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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Landmine ban: Has enough been done?

We discussed landmines and how to eradicate them on our global interactive phone-in programme broadcast online, on the BBC World Service and on Digital television in the UK. Our guests were Jody Williams Ambassador of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and Richard Lloyd, Director of Landmine Action.


Highlights of the interview


Newshost:

In today's programme we are talking about landmines. Today the Afghan president Hamid Karzai has opened an international meeting in Kabul aimed at getting a total ban on anti-personnel landmines, which have littered his country as a result of years of war. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world, but it's not the only one to suffer from the debris of warfare.

It's estimated that there are 120 million mines laid across the world and that they kill or maim someone every 20 minutes, 15 per cent being children. Each year 2-5 million new mines are put into the ground and even though high-profile supporters like the late Diana, Princess of Wales, have given their support and a treaty was signed in Ottawa in 1997 calling for a worldwide ban, the major military powers, the United States, Russia, China and most Middle Eastern countries refuse to sign up.

Why hasn't the treaty worked? Has the international treaty done enough to eradicate landmines? Or is there still a case for their use as an effective weapon of defence? One of our guests this week is Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. She'll be addressing today's conference in Kabul and she joins us from there now. Jody, a conference like this, does it really stand a chance of beginning the job of taking the mines out of Afghanistan?


Jody Williams:

Actually the conference is not beginning the process, it's the beginning of the end, maybe, of taking the mines out of the ground. The Afghan de-mining programme is one of the best in the world and they have been diligently taking mines out of the ground since the late 80s.

We've taken advantage of this moment when the new government is trying to deal with the multiple problems in this country to bring to their attention the issue of the mine ban treaty and they announced this morning that they are prepared to join the treaty. And it's an important thing for them to do - it's one of the most mined countries in the world.


Newshost:

But the actual process of taking the mines out is hugely expensive, isn't it? It's going to take a lot of effort.


Jody Williams:

The Afghan de-mining organisations say that if the international community continues the level of support it has shown consistently over the last few years they can de-mine the high priority areas, meaning the areas that affect most people on a daily basis, within seven years. That is certainly a do-able. And if the international community is truly dedicated to rebuilding this country so it doesn't fall back to what it was before, and cause more problems in the world, they have to deal with landmines. You cannot develop a country with landmines in every single province.


Newshost:

Jody, for the moment, thank you very much. And now we can go to our first caller, Abdulai Kargbo joins us from Freetown in Sierra Leone, a country clearly that has a big mine problem. First of all Abdulai was asking us, we often hear about landmines causing amputation, injuries, maiming people rather than killing people. Why is this the case because surely they are instruments of war, they are designed to kill?


Jody Williams:

No, actually anti-personnel landmines are designed to maim. And they are designed to maim on purpose because they want to overwhelm the enemy opposition. It takes a lot more blood, it takes a lot more medicines to deal with a mine victim as compared to a bullet wound in war, for example.

Also when a young, an 18-year-old, a 20-year-old soldier steps on a landmine and loses a limb, the battalion around him - excuse the vernacular - freaks out. They don't want to move forward. Who wants to move forward when you know it's a mine field? It takes soldiers to drag that guy to the back line so that he might survive. It is designed specifically for psychological reasons to cause fear in the opposing troops, and also to overload their logistical systems. The problem is the landmines don't respect peace and once peace comes to a country, the ones that they are killing and overloading is the civilian side of society - which is what we are seeing here in Afghanistan. The country is overwhelmed by the people maimed by this weapon.


Newshost:

Let me just put you Abdulai's other point, which was talking about the compliance, he knows about this treaty that was signed in 1997. Is it true that all developed countries are now pretty much signed up to this, that they are not producing landmines and distributing them now? What's the compliance?


Jody Williams:

We have seen amazing changes in the world, not just in the countries that have signed the treaty, 143 have signed already, 125 have ratified. But even countries that are outside the treaty, such as the United States, such as China, have taken steps to show the world that they understand the humanitarian problems caused by this weapon. There has been no major export in the world in six years. The number of producer countries has dropped from 54 to a dozen. Victims have fallen in almost every country in the world, and this is because of the work of civil society, ordinary people like myself, working with governments around the world to make this happen. It is a do-able if we work together.


