111 States Consider Draft Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Landmines

March 1997

By Sarah Walkling

After considering an Austrian draft of a treaty to ban anti personnel landmines, 111 states concluded their February 12-14 closed door meeting in Vienna by sending Austria back to the drawing board. The draft served as a starting point for the upcoming negotiations in the Canadian led "Ottawa Process" seeking to achieve a worldwide comprehensive ban on anti personnel landmines by December 4, 1997. The next version of the treaty, to be presented June 24 27 in Brussels, Belgium, will have to take into account many states' strong opposition to the draft's verification regime and disagreement over the timeline for landmine destruction.

Of the 34 opening plenary statements, approximately half—mostly by Latin American, African and Asian countries—expressed support for a total ban. The conference had before it a draft agreement obliging parties not to use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer (directly or indirectly) anti personnel landmines during armed conflicts and times of peace, or to provide assistance for such activities. Acquisition or retention of mines in "small amounts" would be permitted only for development and teaching of mine clearance, detection or destruction techniques. Debate arose over the comprehensiveness of the ban, with Cuba, Sri Lanka, Ecuador and South Korea defending their right to use landmines for self defense.

During the discussions following the plenary, almost all participating states supported a longer phase in period for mine stockpile destruction than the one year provided for in the draft. The proposed treaty also gave states five years after entry into force to destroy mines that they had already employed. If parties needed additional time to complete the destruction, they could defer compliance for one year (for stockpiles) or two years (for deployed mines). Under this schedule, mine stockpiles could be eliminated beginning in 2000.

Until mine destruction was complete, however, the draft stated that each party would send the UN secretary general annual reports on the number of anti personnel mines retained, their types, uses and areas of deployment. The reports were to include such technical information as types of fuses, lifetimes of mines, and general plans for clearing and destroying anti personnel land mines.

The strongest opposition to the draft arose over its intrusive inspection regime. Challenge inspections could be requested by any party of "any facility or location in the territory or in any other place under the jurisdiction or control" of any party whose compliance with the treaty came under suspicion. If a Board of Eminent Experts determined a request not to be "frivolous, abusive or clearly beyond the scope of this convention and the evidence sufficient," it would order the inspection within 24 hours after receiving the request. The draft did not specify how soon after the order was issued the inspection could take place.

None of the delegates expressed support for including any sort of verification regime to ensure treaty compliance. Arguments against a regime ranged from fear of intrusion by foreign inspectors to concern that such a regime could not be enforced.

Delegations from the United States, Russia, India, Pakistan, Cuba, Turkey and Finland attended the meeting only to observe the proceedings. Commenting on the final day of the meeting on the inactive role played by the observer countries, Ambassador Andre Meriner, the Belgian representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva said, "We do not expect this [Austrian] convention to be universal from the very beginning, we realize it may take a few years for some to join." Clinton administration officials have explained that their decision to simply observe reflected their preference for pursuing a ban at the CD. (See ACT, January/February 1997.) While Russia and China, the leading landmine producers, remain opposed to the Canadian led effort, the United States nevertheless sees a chance to negotiate with them as members of the CD, and to seek a ban that would include an exception for mines it uses on the Korean Peninsula.

On February 14, the 61 CD member states adopted a 1997 agenda which did not refer specifically to a global landmine ban. Although CD President Joun Yung Sun of South Korea inserted into the record the statement that "if there is a consensus in the Conference to deal with any issues they could be dealt with within this agenda," leaving the option open, consensus on adding a ban to the agenda appears unlikely this year. Several countries (including France, Germany, Italy, Australia, the United Kingdom, Poland, Chile, Romania and Hungary) joined the United States in pushing for negotiation of a landmine ban in the CD, but many of the non aligned states opposed such a move. Ambassador Stephen Ledogar, the outgoing U.S. representative to the CD, on February 14 said some developing countries have argued that landmines are "the poor man's weapons, and that the rich countries of the world are now trying to deprive them of this means of defense." The non aligned countries have argued that achieving a ban is a humanitarian issue and, thus, should not be addressed in the CD which is devoted to arms control. U.S. officials said that if they do not succeed in getting a landmine ban placed on the CD agenda by June 27, when the conference's second 1997 session ends, they will begin looking for alternative forums, which remain unspecified.

Ottawa Process parties will meet in June in Brussels, where they expect to review a second version of the proposed treaty. A final round of negotiations is scheduled for the end of September in Oslo, Norway. Already, 58 states have indicated that they intend to sign a treaty in December in Ottawa.