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Summit Yields Mixed Reviews for US Policy on Landmines

Delegates attending an international land mine summit in Kenya both criticized and applauded U.S. policy on the mines.

The United States is one of more than 40 countries that have not signed onto the Mine Ban Treaty, which outlaws land mine use, production, stockpiling, and transfer.

The United States wanted to sign the treaty, but only if an exception were made to allow continued use of mines to protect American troops in Korea.

The Mine Ban Treaty requires its 144 member countries to destroy all mines within four years following ratification, and to clear minefields within 10 years. They must submit an annual report to the United Nations outlining the steps they have taken to follow the convention's requirements.

At a forum on the sidelines of the first-ever Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, being held this week in Kenya, delegates criticized the United States for its refusal to sign, but also praised its efforts to support land mine clearance as well as victims of the weapons.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch's weapons division and the forum moderator, Steve Goose, argued that the use of land mines is obsolete and that the United States has not adequately explored the alternatives.

"The other countries [that] have done away with land mines have found that, through a combination of using other types of weapons, other types of censors, and changes in their doctrine and in their tactics, and in the way they arrange their forces, they can do away with anti-personnel land mines and not have a significant impact on their military operations," he said. "If all these other governments can do it, so can the U.S."

Mr. Goose says the United States is setting a bad example by not signing the treaty and gives an excuse to other countries not to sign.

A statement released by the U.S. embassy in Nairobi on the eve of the summit said that, although the United States has not signed the treaty and will not be attending the summit, it shares a "common cause" to protect innocent civilians from being killed or injured by land mines.

The statement says the U.S. has provided close to one billion dollars since 1993 to clear minefields around the world. It says it has increased its funding to help victims of land mines, which number about 15,000-20,000 people per year worldwide.

The U.S. military, says the statement, will stop using anti-personnel and anti-vehicle landmines by 2010 and that it would eliminate from its inventory all non-detectable mines.

The co-founder of the Washington-based non-government organization Landmine Survivors Network, Ken Rutherford, says while the United States should sign the treaty, its anti-land mine work should not be underestimated. He says the U.S. government contributes some two million dollars a year to his group.

"Shame on the United States for not signing, but congratulations for everything that you're doing to make the world more mine safe in terms of clearing the mines and helping land mine survivors recover from their accidentsm" he said. "And shame on those state parties that have signed the treaty but contribute zero to victim assistance or demining."

Mr. Rutherford, who lost both his legs when his vehicle ran over a land mine when he was an aid worker in Somalia in 1993, calls on countries to economically and socially reintegrate land mine survivors back into society.