Newshost:

Before we go back to Abdulai, let me read you an e-mail we've received from Anne in the United States. Anne says people don't see the benefits of landmines. OK, some civilians get hurt by them. But they are a great weapon against infantry. The landmine business also creates lots of jobs in America, so to close it down would be wrong. Jody, do you recognise those sentiments, are they the kind of sentiments you meet when trying to deal with this problem?


Jody Williams:

No, actually, in terms of economic benefits to the United States, landmine production is infinitesimal and irrelevant. I actually believe that if it were a big money item, a big ticket item in the United States we would have had a lot of opposition from the producers and we actually have had almost none. We do not need them to create jobs in the United States.

The campaign has never said that anti-personnel landmines do not have utility. That is not the issue. Yes, in some circumstances, they are useful. But they cause way too much harm in civil society for 100 years after the end of war. That makes them illegal under international law and I'm sorry but countries that choose to call themselves civilised and be bound by international law, you don't use weapons that are considered illegal. Our military did not want to give up poison gas when it was outlawed in 1925 because occasionally it's useful. Nuclear bombs are occasionally useful. That doesn't mean that it's moral, ethical or legal to use them.


Newshost:

Jody, thank you. Let me bring in Uzma Khurshid from Lahore, and put her question to Jody. Jody you're obviously dealing with very destructive and nasty weapon, most weapons are nasty, of course. Why are landmines so widely used?


Jody Williams:

Because I think before the combatants in the world didn't think beyond the moment of combat. One of the other successes of this campaign has been to educate the military in the world, that they have to think about the entire life cycle of a weapon, which sounds a little odd, I know. But that means you can't just think about the week or two weeks you are using the weapon during a military operation, you have to think about how long that weapon is going to have an impact on society.

But we have caused the military and military weapons developers now to be aware of the fact that they have to pay attention to this. War is ugly and weapons are going to continue to be ugly but I think that is why it is so much more important for people in civil society to say no, to remind militaries that there are limits, that they cannot do anything to win. And that is what we have done in the landmine campaign.


Newshost:

Let me read you out an e-mail we have received from John Pedler in Volosko, Croatia: While in Cambodia I was so appalled by civilian victims I helped found a mine charting charity. Why can't we who are struggling to prevent such casualties accept properly laid and mapped mine defences as the price of getting the big powers to agree no other use of mines?

Richard Sietema joins us on the line from Dallas. Richard, what do you think?


Richard Sietema:

I think first of all that I agree with most of what I have heard here, but what if the enemy is not civilised? What if the only way, or one of the only ways you can contain aggression is by causing that fear and that psychological fear in the enemy's troops? As for example in the case in Korea where one of the lines of defence there is about three million landmines preventing communist troops from infiltrating a free country.


Newshost:

OK, Richard, let's put that to Jody. Jody you've got two very clearly cut points there. First of all there was the point that if nations are putting in landmines and mapping them and making sure they take them out when they go away, are they really worse than any other weapon?


Jody Williams:

The problem is that nations do not map them and take them out when they go away. There are not tens of millions of mines in the ground today because nations have mapped them out and take them out of the ground when they go away. That is a specious argument that some nations have used to try to justify continued use. Mines are all over these countries and they are not mapped, they are not marked.


Newshost:

But there are a lot of maps of the mines laid by the United States in Korea. They put them in there for a very specific purpose, they know where they are, and they are there, as we heard, against an enemy that they think would be overwhelming perhaps if they weren't there. So isn't there a good reason for keeping them there, for example?


Jody Williams:

On it's face your argument sounds brilliant, but I was in the DMZ a couple of years ago. First of all if there were to be an attack from the North, it would be a mechanised attack. Anti-personnel landmines as you know do nothing to stop a mechanised attack.

I think that some people may not be aware that several major US commanders of the Korean theatre signed a letter to both President Clinton and President Bush calling upon both of those men to sign the mine ban treaty because it protects our soldiers. It causes us more harm than it saves our people. I don't know that people are aware that 33% of all the casualties in Vietnam of our soldiers were to landmines. They do not save our boys in uniform.


Newshost:

Jody Williams thank you very much for joining us. I know you are very busy there at the conference but thank you very much indeed for spending the time with us today here on Talking Point. We've been joined in fact now by Richard Lloyd, Director of the pressure group Landmine Action.

