Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 13, February - March 1997
Landmines: Momentum Towards a Ban MaintainedThe momentum of both the State and non-governmental campaign for a total, global ban on landmines has been maintained with a series of meetings and initiatives. See Geneva Update in this issue and issue No. 12 for a detailed analysis of the debate at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva over the merits of it commencing negotiations on such a ban.
Officials from 112 States gathered in Vienna on 12-14 February to discuss ways of advancing the cause of a complete ban. The meeting is a follow-up to an October conference in Ottawa which set the controversial goal of agreeing the text of a ban by the end of 1997. Speaking at a 14 February press conference, Andre Mernier, Belgium's Ambassador to the CD, acknowledged it would be unrealistic to "expect this convention to be universal from the very beginning... We realize that it may take a few years for some to join." One important State believed to be sceptical of the 'Ottawa process', China, did not attend the meeting.
Also on 14 February, some press reports rather sketchily suggested that Russia had expressed a greater willingness than hitherto to engage immediately in discussions of a phased approach geared to that end.
On 13 February, UN Deputy Secretary-General Vladimir Petrovsky gave his assessment of the Vienna discussions:
"The mood is generally optimistic, while some reservations were voiced... There is an understanding that the conclusion of a treaty is a matter of urgency."
The next Ottawa process meeting is scheduled to be held in Brussels in late June, with an autumn meeting anticipated in Oslo.
Although the United States has not disavowed the Ottawa process, it is prioritising CD negotiations. According to Robert Bell, a member of the National Security Council, on 17 January:
"Our concern...was that...the major problem States...are not going to come the Canadian process. And the President's objective here is a global ban that reaches out and captures the countries that are causing the problem. We think the main action is going to be in the CD, at least in terms of our first shot at this..."
The 4th International NGO (non-governmental organization) Conference on Landmines was held in Maputo, Mozambique, from 25-28 February. The conference opened with an appeal from the President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano:
"We appeal to the producing countries to stop the manufacture, transport, sale and use of mines... We support this movement with all our vigour and look forward to the total eradication of mines from the planet."
Nearly 400 delegates issued a declaration on 28 February backing the Ottawa process and urging all Governments to try to reach and then sign a total ban by the end of the year. Representatives of two African States, Swaziland and Malawi, immediately endorsed this aim. However, the Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Jody Williams, expressed disappointment that more States failed to follow suit:
"We are very encouraged by the steps taken by Swaziland and Malawi, but disappointed by Zimbabwe and Angola not taking a stronger stance... For a mine-free southern Africa we especially need the full commitment of mine-infested countries..."
Announcements and Initiatives
The week before the Maputo conference, South Africa announced its own landmines ban. Defence Minister Joe Modise told a press conference in Cape Town on 20 February:
"Cabinet [has] decided on a total prohibition on the use, development, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel landmines with immediate effect. ... In adopting this position, the South African government is reinforcing efforts to bring about a universal ban on these mines and their complete elimination... [T]he limited military utility of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by the appalling humanitarian consequences of their use."
Asked to explain the need for such urgency, Modise answered passionately:
"Have you been to Angola? Have you seen those people who have been amputated by those mines? It hasn't stopped, it's still going on. People can't even begin to reorganise their lives."
The State is believed to possess 160,000 mines, all of which will now be destroyed. In a letter to the Maputo conference, President Mandela said the announcement was intended to show that South Africa "wants to work with others to ensure the earliest possible conclusion of a ban treaty."
Earlier in February, France announced that it had begun to draft legislation banning the manufacture or export of landmines. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yves Doutriaux (6 February):
"Anti-personnel mines are a scourge. They must be placed outside the law. ...the government [has] decided to set about reducing the number [of landmines] by destroying existing stocks and banning the[ir] use, except when it is essential to protect our forces and on the basis of political authorisation."
Doutriaux also voiced French reservations about the Ottawa process:
"...the process begun by Canada, in Ottawa, is not in itself sufficient. We must begin real talks with all the States involved. The disarmament conference in Geneva is the only authority which allows such negotiations."
In early January, Princess Diana visited Angola as a guest of the International Red Cross to draw attention to the plight of landmine victims. She endorsed the goal of a total ban. On 16 January, her efforts won the praise of one of the foremost campaigners for that cause in the United States, Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont):
"Diana has joined the Red Cross and others in a crusade that means life, death or injury to untold thousands of innocent civilians... The United States and Great Britain should lead, not follow, in banning these wretched devices from the face of the earth. We are the most potent military power on the globe. We will forfeit our rightful role in the vanguard of this campaign if we say that we will agree to a ban only when other nations go first."
Angola's Foreign Minister, Venacio de Moura, also praised the Princess (16 January):
"We want to thank her for taking the time off to come and help... This visit has been a help to the process which we are going through, but especially for the children and people of Angola. She has visited some parts that we consider important and most affected by the war."
On 22 January, six UK aid agencies released the results of an opinion poll showing 90% support for a total ban. 1,001 people were questioned.
Reports: Senator Leahy backs Princess Diana in dispute over landmine ban, US Newswire, 16 January; Clinton declines Ottawa bid for '97 landmines ban, Inter Press Service International News, 17 January; Diana earns only praise in Angola for mine crusade, Reuter News Reports, 17 January; Most Britons support ban on landmines - poll, Reuter News Reports, 22 January; France to ban anti-personnel mines, Canada seeks world ban, Agence France-Presse International News, 6 February; France to ban anti-personnel mines, Agence France-Presse International News, 6 February; Experts to meet in Vienna on anti-personnel mines, Agence France-Presse International News, 10 February; Experts gather in Vienna for anti-personnel mine conference, Agence France-Presse International News, 12 February; UN sees landmines on Geneva body agenda soon, Reuter News Reports, 13 February; Landmine treaty eyed for December, AP Online International News Wire, 14 February; Russia signals new readiness to ban anti-personnel mines, Agence France-Presse International News, 14 February; S. Africa bans manufacture of anti-personnel mines, Reuter News Reports, 20 February; South African landmine ban gives boost to new talks, Agence France-Presse International News, 23 February; Mozambique President [urges] end of landmine production, Reuter News Reports, 25 February; Mozambique meeting urges ban on landmines, Reuter News Reports, 28 February.
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