization works to raise the visibility of these landmine victims and their communities, so that the world is reminded of the scourge of landmines.

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Notes

Experts available

Humanity & Inclusion's experts on explosive weapons and civilian harm are available for interviews in North America and Europe.

Mine Ban Treaty

The Mine Ban Treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines. It is the most comprehensive international instrument for eradicating landmines and deals with everything from mine use, production and trade, to victim assistance, mine clearance and stockpile destruction.

About Humanity & Inclusion

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for its work banning landmines, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of handicap international), is an independent international aid organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 38 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Humanity & Inclusion takes action and campaigns in places where “living with dignity” is no easy task. In 2018, Humanity & Inclusion’s projects directly benefited 2.1 million people.