Richard, thank you, and welcome to the programme. Let me put that point to you Richard, in the studio. Jody was saying that actually the landmines wouldn't be effective against some kind of armoured invasion, but certainly the Americans, or much of the American military believes that it is an effective way of making sure that border is safe. If they are mapped, and if they are going to take them out at some point, is there really a good reason for saying they can't use them, that it has to be part of the ban?


Richard Lloyd:

Well Jody was quite right that what would happen in the event of an invasion would be a very fast breach of that minefield and, for example, the Gulf War, the huge barrier of minefields in Kuwait didn't stop a very rapid US advance through that territory.

I think what we have to look at is the argument in the round. In certain cases, yes there's clearly going to be some usefulness for anti-personnel mines in the short term. But in the long term does the damage they do to civilians outweigh the effectiveness, the usefulness for the military? And the answer that we know very clearly is yes. These things are more dangerous to civilians, they can't distinguish between civilians and military and that is the basis of the ban. And I think to say that South Korea can only be kept safe by the use of anti-personnel mines is frankly crass. There are other methods of stopping a fast, mechanised advance, and anti-personnel landmines don't figure in that.


Newshost:

Perhaps that brings me on to another point. We are talking here about anti-personnel mines, when we all know that is not the only sort of mine. There are anti-tank mines, anti-vehicle mines, there are even mines you can put in the sea against submarines and ships. Is it only the anti-personnel mines that you want to get rid of?


Richard Lloyd:

Well this is a big controversy at the moment. I think it's very clear from our work in Africa and in other countries that anti-vehicle mines, the bigger mines that are designed to attack tanks and so on, they cause a humanitarian problem as well. They stop people using roads, they blow up buses. There was a case the weekend before last in Afghanistan of 14 people getting killed when their bus ran over an anti-tank mine. I think we do have to look at that. What's been discussed in the international community at the moment is whether there should be some additional restraints on the use of those weapons.

But for people clearing landmines, clearing up the problem in the real world, they have to deal with these just as they do with anti-personnel mines. You don't clear an anti-personnel mine and leave an anti-tank mine, they both cause humanitarian problems.


Newshost:

OK, Richard, thank you very much. Let me read an e-mail we've received from TJ in India. TJ says: Give people a country to defend whose neighbours have launched five wars in 50 years, they would either run away or start using landmines themselves - a reference there, I suspect, to Pakistan.

Let's bring in Shaun Carr from NewYork. Shaun, what do you think?


Shaun Carr:

I feel the issue in Africa is that if Europeans create a problem, and not an American problem, it's not the United States that has to do something. I don't feel it should be focusing on the United States.


Newshost:

They're the only ones who haven't actually signed up to this treaty amongst many of the nations, China and obviously Russia, as well, but America is certainly prominent amongst those who haven't signed up.


Shaun Carr:

Yes, but I think also just because we didn't sign the treaty doesn't mean we have a pro-mine policy. The United States' policy is not to use non self-destructing landmines. And they only place we do use them, again, is on the Korean demilitarised zone. Other than that the United States, like many governments, has tried to clean up the problem as in Afghanistan. We do try to help clean up the minefields. And especially, I think, after September 11th mechanised warfare will not be the future of warfare in the world - it's going to be a more of an asymmetrical man against man sort of force and I think using self-destructing landmines should be an option for the military.


Newshost:

Self-destructing, you mean mines that will be exploded after they've been used?


Shaun Carr:

After a couple of hours, exactly.


Newshost:

So you think those are acceptable and their use should continue?


Shaun Carr:

The ban in Canada - the Iowa treaty - is an absolute. There's absolutely no exceptions for a landmine, except for training, which makes sense. But absolutes don't really work well in this world. Many countries will not agree to it, and it will just be ignored.


Newshost:

OK, Shaun, let me put some of those points to Richard Lloyd. Again, you have landmines that destroy themselves after a few hours, they are temporary, they are not hanging around, they are not used irresponsibly. Why is it absolutely necessary to get rid of them? Shouldn't you be talking to countries that spread them randomly?


Richard Lloyd:

This is the argument the US put in the negotiations at the Ottawa treaty. Frankly the experience of people in the real world that do the de-mining is that the technology that makes these mines so-called smart and so-called self-destruct isn't that reliable. And you have to look at whether these things will indeed destroy themselves over a period of time - you can set these mechanisms to work for months after they've been used. And you have to look at the conditions within which civilians are going to be moving into a mined area.

