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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 47, June 2000

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty: Making A Difference
By Stephen Goose


The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and On Their Destruction, (also known as the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty) was ushered in with great fanfare when 122 governments signed it on December 3-4, 1997. It was often noted that it had been negotiated more rapidly than any major international agreement in history. It was praised as a new way of conducting international diplomacy, with governments and civil society working together closely to tackle a global humanitarian crisis. Indeed, the following week the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its coordinator Jody Williams were jointly awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for their role in bringing about the treaty.

But those in the campaign knew that the effort to eradicate anti-personnel mines was just beginning, not concluding, with the treaty-signing. The real test would be if the promise of the treaty became reality - would the number of mine victims decrease, would more land be demined, would use of the weapon decrease, would fewer mines be produced and exported, would mines be destroyed from stockpiles, would governments sign and ratify the treaty and fully implement their obligations?

A short two and one-half years later, one can begin to answer these questions with some degree of confidence. And while anti-personnel mines continue to be laid and to take far too many victims, the degree to which the treaty, and more generally the global movement that spawned the treaty, have already made a difference is striking. Great strides have been made in nearly all aspects of eradicating the weapon. The pace is not as fast as the ICBL would like, but it is remarkable all the same.

Consider the following: it appears that use of anti-personnel mines is on the wane globally, production has dropped dramatically, trade has halted almost completely, stockpiles are being rapidly destroyed, funding for mine action programs is on the rise, while the number of mine casualties in some of the most affected states has fallen greatly. And very importantly, even non-States Parties and non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty are taking some important steps toward eliminating anti-personnel mines and joining the ban treaty. Despite these many indicators of success, the ICBL still expresses its concern that all these efforts are not translating into as rapid or significant impact on the ground as desired.

Two notable developments in the promotion of effective implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty are the governmental Intersessional Standing Committee of Experts work program and the non-governmental Landmine Monitor system.

Landmine Monitor

The ICBL has developed the groundbreaking Landmine Monitor initiative. For the first time ever, non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society have come together in a coordinated and systematic way to monitor and report on implementation of and compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. ICBL has established a global monitoring network of 115 researchers based in 85 countries. The main output is an annual report that covers every country in the world (not just treaty nations), assessing progress and identifying problems in all aspects of the landmine issue, including use, production, trade, stockpiling, mine clearance, mine awareness, mine casualties and mine victim assistance. The first report, the 1,100-page Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Toward a Mine-Free World, was released in May 1999 to the First Meeting of States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty, in Maputo, Mozambique.

The second annual report will be presented to the Second Meeting of States Parties in Geneva, September 11-15, 2000. Human Rights Watch serves as the lead agency for Landmine Monitor.

Intersessional Work Program

At the First Meeting of States Parties, governments agreed to create an "intersessional" work program to be carried out during the year between the annual meetings of States Parties. The purpose is to ensure swift and effective implementation of the treaty in all its aspects. Five Standing Committees of Experts (SCEs) were formed: General Status and Operation; Stockpile Destruction; Mine Clearance; Technologies for Mine Action; and, Victim Assistance. The SCEs meet twice a year (in addition to the annual meeting of States Parties) to identify areas of concern, assess progress, and develop plans to ensure effective implementation. Their work has served to facilitate better coordination and to spur progress globally on the range of mine issues.


The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, faster than any previous major multilateral agreement. The number of states that have signed or acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty now stands at 137, more than two-thirds of the world's nations. This is an extraordinary number for such a young convention and is a clear indication of the widespread international rejection of any use or possession of anti-personnel mines. Since the treaty entered into force, states must accede and cannot simply sign with intention to ratify or otherwise become legally bound at a later date, and this fact may have slowed the pace of those coming on board. There are still 56 governments that have not at least signed the treaty, including of course such key mine-possessing nations as the United States, Russia, China, and India. Universalization remains one of the biggest challenges facing ban supporters.

As of early July, the number of States Parties (including those who are still in the 6-month waiting period after deposit of the instrument of ratification/accession) stands at 99, again an extremely impressive number for a convention that only entered into force some 16 months ago. There are still 38 nations that have signed but not yet ratified.

It is worth noting that there is no credible, verifiable evidence of any State Party violating the core prohibitions in the convention, those banning use, production, and trade.


There is strong evidence that anti-personnel mines have been used in about one dozen conflicts in the past year, and serious allegations of use in about eight more. The most extensive use has likely been in Chechnya by both Russian and Chechen forces. While any use by any party is objectionable, most observers would agree that the number of conflicts with mine use is surprisingly small compared to widespread use in most of the past three decades. It appears that mines are no longer being used automatically and without consideration of the humanitarian consequences around the world.

Though the Mine Ban Treaty is criticized because certain major powers have not joined, it is important to note that many of the biggest users of anti-personnel mines in recent decades have joined, and thereby foresworn use, including Bosnia, Cambodia, Croatia, and Mozambique. An estimated 70 treaty signatories have used mines in the past. One very disturbing development is the use of AP mines by Angola in 1999 and 2000, even though it signed the treaty in December 1997. Angola has not ratified and is not a State Party.


One of the most impressive indicators of progress toward a ban is this statistic: more than 20 million anti-personnel mines have been destroyed from the arsenals of at least 55 nations in recent years. At least twenty nations (all signatories to the ban treaty) have completely destroyed their AP mine stockpiles, including France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, each of which had more than one million mines in stock. The Mine Ban Treaty requires complete elimination of anti-personnel mine stockpiles within four years of entry into force for each nation. (A small number may be retained for training and research purposes).

