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May-08-2010 16:30printcomments

68 Senators Sign a Letter to President Obama Calling on the U.S. to Join the Mine Ban Treaty

There were 73,576 casualties between 1999 and 2008.

Afghanistan land mine sign by Tim King
Afghan man whose leg was probably lost to a landmine; there are many like him wherever you go here. photo by Tim King

(WASHINGTON D.C.) - This week, 68 senators—signifying a key two-thirds Senate majority—will deliver a letter to President Obama asking the administration to accede to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

This demonstration of Congressional support for the international treaty banning landmines was seen as a step in the right direction by nongovernmental organization Handicap International, which has been involved in landmine clearance and victim assistance efforts since the early 1990s.

“For the past 30 years, Handicap International has worked with men, women and children whose shattered limbs bear mute testimony to the devastating effects landmines have on civilian populations years after conflict has ended,” said Wendy Batson, executive director of Handicap International.

“As a founder of the movement to ban landmines in the early 1990s, we are thrilled to see Congress fully standing behind speedy accession to the treaty.”

Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT-D) and George Voinovich (OH-R) circulated the Senate letter, while a similar letter, circulated by Reps. James McGovern (MA-D) and Darrell Issa (CA-R) in the House, will also be delivered to President Obama this week.

Sign on an Afghan military base in Kabul. No other nation has
more unexploded land mines, and Afghanistan and Iraq are both
parties to the Convention- as they have suffered thousands of mine
casualties. photo by Tim King

In the letters, legislators note the effectiveness of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, saying, “In the ten years since the Convention came into force, 158 nations have signed including the United Kingdom and other ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] partners, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan which, like Colombia, are parties to the Convention and have suffered thousands of mine casualties. The Convention has led to a dramatic decline in the use, production, and export of anti-personnel mines.”

Legislators also advocated for a landmine policy review aimed at ultimate accession to the treaty, concluding that they were “confident that through a thorough, deliberative review the Administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible.”

These letters follow a letter sent to President Obama on March 22 by leaders from 65 nongovernmental organizations, including Handicap International, that also urge the U.S. to relinquish antipersonnel landmines and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty immediately.

The United States began a comprehensive landmine policy review in late 2009 at the direction of President Obama.

These women in Kabul lost their ability to walk
because of landmines. photo: Tim King

The U.S. has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991 (in the first Gulf War), has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997 and is the biggest donor to mine clearance programs around the world.

However, it still retains 10.4 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, some dating to the 1970’s, for potential future use and has not joined the 1997 treaty prohibiting the weapon.

In 1998, President Clinton set the goal of joining the treaty in 2006, but President Bush reversed course in 2004 and declared that the U.S. would not join.

Although landmine casualty rates have decreased steadily over the past decade, the total number of casualties is still high, according to the 2009 Landmine Monitor Report, which identified 73,576 casualties in 119 countries/areas between 1999 and 2008.

“Young people today are still being injured by a weapon that was put in the ground many years before they were born,” Batson said.

“Handicap International urges our government to join the international community that has made this treaty such a potent force in reducing the suffering of populations in more than seventy countries.”

Source: Handicap International, a group working to improve the living conditions of people living in disabling situations in post-conflict or low-income countries around the world. Handicap International is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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