Human rights groups are once again putting pressure on the Obama administration to join every other NATO ally and sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The treaty, established during a summit in Canada, bans the antipersonnel landmines that continue to maim and kill thousands of civilians across the world.
The Obama administration is currently wrapping up a review of its landmine policies, prompting lawmakers, human rights groups and physicians to take action.
Following its last policy review in November 2009, the Obama administration decided not to join the 158 other countries signed to the treaty. Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) quickly responded. “President Obama’s decision to cling to antipersonnel mines keeps the US on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity,” HRW Arms Division Director Steve Goose said last year. “This decision lacks vision, compassion, and basic common sense, and contradicts the Obama administration’s professed emphasis on multilateralism, disarmament, and humanitarian affairs.”
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The HRW points out that US military has not used antipersonnel in 19 years and has not produced them since 1997, but President George W. Bush said in 2004 that the US would never sign the treaty.
In May, 68 US Senators signed a letter to the Obama administration demanding that the US get with the times and sign the treaty. The letter was circulated by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). The number of supports in the Senate exceeds the vote count needed to ratify a treaty.
“The idea that a modern military like ours would be using indiscriminate, victim-activated weapons today is hard to reconcile with our current military objectives, particularly when you consider that the two countries [Iraq and Afghanistan] where our troops are fighting are parties to the treaty and the members of the coalition that we are leading in Afghanistan are also parties to the treaty,” Leahy said.
A group of 20 leading health organizations, including the American Medical Association and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), is circulating a petition to pressure the Obama administration to sign the treaty following its current policy review.
PHR reports 30 to 40 percent of landmine victims are children, and millions of unexploded mines in 80 countries worldwide continue to threaten civilians and food supplies.
“I have seen the impact of landmines on communities in Kosovo,” said PHR Chair Dr. Bob Lawrence. “Long after the fighting stops, landmines continue to terrorize and maim innocent bystanders. This treaty is a vaccination against the scourge of landmines, and it’s time for the US to join the international community in rejecting this indiscriminate weapon.”
You can learn more about the PHR petition asking the Obama administration to sign the Mine Ban Treaty by clicking here.