Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Millions of active and dangerous landmines from decade-old battles remain buried around the world. The U.S. is taking steps to sign the 1997 treaty banning them.
While most of the world is devoted to their removal and ban, mines from past conflicts pose threat to many. Even so, countries including the United States have declined to sign the treaty banning them.
There is a US landmine policy review currently underway in the Obama administration. At the international landmine ban treaty’s third review conference in Mozambique on June 23, the U.S. announced its intention to sign the treaty, and its decision to stop producing and acquiring the weapons.
About 100 million are still buried across the globe in about 78 countries. And though landmines were defensive weapons designed to maim rather than kill, they are more deadly to civilians, killing thousands of people every year.
It’s estimated that landmines are present in nearly a third of all countries. Though it’s impossible to know exactly how many, UN numbers indicate that Egypt contains the most at over 20 million, followed by Iran, Angola, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
The map above shows where the most landmine-related casualties have occurred, with dark red indicating very high fatality, pink high, and yellow moderate.
A ban on mines
In 1997, the Ottowa Treaty was signed in order to ban the use, production, and sale of landmines. It’s signed by 161 nations, notably excluding the Unites States, Russia, and China – the world’s top three military spenders.
The states that signed the treaty committed to the following:
- never use antipersonnel mines or “develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer” them
- destroy mines in their stockpiles within four years; clear mined areas in their territory within 10 years
- in mine-affected countries, conduct mine risk education and comprehensive assistance
- adopt national implementation measures to ensure that the terms of the treaty are upheld.
Though the United States has not used antipersonnel landmines since 1991, nor exported them since 1992 or produced them since 1997, the nation has a stockpile of over 10 million landmines.
Despite this, the U.S. has contributed more financially to the cause of remediating landmine impact than any other country, having donated $1.9 billion over the past 18 years.
Its official statement in 2009 was that “We would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention.”
But landmines are no longer crucial to the nation’s defense of allies like South Korea, and “safe” mines currently used are not banned under the treaty. So in 2009, a landmine policy review launched: it was announced to be near ready in 2013, but has yet to be completed.
Though the US’ statement on its intention to sign the treaty are noted as being representative of progress, others are disappointed that it has yet to set any concrete deadlines or commit to the ban in full, and that the in process review may drift beyond the current administration.
Land mines today: De-mining and prevention
Landmines are still produced and deployed in some places: India, Pakistan, and Myanmar actively manufactured them as recently as 2009. There has been government use in non-signatories Myanmar and Syria, in addition to use by non-state armed groups and rebel groups.
Still, there are many determined to take action to de-mine land and prevent further harm.
The UN’s Mine Action Standards (UNMAS) has been working since 1997 to ensure effective and proactive response to landmines. Their “Mine Action” strategy is made up of five pillars:
- Clearance: removing and destroying landmines (most often, manually); marking contaminated areas
- Education: helping people understand the risks, identify mines, and stay out of harm’s way
- Victim assistance: providing medical assistance and rehabilitation to victims and their families
- Advocacy: encouraging other nations to join international treaties banning the production and use of landmines
- Stockpile destruction: helping countries destroy their stockpiles, as per the treaty
Though it’s true that some communities reject assistance for fear of impact on their communities, all in all unprecedented clearance has been accomplished, and landmines are claiming less lives every year — from 20,000 in the late 90’s to under 4,000 in 2012.
Article originally posted on May 20, 2014; updated on June 29, 2014 and July 30, 2015.