Archive Article: The Banning Of Anti-Personel Land Mines. 21st Feb 03
December 27, 2008

The fighting in Afghanistan has largely stopped (for the moment, anyway). But up to 300 people per month are still maimed or killed. These are the victims of landmines. One of the country’s largest employers is the MAPA, the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan, a coalition of 15 non-governmental organizations. Even so, on the current rate of landmine clearance, the country will not be clear until about 2200.

I have just been reading explaining some of the background to stopping the spread of landmines: “The Banning of Anti-Personnel Landmines: The Legal Contribution of the International Committee of the Red Cross 1955-1999”, edited by Louis Maresca and Stuart Maslen.

An estimated 45-50 million landmines infest at 1.3 million square kilometres of land around the world. About 10,000 people are killed or maimed each year (including Europeans who still encounter World War II landmines). Australia and Antarctica are the world’s only two continents that do not have any landmines deployed.

Landmines have been very difficult to ban. The military like them because they are permanent sentries: they can be left in the ground to put a location off-limits. The “anti-personnel” variety get their name because their intention is not so much to kill as to maim – thereby striking terror in the minds of others in the neighbourhood. A victim can tie up medical resources as personnel seek, for example, to stop a person bleeding from death.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has long been involved in attempts to prohibit landmines. This book is, in effect, a reference book of the key documents. It begins with an historical background, starting with The Declaration of St Petersburg 1868, which was the first formal international agreement banning the use of a particular weapon (the “exploding” bullet, which makes wounds more difficult to treat).

The Geneva Diplomatic Conference 1974-77 (which I attended) updated the Geneva Conventions 1949. An attempt was made to address the issue of landmines but the problem was transferred to the United Nations. The first formal attempt to regulate the use of landmines came with the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons 1980 (CCW), to which Australia became a party in 1984. Protocol II to the treaty did not contain a total ban (which was then politically impossible) but it placed a ban on certain landmines (such as those difficult to detect). This was not much but at least a start had been made.

Suddenly opposition to landmines became a cause, with such leaders as the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The second part of the book deals with the gathering international public pressure that obliged governments to find ways to build upon the progress of the CCW.

The book then deals with the creation of the Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction 1997 (commonly referred to as the Ottawa Treaty). Australia became a party to it in 1998 and in 1999 it destroyed the bulk of Australia’s stockpile of anti-personnel mines.

It has been a leading participant in the move to encourage other countries to be bound by the treaty. Some progress has therefore been made – though much remains to be done.

Broadcast Friday 21st February 2003 on Radio 2GB’s “Brian Wilshire Programme” at 9pm.