Some non-signatories have also destroyed significant numbers of AP mines in recent years, mostly to comply with the provisions of Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, including the United States (3.3 million) and China (1.7 million).


The number of AP mine-producing nations has dropped from 54 to 16. The 38 that have stopped production include eight of the twelve biggest AP mine producers historically. It is impossible to estimate accurately the number of mines being produced in any given year, but there can be no doubt that global production in recent years does not begin to approach the level of years past. Two non-signatories have stated that they have stopped production (Israel and Finland), and several of the 16 remaining producers have not actually manufactured AP mines for several years (including the United States).


Though little remarked, one of major achievements of the ban movement is the fact that a de facto global moratorium on anti-personnel mines transfers exists. There have been no significant transfers of anti-personnel mines in at least five years. Of the 34 nations known to have exported AP mines in the past, all except Iraq have either a ban, a moratorium, or a stated policy against export in place. Undoubtedly, some transfers still take place on the black market and elsewhere, but the days when a country like Italy would ship millions of mines to Iraq over the course of a few years appear to be over.

Mine Action

The Mine Ban Treaty requires that mines in the ground must be removed within ten years, although States Parties can request an extension. Funding for mine action (clearance, awareness, victim assistance) programs has increased greatly in recent years. While cautioning that the totals are not complete, Landmine Monitor found that funding from key donors for mine action programs rose from $22 million in 1993 to $100 million in 1997 and $169 million in 1998. The government of Canada noted that in the first year after the treaty was signed, ten donor countries started 98 new mine action programs in 25 countries.

Certainly global coordination on mine action is much improved, and important new initiatives like the Global Landmine Survey Program (a joint endeavor by the UN and an NGO coalition) are underway. It remains difficult to calculate, however, just how much land is being returned to civilians, how many civilians are no longer affected by mines, and how many mines are being removed from the ground; thus, it is difficult to assess the impact of the treaty and ban movement fairly.

Mine Casualties

While not able yet to compile global totals, Landmine Monitor research shows that in the past few years there have been dramatic decreases in the number of mine victims in some key mine-affected countries, including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Croatia, and Mozambique. Both awareness of the need for, and funding for, survivor assistance programs are on the rise. The Mine Ban Treaty requires those "in a position to do so" to contribute to victim assistance efforts.

CCW: The "Other Convention"

Some nations continue to cling to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol II approach of restricting mine use, rather than prohibiting it. The Mine Ban Treaty grew out of the widespread belief that Amended Protocol II, finalized on May 3 1996 after two and a half years of review, would not significantly affect the humanitarian crisis caused by anti-personnel mines. Today, with respect to anti-personnel mines, Protocol II is at best a half-measure for those who believe they must continue to cling to the weapon. The Mine Ban Treaty remains the only real solution to the AP mine problem. Unlike Protocol II, the ban treaty provides the framework for all aspects of mine action, through the requirements to remove emplaced mines and to assist mine victims. Its definitions, scope and compliance provisions are all much stronger than Protocol II.

While it has often been argued that Protocol II is more all-embracing of the international community, the facts prove otherwise. Not only does the Mine Ban Treaty have twice as many states parties as Amended Protocol II, but of the forty-four states parties to the Amended Protocol, only five have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty: China, Finland, India, Pakistan and the United States. In a very real sense, with respect to anti-personnel mines, Amended Protocol II binds just those five nations. Moreover, there are only another nine governments party to the original Protocol II that have not joined the ban treaty: Belarus, Cuba, Georgia, Israel, Laos, Latvia, Mongolia, Russia, and Yugoslavia.

Both the original and amended Protocol II continue to have woefully little participation by developing nations, especially those most affected by anti-personnel mines, where mines have been used the most. Protocol II is not an inclusive instrument, but rather an extremely limited and ineffective one for those nations who continue to resist the new standard of behavior.

At the First Annual Conference of States Parties to Amended Protocol II in December 1999, the ICBL in its statement in the opening plenary said, "Events since the amended Landmines Protocol was agreed to in May 1996 reveal the inadequacy of the 'restrictions only' approach to solving the global landmines crisis, and the unwillingness of some of those who support it to live by its weak provisions." It then listed examples of possible violations of the original and amended protocols by states parties, noting that none of these had been challenged by other CCW states parties. Among others, the list included Russian mine use in Chechnya, Pakistani involvement in use in Kargil (Kashmir), and a Pakistani attempt to sell AP mines to a non-state actor.

The Protocol II approach on anti-personnel mines has been bypassed by the comprehensive ban. Because of the rather dramatic changes in the world relative to the landmine crisis since May 1996, Protocol II should now be seen not as being in competition with or an alternative to the Mine Ban Treaty, but rather as a means to move closer to the universal ban.


The Mine Ban Treaty, and the ban movement more generally, are having a tremendous impact in ridding the world of anti-personnel mines. The treaty is providing the framework for global efforts aimed at the total eradication of the weapon, not just in terms of a ban on use, production, and trade, but also in terms of mine clearance, victim assistance, and stockpile destruction.

A new international norm against any use or possession of anti-personnel mines is rapidly emerging. With almost no exceptions, those nations that have not yet joined the Mine Ban Treaty have either stated their intention to do so in the future or have endorsed the goal of a comprehensive global ban on anti-personnel mines.

While the treaty can be further strengthened, and much work remains to be done to completely eliminate the weapon, the rapid progress to date can only give hope for a not-too-distant future without the threat of anti-personnel mines.

Stephen Goose is Program Director for the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, one of the founders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. He is also the Chair of the ICBL's Treaty Working Group. He will serve as the head of the official ICBL delegation to the ban treaty's Second Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in September.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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