Post Ottawa Developments in Banning Anti-Personnel Landmines

30 Dec, 1997    ·   49

Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.) writes on the post-Ottawa scenario on anti-personnel land mines and rues India's refusal to go along with the agreement

A treaty banning anti-personnel land mines (APLM) was signed by 121 countries at Ottawa on 3-4 December 1997. For the first time in history, a weapon of war, extensively used by most armies around the world was eliminated from their arsenals. The Treaty bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of all APLM. Stocks are to be destroyed as soon as possible, but within four years of the Treaty’s coming into force. All mines laid are to be cleared in ten years. The Treaty will enter into force after ratification by 40 countries. This is expected to happen within a year.



The West did not initiate the Treaty. Organizations involved in humanitarian activities around the world were shocked by the inhumane nature of landmines and took the lead in asking for its elimination. Canada launched the campaign. It's Foreign Secretary, Lloyd Axworthy called a conference at Ottawa in Oct 1996. At its end he implored the world to meet again at the Canadian capital in fourteen months with a treaty to ban landmines. This began what came to be called the Ottawa Process. It deeply annoyed the US and some other major countries, which wanted this initiative to be thwarted. But, the process developed a momentum of its own. Countries that took the lead in particular were Canada , Norway , South Africa , Philippines and Austria . At the end all major countries in the world were at Ottawa in 1997.



The Treaty does indeed set new norms. Not only did the initiative come from smaller countries, but in particular from the people themselves. It was a spontaneous response against an inhuman weapon that annually maims or kills around 30,000 people every year. Over 1,000 NGOs from around the globe mobilized public opinion. They came together under the banner of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). It's Coordinator, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize recognized Ms Jody Williams’ efforts for 1997. This phenomenon has an impact wider than merely this Treaty. It is a clear signal that questions affecting the fate of the globe and in particular those concerning humanitarian issues cannot be left solely to governments. The people are determined to have a say. Their voice cannot be stifled today in the era of global communications. In turn this is going to affect the conduct of diplomacy and perhaps in particular how issues of arms control and disarmament will be addressed in the future. Ms Williams articulated this growing power of the people when she said that, "The tide of history has changed" and that today, "together we are a superpower".



Notwithstanding all this the Treaty is a limited one. It only bans anti-personnel landmines. It does not ban Claymore mines, which are not victim actuated but are initiated by the defender. The Treaty does not also ban anti-handling devices with anti-tank mines. Thus the genuine military needs of the defender are adequately protected. There are also not sufficient provisions against use by "non-state actors". But, then there are no international laws that can provide guarantees against violation by those who have no international status.



India ’s non-participation in the Ottawa process was indeed unfortunate. Much as we would like to deal only with the Conference on Disarmament (CD) at Geneva for global arms control issues, that institution need not be the only forum. Indeed, its current composition of 61 nations, has made it cumbersome and unwieldy. As a result there was no progress there on any issue during the whole of 1997. Whether it can emerge as a serious organization in the future will remain uncertain. The CD can also be pressurized. And, no country really has the power of veto as India realized over the CTBT debate in 1996.



It is true that India has been a responsible APLM user. Indian Army laid large numbers of mines in its wars in the past, but in an entirely responsible manner and lifted almost all these after the conflict was over. But, there have also been many casualties both to civilians and soldiers in the process. Things could go terribly wrong in a future war. Whatever be the case, staying away from the debate was unfortunate and does India ’s cause no good. India was an observer at the Oslo Conference, but was not even present at Ottawa in 1997. It had the dubious distinction of being among a group of countries that stayed away, such as Pakistan , the two Koreas , Uzbekistan , Myanmar , Nepal and Bhutan . Even the USA , which has serious reservations regarding banning landmines, not on very sound reasons however, was compelled to respond. It took part in the Oslo deliberations and in Ottawa came out with a substantial package on demining contribution to soften its negative stance. Being impervious to global developments and non-participation in major international issues does no credit to a country such as India . And, it does not advance New Delhi ’s case to be a major player in the world, such as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.