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The long road to a mine-free world

NAIROBI, 2 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - On the anniversary of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), the humanitarian and legal challenge facing the international community remains huge despite major progress in the implementation of this unique global convention.

Organisations worldwide on Monday celebrated the anniversary of an international treaty that has the potential to entirely stigmatise and abolish the future use of landmines. Five years ago, the MBT (also known as the Convention) entered into force, two years after its legal inception, thereby doing so more rapidly than any treaty of its kind. It was preceded by an intense campaign to abolish these weapons that kill and maim long after conflicts have ceased, and devastate socioeconomic recovery. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) masterminded the movement and was rewarded as co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

A spokesman from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, "In general, ICRC is very pleased with the progress, but we are very realistic that many things need to be done... Donors are taking the Convention very seriously."

To date, the 1997 treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines has been ratified or acceded to by 141 countries. Another nine countries have signed, but have not yet completed their ratification process, bringing the total number of countries supporting the treaty to 150. Notably, the 44 countries which have not yet joined the MBT include China, Russia, the USA, Israel, India, Pakistan, both Koreas, Iraq and Iran.

Despite the widespread stigmatisation of landmines created by the ICBL and the MBT campaign, implementation of the treaty remains unenforceable. In this context, the ICBL's annual report, the Landmine Monitor, received reports in 2003 of use of antipersonnel mines by the Burundi army and serious allegations of use of landmines by government forces in Sudan. Both governments, signatories of the MBT, deny any mine-laying.

Despite the considerable success of the MBT, major challenges still face a world where millions of landmines continue to injure and kill civilians while preventing safe use of vast areas of productive land. Eighty-two countries are affected to some degree by landmines and/or unexploded ordnance (UXO), of which 45 are states which are party to the MBT.

An ambitious aspect of the MBT was the setting of targets for mine clearance worldwide, as well as stockpile destruction. The year 2009 was set as the date by which most of the world's minefields should have been cleared. The slow pace of clearance and the new use of landmines in conflicts means it is unrealistic that these targets will be met.

The ICRC says "the deadlines have to remain the goal even if we do no meet them 100 percent". However, despite the ICRC's claim that a total of 31 million mines have been destroyed by parties to the MBT, the Landmine Monitor estimates that 78 countries still have between 200 million and 215 million antipersonnel mines stockpiled, many of their governments remaining highly resistant to destroying their stocks.

"The campaign has to get brave again and challenge international donors to make available the funds required to clear existing minefields and adequately care for victims. They need to re-focus their energy on really putting the international community under pressure," Rae McGrath, the co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, told IRIN.

Although comprehensive data on landmine/UXO casualties is difficult to obtain, the Landmine Monitor estimates that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 of these each year, 25 percent of them involving children. There has been a decline in casualties since the early 1990s when humanitarian mine action had only just started, and when the ICRC estimated the annual rate of death and injury to be at least 26,000.

With new casualties reported each year, the number of landmine survivors continues to grow. In many mine-affected countries, the assistance available to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of survivors is inadequate. They are found not only in countries reporting new casualties but also in countries whose nationals have been injured while abroad, in countries no longer mine-affected, and in countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

The fight against the use of landmines has by no means been won. According to the Landmine Monitor, the governments of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Russia have all acknowledged using antipersonnel mines during 2003. It also says it is known that government forces in Myanmar (Burma), Georgia and Iraq continued to lay mines throughout last year. At least 11 non-state actors also used landmines in conflicts.

For the ICRC, this anniversary is a time "to recognise the need to call on all states that have not yet adhered to the Convention to do so", although the call will not be heeded by many state and non-state parties.

This year will conclude with a major milestone in the life of the treaty: The 2004 Summit on a Mine-Free World, or the first conference to review the treaty, will convene in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, from 29 November to 3 December. World leaders will meet to mark the MBT's progress since its birth and chart the way forward for its full implementation and universalisation. "We didn't just set out as a campaign to set new legislation; it was part of a process - an urgent process - to get the whole job done," said McGrath.

The 1997 Treaty was born out of a hard-hitting single-issue campaign that in five years from its inception in 1992 led to remarkable new international legislation. The progress of this movement has been fast and wide-reaching, but for the thousands of communities continuing to live under the shadow of the threat of mines, the MBT remains far from reaching its core objectives and targets.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

... Payvand News - 3/2/04 ... --

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