More than 120 countries are pledging to redouble their efforts to clear anti-personnel landmines that continue to kill and maim innocent civilians years after wars have ended. A conference to review the status of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty has just ended.
A recent report says, last year, a record 500,000 landmines were removed and destroyed around the world.
While this is good progress, states that are party to the Mine Ban Treaty agree that much more needs to be done to clear millions of landmines that remain in the ground in about 80 countries.
Australian Ambassador Caroline Millar, who presided over the conference, says states have reaffirmed their commitment to destroy all mines as specified in the treaty.
A total of 151 states have joined the Mine Ban Treaty. Under its provisions, they are obliged to clear all mined areas within 10 years of signing the treaty. Millar says the deadline for 22 countries is due in 2009.
"We are very pleased that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia announced that it destroyed all known mines from mined areas, the seventh state to do so. But, equally, the meeting also recognized that the challenge remaining is still huge and that some states may need to use the Convention provisions to seek extension to their destruction deadlines," she said. "So, a good outcome of the meeting was an agreed process for preparing, submitting and considering extension requests. And this process will help states make progress in meeting their Article Five obligations."
Millar explains, some countries, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia and Peru are heavily mined. They also are poor. Because of the overwhelming nature of the problem, she says, they will need more financial and technical help to clear their mines.
The conference also agreed to push for universal adherence to the treaty. Still 40 countries remain outside. Three of the big holdouts are the United States, Russia and China.
But Stephen Goose, a representative for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, says even these countries are abiding by many of the provisions of the Convention.
"The United States has not used anti-personnel mines since 1991, and has not exported since 1992, and has not produced since 1997," he said. "And, they are the largest donor to mine action in the world. On the other hand, they are considering the production of a new system, called Spider, that could function as an anti-personnel mine, and would be captured as a definition of an anti-personnel mine in this treaty."
The United States says the military capabilities provided by landmines remain necessary for the U.S. to protect its armed forces and to save lives.
In a study commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, senior military experts find the limited military utility of anti-personnel landmines is far outweighed by their impact on civilians. They say landmines kill indiscriminately and children, women and men continue to be killed and maimed years after a war has ended.
According to the Landmine Monitor Report, casualties caused by landmines rose by 11 percent to more than 7,300 last year.