At a recent states-parties meeting of a pact outlawing anti-personnel landmines (APLs), some governments indicated they might or are likely to miss treaty deadlines to destroy stored mines or clear weapons planted in the ground. Reasons cited for the delays include technical obstacles and insufficient resources.
The Ottawa Convention, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty, prohibits its 156 states-parties from stockpiling, producing, using, or transferring APLs. The accord entered into force in March 1999, establishing a four-year deadline for disposing of stockpiled mines and a 10-year period for clearing deployed systems, which can be extended. These dual obligations take effect for a government when it becomes bound by the treaty.
Treaty states-parties gauge progress toward these goals at annual gatherings, the latest of which occurred Nov. 18-22 on the Dead Sea shore in Jordan. The 95 states-parties and signatories in attendance reported that approximately 40 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed under the treaty, but also noted that some states are not on pace to meet their treaty commitments.
Nine states-parties (Belarus, Burundi, Ethiopia, Greece, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Turkey, and Ukraine) have or are believed to still retain stockpiles. Belarus and Ukraine, the two countries possessing the largest APL stockpiles, might exceed their permitted destruction timetables.
Minsk almost certainly will miss its March 1 deadline as it retains more than 3 million mines. Although Ukraine’s target completion date is not until June 1, 2010, Kyiv also must dispose of twice as many mines. The two states possess significant quantities of PFM-1 mines, which contain very toxic chemical agents, slowing destruction efforts.
On Nov. 19, Turkey, which still had some 2.9 million stockpiled APLs, projected that it will meet its March 1 destruction goal “unless unforeseen technical difficulties occur.” Turkey recently inaugurated a new disposal facility. Ankara has offered to consider requests from other countries to use the facility after it fulfills its own obligations.
Several other countries may not meet their 10-year mine clearance requirements. Indeed, 12 of the 19 states-parties with pending 2009 clearance deadlines already have stated or hinted they will seek extensions. Those dozen states are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Croatia, Ecuador, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
Extensions, which can be requested for as long as 10 years, must win the approval of a majority of voting states-parties at an annual meeting or at a treaty review conference prior to the original deadlines. States seeking extensions are supposed to detail why they will be unable to meet their obligation and outline plans and new timelines for finishing the task. In one extreme case, Zimbabwe has declared that another 30 years are needed to eradicate mines on its territory.
Governments have cited many reasons for lagging behind their clearance schedules. Shortages of financial resources, trained personnel, and proper equipment are the most common explanations. Some states contend poor relations with neighbors or hostile rebel groups inside their borders impede demining activities. Several also point to poor infrastructure, severe weather, natural disasters, difficult terrain, or dense vegetation as complicating factors.
The nongovernmental International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a network of some 1,400 groups in 90 countries that monitors implementation of the treaty, acknowledges that countries face many difficulties in carrying out clearance work. But in a Nov. 20 statement to the Dead Sea meeting, the network said that some states have failed to accurately identify and prioritize their mine-afflicted areas requiring clearing. It also charged that some governments “have simply not demonstrated sufficient will to meet their obligations.” Venezuela, for instance, has not initiated clearance operations around military bases because it claims the mines provide useful protection.
Another task that meeting attendees said required more attention was aiding people injured by mines. Markus Reiterer, co-chair of the treaty’s standing committee on victim assistance, noted Nov. 21 that, “unlike mine clearance and stockpile destruction, there are no deadlines for victim assistance.” Rather, he stated, such work lasts lifetimes.
The treaty’s main aim is to prevent mine casualties, and the number of victims has been declining annually. The ICBL reported that the 2006 total of 5,751 casualties marked the lowest number since the treaty entered into force. Cambodia claimed its mine casualties dropped from an average of 845 victims between 2000 and 2005 to 450 in 2006.Still, in a Nov. 18 statement delivered to the Dead Sea meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned that APLs “continue to kill and maim in great numbers” and urged all countries to join the accord. Many of the world’s largest APL possessors, such as China, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, which is the largest contributor to demining activities worldwide, remain outside the agreement. The ICBL only identified Myanmar and Russia, however, as recently planting new mines.
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