Now I think generally what the US needs to do is to look at what its thinking is in terms of stigmatising this weapon. Americans often agree - we've talked to the American military many times about this. They agree this is a weapon that is extremely damaging, that has such humanitarian concern. Yes, they say, they've got the technological means to try and address that, but surely they should join up with the rest of the signatories and the countries that have ratified the treaty and stigmatise the use of these weapons.

We've talked to rebel groups, we've talked to armies that are still using it routinely as part of our work. And they know they suffer home side losses from these weapons. Why can't the US join with the others and persuade those that are still using these weapons that they are beyond the pale? We've been doing this on other weapons, as Jody Williams said, for years. Why can't the US do it on this?


Newshost:

Richard, thanks for the moment. Let me read you out an e-mail we've received Ndung'u Ndegwah from Nairobi, Kenya. Ndung'u says Africa has its share of mines but we manufacture no arms. The developed world pays lip service to morality but continues funding those keeping our continent aflame. If no one replenishes our arsenals, no weapons will be left and our citizens will be safe. Daniel McEleney is on the line from Massachusetts. Daniel, what's your view about all this?


Daniel McEleney:

Well, my view is that if a country puts them down they should be responsible for the cost of removing them, including medical costs for people who are injured, and material costs for damage after the conflict.


Newshost:

You think people should be forced to take them away essentially?


Daniel McEleney:

Yes.


Newshost:

And do you think that's feasible?


Daniel McEleney:

I might be wrong, but during World War II didn't they actually put tanks in to blow up the anti-personnel mines?


Newshost:

I don't know, did they? What do you think?


Daniel McEleney:

I believe they did, because I believe it's in the history books that they had a thing that goes up the road ahead of the tanks to blow the mines up. If they could do that then, they can do it now.


Newshost:

Let me put that to Richard Lloyd, that's an interesting idea, isn't it?


Richard Lloyd:

I think it's a fair argument. Actually there is a big debate going on at the moment in the UN about whether the users of all exploding munitions, not just mines, should take responsibility for clearing the mess up afterwards. For example in Afghanistan you've got unexploded cluster bombs, adding to the huge landmine problem there.

I think it's a very strong point and if there were some responsibility, some obligation on the part of users of all explosive weapons, bombs, mines, grenades, and so on, to at least help clear up afterwards, then there might be some restraints in the use of some of those weapons.


Newshost:

That's not very practical. How are you going to make people in civil wars in Africa do that, if they are not necessarily groups that are receptive even to making peace in the first place?


Richard Lloyd:

It's something that many in the international community have already signed up to in another treaty, including China and Russia. I was meeting with diplomats at the UN last week and most of those countries, most of the major military powers have already signed up to a measure which says, if you use landmines you mark them and clear them up. Now, I wouldn't claim for a minute that that's working very well. But it is a principle that's already there in international law and I think we should impose that. We should try and spread that out more widely across all the range of explosive weapons and introduce some concept of responsibility. Why not, we do it in other areas of environmental law, for example?


Newshost:

Let me bring in a couple of e-mails we've received. Wendy in the UK: The countries that lay the mines should pay for their clearing. Since it's money rather than morals that govern them, maybe they'll think twice before leaving thousands of mines in their wake.

We also received an e-mail from Waffa in Singapore: Once the manufacturer is identified, can innocent mine victims make claims against them? If they could the makers would be more responsible about who they do business with.

That's an interesting point - what about the people who make these things in the first place? Is it something you can do something about? Can you go to the manufacturers and stop them from making them or even fine them perhaps or get them to pay compensation?


Richard Lloyd:

It is an important point and obviously part of the ban is to stop manufacture - it's illegal in countries that have ratified the ban for manufacturers to make those things.

There is a legal precedent - a small one that's been set recently - communities in the north of Kenya have just sued the British Ministry of Defence for damages because they've been blown up not by mines incidentally but by other unexploded ordnance and were awarded 4.5 million just last week.

So there was a small step in that direction. What's difficult with the manufacturers is that they always claim - well it wasn't us that laid them, it was the irresponsible purchaser of our genuinely sold items and that the users were the ones that were to blame.

Now I think the manufacturers are to blame. They flooded the market with these weapons. They've made them very, very cheap for people to buy and to use and I think there should be some way of getting them into paying some sort of compensation - some sort of contribution to the clearing up of the mess they've helped create.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | UK
09 Jul 02 | Africa
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