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Civil society frustrated by U.S. landmine policy review
December 04, 2011

"In 1997 we won a treaty. But only when all people in mine affected areas can live in dignity, when no more mines threaten their lives, when no one produces or lays new mines, have we truly won," said Song Kosal, Cambodian landmine survivor and Youth Ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
(Phnom Penh, Cambodia) December 4, 2011 — The Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty concluded Dec. 2, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The United States attended the conference as an observer, but two years after launching a review of U.S. landmine policy, the Obama administration has still not announced plans to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and end the use of antipersonnel landmines.

"We were pleased to see the U.S. send a delegation to this annual meeting and continue its engagement with the Mine Ban Treaty," said Zach Hudson, the coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL).

"But the policy review that the administration announced at the 2009 meeting has gone on for long enough. It’s time for the administration to conclude the review and submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification or explain its rationale for continuing to follow the Bush policy of near isolation in remaining outside the convention." 

Over the past two years, Obama and his administration have received letters of support for the Mine Ban Treaty from 68 Senators, nearly 100 leaders of prominent U.S. nongovernmental organizations, key NATO allies, U.S. military personnel, 16 Nobel Peace Prize recipients, landmines survivors, and countless citizens from around the world.

Although acknowledging this valuable input the U.S. has received during the landmine policy review, the U.S. delegation also confirmed in a statement made during the conference that no decisions have yet been made.

"In 1997 we won a treaty. But only when all people in mine affected areas can live in dignity, when no more mines threaten their lives, when no one produces or lays new mines, have we truly won," said Song Kosal, Cambodian landmine survivor and Youth Ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The Eleventh Meeting of States Parties was attended by close to 100 governments, including most of the 158 Mine Ban Treaty States Parties and 15 Non-States Parties such as the United States. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) delegation of more than 270 campaigners from 61 countries, including dozens of landmine survivors, also participated in the meeting. This group was also comprised of several members of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines.

"This week we heard some heartening news from states on what they are doing to clear contaminated land, destroy stocks of mines, and provide better assistance to victims. But it was not enough – we need governments to do more to work in partnership with civil society to achieve this mission," said Kasia Derlicka, Director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). 

"We have been hearing the same thing from the administration for the past two years—that the review process is actively moving forward and that progress is being made," said Hudson. 

"Assurances of progress just aren't good enough anymore. Two years of ‘We’re working on it…' is not a satisfactory response to the countless innocent landmine survivors and mine impacted communities that are waiting on President Obama to promise that the U.S. will finally ban landmines once and for all."

In Cambodia, where thousands of people live with the daily threat of mines, the shocking reality of the danger they still pose is all too clear. On December 1, 2011, six people were injured in Cambodia’s Pursat Province when the truck they were in triggered a landmine.

This is not an isolated problem — people are killed or injured by landmines all over the world every week. During the conference it was also reported that three people had been killed and six seriously injured in three separate landmine accidents in Bosnia.

Nora Sheets, a USCBL member and a teacher who founded the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines student group, has been following the landmine policy review closely. "We hope that President Obama, as a Nobel Peace Laureate committed to humanitarian values, will finally fulfill the promise the U.S. made back in 1997 to join the Mine Ban Treaty," Sheets said.

"I have been working with the civil society campaign for the past 12 years. We are citizens—students, teachers, landmine survivors, development workers—who are committed to a world free of landmines. We cannot allow any more innocent children to become victims of these horrific weapons."

A group of landmine survivors representing ten countries also met with the U.S. delegation during the conference to urge forward the policy review towards a speedy accession to the treaty.

"There are many civilians who become new casualties every year from landmines that were laid by U.S. forces during prior conflicts," said Firoz Ali Alizada, a landmine survivor who attended the meeting with the U.S. delegation, and campaign manager of the ICBL.

"All of us are represented here at the conference—those who have survived; those families who have lost children, spouses, and siblings killed by these weapons; families that are still afraid that someone else will be killed or maimed today by another landmine that still remains from some prior U.S. conflict from decades ago; and communities concerned that the U.S. could choose to lay landmines again at any time. We are all here to call on the United States to stop this cycle of violence and join the Mine Ban Treaty now."

The U.S. has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced landmines since 1997, and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world. However, it still retains 10.4 millions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines for potential future use. The U.S. is one of only 38 countries in the world that have not joined the Mine Ban Treaty—and is the only member of NATO that is not a signatory, and the only country in the Western Hemisphere, aside from Cuba, that has not joined.

Jesuit Refugee Service is a member of the International Coalition to Ban Landmines.

Interview with Song Kasal, click here.

Interview with Sr. Denise Coghlan, click here.



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