Campaigners to halt the use of landmines hope finally to bring the United States under President Barack Obama into the fold of countries that have banned a weapon that maims and kills thousands every year.
They said the United States has registered to send a delegation to a major review conference of the Mine Ban Treaty which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia from Nov. 29- Dec. 4.
If the United States, which until now has shunned the agreement, signs up to the pact, activists hope it will have a knock-on effect on other powers which have failed to ratify, including China and Russia.
“We are hoping that this is a first step in that direction,” Stephen Goose, a long-time campaigner now with Human Rights Watch, told a news briefing.
Landmines are known to have caused 5,197 casualties last year, a third of them children, according to the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which links some 1,000 activist groups.
Although the Clinton administration took part in the Ottawa Process talks which clinched the mine ban treaty, it did not sign but held out hope that Washington would eventually. The Bush administration said in 2004 it would not sign up, but activists’ hopes rose again when Obama took office in January.
“If the U.S. joins, we’re sure there will be a domino effect on others to follow. It will be a big signal to other major powers,” the ICBL’s Jacqueline Hansen said.
The United States, China, India, Pakistan and Russia are among 39 countries that have stayed outside the pact which entered into force in 1999 and has been ratified by 156 states, according to the ICBL.
The United States has not used landmines since 1991, prohibited their export a year later and halted production in 1997, the ICBL said in its annual Landmine Monitor Report 2009 published on Thursday.
This meant Washington was largely in compliance, except for banning mines and destroying large stockpiles.
“Regrettably, the pace of joining the Convention has slowed and crawled to a stop,” Goose said.
Myanmar and Russia are the only two states believed to use anti-personnel mines, down from 15 a decade ago, ICBL said.
But rebel groups in seven countries continue to lay landmines, according to the ICBL.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are “likely the most prolific user of anti-personnel mines in the world”, while the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also laid large numbers in Sri Lanka before their defeat earlier this year, it said.
Only three countries — Myanmar, India and Pakistan — are known to have produced mines in the past year, the report said.
No trading in mines has been confirmed for a decade, but a “low-level of illicit and unacknowledged transfers continues”.
At least 44 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed over the past decade by states under the treaty.
But another 160 million remain, mainly in the stockpiles of five countries which have shunned the pact — China, Russia, the United States, Pakistan and India, according to the report.