Landmines: US Moves Closer Toward Global Ban

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A landmine survivor wearing a prosthetic leg at an event to commemorate the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action in Bogotá, Colombia, April 4, 2022. Colombia is one of 164 countries that has prohibited antipersonnel landmines.
© 2022 Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP via Getty Images

(Geneva, June 21, 2022) – The Biden administration’s pledge not to use antipersonnel landmines anywhere in the world except on the Korean peninsula is a major step forward but does not go far enough to prohibit this indiscriminate weapon, Human Rights Watch said today.

A June 21, 2022 White House fact sheet states that the United States will not produce antipersonnel mines and will not use them outside the Korean peninsula. It will destroy stocks except those needed for Korea. The policy sets the goal of ultimately joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention.

“President Joe Biden is putting the US back on the path toward eliminating antipersonnel landmines, but greater ambition is needed to get there sooner,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “The US should join with its allies who rejected these indiscriminate weapons decades ago.”

Antipersonnel mines are designed to explode in response to a person’s presence, proximity, or contact. They cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians, making them unlawfully indiscriminate under international humanitarian law.

Due to their indiscriminate nature and the human suffering caused by the use of antipersonnel landmines, 164 countries have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively bans the weapons and requires destruction of stocks, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims. The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, and includes all NATO member states except the US, all European Union member states, and US allies such as Australia, Japan, and Ukraine.

The US tried to get an exception for Korea during the Mine Ban Treaty negotiations in 1997 and was strongly rebuffed by its allies. Numerous retired US military officers, including those who commanded forces in South Korea, have said that using antipersonnel mines there is of little or no military value.

The US landmine policy reinstates the prohibitions on landmine production and use that were rolled back by a Trump administration policy directive issued on January 31, 2020. The Trump policy undid years of incremental steps by the US government to align its policy and practice with the Mine Ban Treaty, which the US participated in negotiating in 1996-1997. The US last used antipersonnel mines in 1991, has not exported them since 1992, or produced them since 1997.

Over the past 30 years the US has fought a range of conflicts – both high and low intensity – in a variety of environments and has demonstrated that it can employ alternative strategies, tactics, and weaponry without resorting to antipersonnel mines. It has spent more than $1 billion on the development and production of systems that could be considered alternatives to antipersonnel mines.

“The US needs to accept that the international ban on landmines applies in all circumstances, without geographic exception,” Goose said. “Acceding to the international ban on landmines would help the US to strengthen the norm against these weapons and prevent them from being used in the future.”

Human Rights Watch is chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and co-founder of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines. The ICBL received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, together with its coordinator, Jody Williams, for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.

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