Human Rights Watch urges President-elect Joe Biden to reinstate landmine ban

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Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged President-elect Joe Biden to reinstate US policy banning US production and acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, as well as their use outside of the Korean Peninsula.

To help prevent further landmine casualties, the United States should join the Mine Ban Treaty without delay, the organization added in its annual global report monitoring the international treaty prohibiting these weapons.

The 116-page “Landmine Monitor 2020” report is the product of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations that received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

“Most countries have embraced the landmine ban for more than two decades, yet the Trump administration sought to cling to these weapons in perpetuity,” said Steve Goose, arms division executive director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the ICBL. “President-elect Biden should reverse the current retrograde policy and endorse the widely supported landmine ban.”

“Landmine Monitor 2020” will be presented at the Mine Ban Treaty Eighteenth Meeting of States Parties, which opens at the United Nations in Geneva on November 16.

On January 31, 2020, a Trump administration policy directive opened the door for new US production, acquisition, and use of antipersonnel landmines. The Defense Department claimed that antipersonnel mines are “a vital tool.” However, the US last used antipersonnel mines in 1992, has not exported them since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997.

The decision nullified years of steps by the US government to align its policy and practice with the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively bans antipersonnel mines and requires mine clearance, destruction of stockpiles, and victim assistance. A total of 164 countries have joined the treaty, including all of NATO except the US.

In February, Biden’s campaign criticized the Trump administration’s landmine policy as “another reckless act” that “will put more civilians at risk” and called it “unnecessary from a military perspective.” Biden committed to “promptly roll back this deeply misguided decision.”

The campaign reports in “Landmine Monitor 2020” that Myanmar government forces continued their use of antipersonnel mines in 2019 and the first half of 2020. In that period, non-state armed groups used landmines in Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, and most likely elsewhere. Human Rights Watch and other groups are reviewing allegations of new antipersonnel mine use by North Korean forces.

Under the Mine Ban Treaty, states parties have destroyed a total of more than 55 million landmines. In 2019, Greece and Ukraine destroyed a total of more than 269,000 mines, but both remain in violation of the treaty after missing their deadlines to complete their stockpile destruction.

The campaign identified at least 5,484 new casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war in 2019, finding that 81 percent of cases in which the information was available were civilians. Children accounted for 43 percent of all civilian casualties for which the victim’s age was known. There were 1,538 new mine casualties in Afghanistan, 432 in Mali, and 324 in Yemen. However, many landmine casualties go unrecorded.

According to “Landmine Monitor 2020,” sixty countries and other areas are contaminated by uncleared landmines, while 31 states parties have completed clearance of affected areas under the Mine Ban Treaty.

“To comply with the Mine Ban Treaty, several countries need to make significant progress to destroy their stockpiles, clear mine-affected areas, assist victims, and ensure their laws punish any violations,” Goose said. “Full compliance is essential to ensuring that the treaty banning landmines prevents further human suffering.”

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