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At Mine Ban Meeting, U.S. Still Mum on Policy
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Farrah Zughni and Jeff Abramson

For the second year in a row, the United States sent an official delegation to the annual Mine Ban Treaty states-parties meeting but has not indicated whether it will join the accord.

The conference, which took place in Geneva Nov. 29-Dec. 3, focused on progress made under the treaty and on reviewing extension requests from states-parties struggling to meet mine clearance deadlines. Approximately 700 delegates representing more than 100 countries joined dozens of international organizations at the event.

The treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, calls on members to cease the production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, destroy stockpiles of the weapons, and remove deployed landmines from their territories.

During the conference, the United States issued a brief statement saying that its review of its landmine policy, initiated in 2009, was still ongoing. (See ACT, January/February 2010.) The United States attended the 2009 conference in an official capacity for the first time. During the 2010 meeting, 16 Nobel laureates sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to join the convention; the administration has issued no formal response.

In a Dec. 17 interview, a U.S. official said that although the policy review was not bound by any specific deadline, the United States would meet its commitment, announced in 2004, to terminate the use of “persistent” anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines by the end of 2010. A persistent, or “dumb,” landmine does not self-destruct or deactivate and can remain armed until triggered or professionally removed.

So-called smart mines, which have self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanisms, are permitted under U.S. policy but are banned by the treaty. (See ACT, March 2004.) Still, the United States is not known to have deployed treaty-prohibited landmines since 1992 and is the world’s top funder of landmine clearance and victim assistance activities.

The treaty specifically bans victim-activated anti-personnel landmines but does not address command-detonated, or “man in the loop,” mines, which require a human to decide when to detonate them.

Under the treaty, countries have 10 years from the time the pact enters into force for them to clear areas of anti-personnel mines and four years to destroy their stockpiles, with the exception of “the minimum number absolutely necessary” for “the development of and training in mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques.” Meeting those deadlines has been a challenge for a number of treaty parties, with many requesting and receiving extensions. (See ACT, January/February 2009; ACT January/February 2008.)

Nonetheless, at the conference Nicaragua formally declared it had completed its clearance obligations under the pact, making it the 16th country reporting mine-afflicted territories to do so. Nicaragua’s original deadline was May 1, 2009, but it received a one-year extension in 2008. The country reportedly has cleared 1,029 mine-afflicted areas and destroyed more than 179,000 anti-personnel mines.

Six parties—Chad, Colombia, Denmark, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Zimbabwe—applied for and received extensions on their mine clearance obligations. Guinea-Bissau’s two-month extension request was the shortest of the year; the country is slated to complete landmine clearance in January 2012. Colombia, on the other hand, was granted the outer limit of the treaty’s extension, 10 years. Other requests ranged from 18 months to five years. This was the second extension request for Chad, Denmark, and Zimbabwe, which were initially granted extensions until 2011.

Since the treaty entered into force in 1999, 22 countries have invoked Article 5 of the treaty, under which any party that “believes it will be unable to destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control within 10 years” may request an extension of up to 10 years.

A report issued at the meeting suggests that the treaty parties will continue facing the decision of whether to grant clearance extensions. According to the report, which outlines the process for handling Article 5 extension requests, “some requesting States Parties, almost ten years after entry into force, still lacked clarity regarding ‘the location of all mined areas that contain, or are suspected to contain, anti-personnel mines under (their) jurisdiction or control.’”

One country, the Republic of Congo, was singled out in the review conference’s final report because it has neither confirmed nor denied that it will meet its Article 5 deadline of this Nov. 1. The document urged that the Republic of Congo provide “clarity on this matter as soon as possible.”

Currently, 15 countries have clearance deadlines expiring within the next three years.

Although landmine clearance has posed challenges to certain countries, the treaty has made significant strides in reducing landmine stockpiles globally. Of the 156 states currently party to the treaty, 152 have completely eliminated or reduced their stockpiles to treaty-permitted minimums. Belarus, Greece, and Turkey failed to meet stockpile destruction deadlines in 2008, as did Ukraine last June, leaving all four in violation of the treaty.

The 11th meeting of treaty parties is scheduled to take place in Cambodia this November.


Posted: January 10, 2011