Friday, November 27, 2009

Obama Administration Continues Bush Stance On Landmines

In a disappointing continuation of one of the policies of the Bush years, the Obama administration has announced that it will not sign a global treaty banning landmines. The treaty has been signed by 156 countries, but the U.S., Russia, China and India have not joined them. The State Department said that the mines are essential to U.S. security commitments. One has to question this assertion, given the lack of actual use:

The United States generally abides by the provisions of the treaty. It has not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997, Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch, told a briefing on Monday.

What cannot be denied is the grevious harm landmines do to the innocent, including thousands of children, often long after conflicts have ended:

According to the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), landmines caused at least 5,197 casualties last year, a third of them children. A United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children, by Gra├ža Machel, the UN Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children called landmines "an insidious and persistent danger" to children. An estimated 110 million land-mines of various types remain hidden and unexploded. Once laid, a mine may remain active for up to 50 years.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch correctly called the Obama administration's stance a contradiction in its "professed emphasis on multilateralism, disarmament, and humanitarian affairs." The policy also gains a measure of bitter irony in view of the president's upcoming receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) also criticized the lack of U.S. leadership on this humanitarian issue:

"This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history... The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these weapons and most of our allies have long ago abandoned them. It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress. The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of landmines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines."

Note: Click on Amnesty International ad to view it more clearly.

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