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Biden Administration takes step to protect civilians from landmines; reverses Trump Landmine Policy

Press Release | London, 27th June 2022, 10:00 GMT

The Biden Administration has once again barred the Department of Defense from developing, using, or transferring antipersonnel landmines, with the exception of on the Korean Peninsula, if necessary. Under the new policy, the U.S. will destroy all antipersonnel landmine stockpiles unrelated to Korea, and will not encourage any other State to use these weapons. This is a welcome change from a 2020 policy announced by the Trump Administration, which allowed landmines to be used around the world. President Biden had promised to reverse the 2020 policy on the campaign trail, but his administration’s review of the policy took 14 months to realise.

 

“Civilians can breathe a little easier today, because the leader of one of the world’s largest militaries just promised to avoid future use of these weapons outside of the Korean peninsula,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “We certainly welcome this step. But, organisations like ours won’t rest until the U.S. joins the Mine Ban Treaty.”

The Trump Administration’s 2020 decision (which itself reversed President Obama’s 2014 landmine policy) shocked advocates both in the U.S. and internationally. The Trump policy effectively gave the U.S. the ability to resume the use and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines. Landmines are motion-activated devices that cannot distinguish between the footstep of a child or that of a soldier. In fact, in 2020, mines killed or injured more than 7,000 people—80% of those casualties were civilians, half of whom were children. Most recently, the global community along with the United States has condemned the use of antipersonnel mines in the Ukraine war.

The U.S. landmine policy has always been a great paradox. While the U.S. was part of the Ottawa Process, which resulted in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, no President has ever moved to join the Treaty. Administrations have claimed landmines are necessary for U.S. forces to successfully wage land-based wars. However, the U.S. has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, has not exported them since 1992, has not produced them since 1997, and in the meantime has destroyed millions of stockpiled mines. The U.S. government heavily funds actions by organizations—including Humanity & Inclusion—to remove these weapons from areas once plagued by conflict, so that civilians can safely live, work and play without fear.

“The latest policy shift has moved the U.S. closer to compliance with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, yet the Administration still pauses at the finish line.” says Meer. “The fact that the U.S. has refrained from using or trading antipersonnel landmines for nearly 30 years, and is counted as the global community’s most generous funder of landmine clearance, but still won’t join the treaty, is an ironic and historical oddity. This great contradiction leaves thousands of lives at risk.”

The U.S. is one of the few countries that has yet to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, joining with countries such as China, Egypt, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia. There are 164 States parties to the treaty, making the ban on landmines a near-universal norm of international humanitarian law.

“For the last 30 years we have been collecting evidence that proves, time and again, how landmines harm civilians, and pose long-term recovery obstacles for affected communities,” says Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Humanity & inclusion’s Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager. “We often hear that the U.S. military is doing everything it can to protect civilians during and after armed conflict, yet this statement is inconsistent with American policy on antipersonnel landmines. It is time to change that.”
 
“There is no place in a modern, moral military for these devices,” continues Al-Osta. “While we are engaging in discussions with different militaries how to advance and strengthen the protection of civilians, we are disappointed that the U.S. military would even consider using these weapons that are banned due to their indiscriminate effects.”

“Every day, Humanity & Inclusion’s teams are exposed to landmines that continue to injure, maim, and terrorize civilians,” Meer adds. “Our experts see first-hand that landmines do not help win wars, and do not save lives. Rather, there is no good outcome when landmines are deployed.”

Humanity & Inclusion’s work

Humanity & Inclusion runs projects to protect civilians from landmines and other explosive conflict debris in dozens of countries. Teams work to:

  • return land to communities through demining;
  • teach people to spot, avoid and report explosive remnants of war through risk education;
  • provide support, physical and psychosocial care to victims of landmines;
  • raise the visibility of landmine survivors and their communities, so that the world is reminded of the scourge of landmines.

Notes

Humanity & Inclusion’s experts available for interview:

  • Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director, Humanity & Inclusion
  • Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager

Humanity & Inclusion’s publications on landmines and civilian harm:

Photo copyright: © J. Kempeneers/ HI Archive.

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