Eliminating Anti-Personnel Landmines

15 Jan, 1999    ·   170

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee points out the task still at hand despite the Landmines Treaty coming "unheralded and barely noticed" into force on March 1, 1999

Unheralded and barely noticed a significant disarmament treaty comes into force from March 1, 1999. It is the Ottawa Treaty banning the "use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmine (APM) and their destruction".  In many senses it is a landmark achievement. The Review Conference on Certain Conventional Weapons amended Protocol II (on APM) on May 3, 1996, but did not go far enough. It stopped well short of banning the APM, instead only allowed cosmetic changes that would permit use of this utterly inhumane weapon virtually forever. A weapon that may be innocuous and cheap, but which has emerged as the most devastating weapon of war in recent decades inflicting traumatic casualties to more women and children than perhaps any other weapon in history.



The general disappointment with the Amendment to Protocol II led to a unique movement. In autumn 1996 Lloyd Axworthy, the Canadian Foreign Minister, gave a call to the world to meet at Ottawa in December the following year with a treaty to ban the APM. Thus began the Ottawa Process and the rest is history. The Treaty was finalised at Vienna and Oslo . On December 2, 1997 at Ottawa 121 countries signed the Treaty. On September 16, 1998, in barely nine months, the quickest in history for a disarmament treaty, the fortieth country ratified it, triggering its coming into force six months later.



The Ottawa Treaty is a parallel process with the one at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) at Geneva .  While the CD is still trying to grapple with the possibility of making it more meaningful, the Ottawa Treaty is more comprehensive. It has both negative and positive obligations for State Parties. States having ratified it, undertake never to use, develop, produce, stockpile or transfer APM. It also affirms respective obligation to destroy stockpiles in four years, clear minefields in their jurisdiction in ten years, provide comprehensive victim assistance including rehabilitation and annually report compliance to the Secretary General of the UN. It is proposed to monitor implementation through a civil society led initiative, the Landmine Monitor. The first issue will be ready by May 1999.



There are not so positive issues as well. The Treaty only bans the APM and not the anti-tank mine (ATM) and a difference between the two is increasingly getting blurred. Anti-handling devices with the ATM, which may be merely an attached APM, is permitted. APMs that are not 'victim actuated', such as the deadly Claymore Mine is also not excluded. Then there are major hold out states. The Treaty has not been signed by the USA , Russia , China , India , Pakistan , the two Koreas and other west Asian countries.



Where do we go from here? There are many issues still to be addressed, the five most important ones are:-



·  Ensuring universality in implementation of the Treaty through larger compliance.



·  Preventing transfer of APMs as an immediate goal.



·  Conduct detailed survey and documentation of mine affected areas.



·  Lifting all mines and clearing the earth.



·  Victim assistance.



(Presentation made at a conference held at the IIC on 4 Jan 1999 by the Common Security Forum, Cambridge, England)