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Poland Ratifies Landmine Ban Treaty, Bringing all of EU into Treaty

Poland's decision leaves US as only NATO country not to have ratified the Landmine Ban Treaty.



Northern Iraq

On 27 December Poland finally ratified the landmine ban treaty and in doing so brought the whole of the European Union into the treaty with all 27 nations now committed to the international treaty. Having doing so, Poland has also left the United States as the only NATO country not to have ratified the treaty.

Poland signed the treaty in December 1997 but had resisted ratifying it and bringing it into full force up until it announced on 5 December, during the twelfth annual meeting of the Mine Ban Treaty held this year in Geneva, its intention to ratify the international treaty prohibiting landmines by the end of the year.

In ratifying the treaty Poland became the 161st country to do so. Kasia Derlicka, director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), responded to the Polish decision by saying, “This ratification shows that all countries can and should renounce antipersonnel landmines forever. We hope other countries will now follow in Poland's footsteps, particularly the US.”  

The particular significance of the Polish decision in relation to the EU is that now all its member states are parties to the treaty, “the EU can finally speak with one voice in opposing antipersonnel landmines”.

Along with Jody Williams the ICBL was the joint recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines”. The work to rid the world of antipersonnel landmines has had a dramatic impact, indeed, ICBL have reported that almost 4,300 people were killed by landmines worldwide last year (2011), nearly 12 deaths a day, as compared with 32 in 2001.

Other Successes

Poland’s decision followed another success story in the form of six nations, Congo, Denmark, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Jordan and Uganda, having completed their mine clearance programs and thus adding to the list of nations that have eliminated “the scourge of landmines”, the announcements of which were made at the five-day meeting in Geneva aimed at evaluating the Ottawa Convention’s progress since its signing in 1997.  These six nations are now considered to have cleared their territory of landmines.

Prior to the Geneva conference, whilst 160 nations were parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, 36 countries, including Poland, had failed to do so. In January 2012 Finland had previously become the most recent nation to accede to the Treaty. Perhaps the most surprising name on the list of countries whose territory is not considered landmine-free until this year was Denmark, who only finished clearing minefields left over from World War II in July; the Nazis had placed about 1.4 million landmines along the Jutland peninsula in hopes of warding off an allied invasion.

Holdouts

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the ICBL, had preceded the December conference in Geneva with a call in October for “[t]he United States and other holdouts need to get on the right side of humanity and join the treaty.”  Nobel Peace Laureate and anti-landmine campaigner Jody Williams, who in 1991 launched the grassroots drive which brought the Mine Ban Treaty into existence six years later, has also called on president Obama to “put in writing what it is doing in practice” by ratifying the treaty.

The last apparent use of landmines by the US was during the 1991 Gulf War during which it scattered 117,634 of them across both Iraq and Kuwait, mostly with the munitions littered from airplanes. The US has had a prohibition on exports of antipersonnel mines since 1992 and the last antipersonnel mines that were produced in the US was in 1997.  At the same time, the US is also the largest single financial contributor to helping victims of the weapon, contributing over $2 billion in aid across 90 countries for the destruction of conventional weapons.

The observer delegation the US sent to Geneva this December revealed that it will announce the outcome of a three-year review of its landmine policy and its decision on joining the treaty “soon”. The deputy director of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the US Department of State, Steve Costner, said, “We have not made a decision on United States accession to the Convention. Our review has identified operational issues related to accession that require careful consideration. This consideration is on-going, and we expect to be able to announce a decision soon.”  Costner later indicated that “soon” meant, at the least, that an announcement of the decision of the review would take place no later than the next Meeting of States Parties in November 2013.

Costner was referring to a comprehensive landmine policy review that the US began in late 2009 to determine if they should join the treaty.  Indeed, as Steve Goose, executive director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch and Head of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines Delegation, recently pointed out, “The U.S. was the first government to call for the elimination of antipersonnel landmines in 1994, but then President Clinton postponed joining the treaty until 2006, and President Bush did away with that goal altogether”.

On this later point, during the Bush administration, in August 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a report entitled ‘Back in Business? US Landmine Production and Exports’ which noted that the Bush administration appeared to be “poised to erase many of the positive steps the United States has taken in the past toward banning antipersonnel mines.” Amongst numerous concerns was a Pentagon request for total of $1.3 billion for development and production activities for another new antipersonnel mine called the Intelligent Munitions System, with a full production decision expected in 2008.

Reasons for a Total Ban

ICBL list a more comprehensive outline of the arguments for a total ban on such weapons, but as mentioned above, the global casualty total in 2011, which was similar to that recorded in 2010 and 2009, from mines, victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), cluster munition remnants, and other explosive remnants of war is equivalent to approximately a dozen reported casualties per day.  In addition to which, the vast majority of victims are civilians, some 70 to 85 percent of casualties. This is the case regardless of whether a conflict is on-going or not, indeed most of the countries where casualties are reported are actually at peace.

For whom age was known, a large percentage of civilian casualties, some 42% in 2011, were children.

Violations

Three member countries to the treaty – Belarus, Greece, and Ukraine – have remained in violation of the treaty for several years, having missed their deadlines for destroying stockpiled antipersonnel mines.

In 2012 antipersonnel landmines have been used by Syria and Burma, and by Burma, Israel and Libya in 2011, none of which have joined the Mine Ban Treaty.  

Also in 2012, there have been serious allegations of antipersonnel mine use by the armed forces of Sudan and Yemen. Despite both nations being Ban Treaty states parties, Human Rights Watch have reported that it appears as if neither government have initiated investigations into the allegations.   

Human Rights Watch also note
that a small number of rebel groups also continue to use antipersonnel mines.  

On the other end of the spectrum, enjoying its newly acquired UN status, at the Geneva meeting Palestine declared its strong desire to join the Mine Ban Treaty as soon as possible.

The Mine Ban Treaty will enter into force for Poland on 1 June 2013.


Websites:

Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor


International Campaign to Ban Landmines

Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

Human Rights Watch Landmine Section

Further Reading:

For more in-depth analysis of the history of how landmines were banned I’d strongly recommend the following:

John Borrie (2009) Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won, New York: United Nations Publications

Richard Price (1998) Reversing the Gun Sights: Transnational Civil Society Targets Landmines, International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 614-644

Photo Credit: Matt Barr