Ottawa Treaty begins in Cambodia

Cambodia, still scarred by landmines, now faced with decreased mine-action funding

The Conference of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Treaty, began Monday with 100 States Parties to the treaty present in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Although Cambodia remains one of the most landmine-polluted countries in the world, the amount of 2010 mine-action funding it received from the international community declined significantly. This conference will provide an opportunity to remind the States present about the continued plight of Cambodia and the many other mine-affected countries, to challenge the obligations of States Parties to the treaty and to push universalization of the Ottawa Treaty. At least three States not party to the treaty used anti-personnel landmines in 2011, tripling the number of user countries for the first time in seven years. Handicap International condemns the use of these weapons, which continue to injure and kill civilians in countries around the world.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen officially announced Monday the start of the 11th Conference of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, which will be held from November 28 to December 2 in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia remains one of the most mine-polluted countries in the world: According to the Landmine Monitor 2011, more than 700 square miles of land – approximately twice the area of New York City -- were still contaminated. In 2010, mine-action funding provided by the international community decreased 27 percent compared with 2009, falling from $33.3 to $24.3 million. In addition, less than 0.5 percent of these funds were dedicated to raising awareness about mines and explosive remnants of war.

"This is a grossly inadequate amount when we know that other victims of these weapons are recorded every day in Cambodia," said Marion Libertucci, head of weapons advocacy for Handicap International. "This conference reminds States of the dramatic situation of the country so they do not forget the devastation caused by these weapons, even 40 years after their use," Libertucci added.

A Handicap International delegation will be present at the conference to remind States Parties of their responsibilities, notably to ensure the promotion of this treaty to non-parties. The number of States not party to the treaty to have used landmines increased from one in 2010 -- Myanmar (Burma) -- to three confirmed in 2011: Israel, Libya and Myanmar. There are also strong suspicions that Syria may have used these weapons in 2011.

"These new use of mines is unacceptable and of particular concern," Libertucci said, adding "We call upon States Parties to the treaty to strongly condemn any new use of landmines and to undertake all possible steps to stop the use of these weapons."

The conference opened on a positive note from Finland, which announced on Friday that the Finnish parliament approved a government proposal to join the Mine Ban Treaty in 2012. "Finland has set an example by passing the accession to the Ottawa Treaty on November 25, which marks a new openness encouraged by the Conference," Libertucci said, making Poland the last country in the European Union not to have ratified the Ottawa Treaty. "The commitment of Finland should be imitated by all States not party, so that the tragedy caused by landmines is finally stopped," asserted Libertucci.

The United States, not yet a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty, will attend the conference as an observer. The U.S. has not used landmines since 1991 and has not produced any new landmines since 1997. The Obama administration launched a review of U.S. landmine policy in December 2009; this review – which the international community hopes will culminate in U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty, has not yet concluded.