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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

Second Anniversary of Ottawa Convention On Landmines

December 3 marked the second anniversary of the signing Ottawa Convention aimed at achieving a total, global ban on anti-personnel landmines. By the date of the anniversary, the Convention, which entered into force on March 1, 1999, had been signed by 136 countries and ratified by 89. A number of major landmine-possessing countries remain outside the regime, including the United States, Russia, China, India and Pakistan.

On December 2, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy gave his assessment of progress made since the Treaty's opening for signature: "I think the benchmarks we set at the signing…have been met - it's ratified, it's now part of international law, almost half a billion dollars have been raised for demining and rehabilitation activities… I still would want to see further progress in getting some of the countries who haven't signed to actually sign on… A lot of the countries, particularly the bigger ones, in fact are living up to the standards of the Treaty. The United States has become actively involved in demining and has stopped the export of mines… Russia has made a commitment in this area, so I think we're making progress. While their signature is not on the paper, they are actually living up to the commitments."

The same day, Canada produced its second annual report on the status of demining efforts worldwide. Entitled Seeds of Terror, Seeds of Hope, the study's overall tone is one of cautious optimism: "The once-flourishing legal trade in mines has all but vanished… Since World War Two, more than 50 countries have produced anti-personnel mines… Today, fewer than one-third of countries continue to produce mines and only a handful of states have yet to announce a halt to the export of mines they produce. … While it costs between US$3 and US$30 to purchase an anti-personnel mine, it costs between US$300 and US$1,000 to remove one… [I]t is generally agreed that the overall cost of undoing landmine contamination will be in the billions of dollars…"

In a December 3 press release, the non-governmental umbrella organization International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received a Nobel Peace Prize for its part in bringing the ban about, while acknowledging the very considerable progress made, also highlighted disturbing negative developments: "Over the past year, the ICBL has condemned continued use of anti-personnel mines by a number of countries, including ban treaty signatory Angola. Both the Angolan Government and UNITA rebels are increasingly using mines as their conflict escalates. The Campaign has also signalled out Russia for using air-dropped mines in its recent conflicts and Yugoslavia for extensive use of mines in Kosovo, and raised concern over the use of weapons by NATO member states that may have similar effects to anti-personnel mines."

Speaking in Geneva on December 14, the ICBL's Jody Williams sought to put the moral and political spotlight on all the non-signatories, particularly the United States. Referring to the limitations on certain types and uses of landmines contained in a 1996 protocol to the Inhumane Weapons Convention, Williams argued that it "is our obligation to remind the hold-out countries that restrictions are not enough. … They continue to cling to the notion that you can deal with a global problem by somehow tinkering with the restrictions… The Campaign is trying to put new focus and pressure on the United States. I wouldn't say the US has been backsliding, but it is certainly in neutral. Where they say they are looking for alternatives there is concern they haven't significantly embraced that research." On December 2, the Chair of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), Joe Mettimano, argued passionately: "It is not only time that America signs this Treaty, it is past time. The President should join the seventeen other NATO nations in signing the Mine Ban Treaty now. We must oppose this weapon of mass terror."

The only member of the EU not yet to have signed the Convention is Finland, current holders of the EU Presidency, which argues that the weapons should not be ruled out as legitimate means of self-defence. On December 9, on the eve of a EU Summit in Helsinki, the ICBL renewed its call for Finnish accession: "The EU is one of the world's leading actors in the struggle for a mine-free world. So long as Finland does not sign the Convention it impedes the Union from speaking out forcefully and unanimously in important international negotiations."

Reports: Axworthy marks landmine anniversary in Ottawa, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Press Release 262/99, December 1; Canada sees real progress in anti-landmine campaign, Reuters, December 2; Canada wants more anti-landmine progress, Reuters, December 2; Two years on, landmines campaign urges Clinton Administration to join the ban now, PR Newswire, December 2; Landmines campaign urges full universalization and implementation, condemns mine users on second anniversary of ban treaty signing, ICBL Press Release, December 3; On the eve of the Helsinki Summit, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines calls on EU Member States to reaffirm their commitment to eradicate landmines and urges Finland to accede to the Treaty, ICBL Press Release, December 9; US, others urged to pass mine ban, Associated Press, December 14.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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