How the Sausage Gets Made, States and their landmine policies

Every year, the First Committee of the United Nations meets to discuss disarmament issues.  Among the topics covered this year were nuclear disarmament, the Conference on Disarmament and universalization of existing disarmament treaties including the Mine Ban Treaty.  As part of the proceedings, the First Committee approved a draft resolution (document A/C. 1/67/L/8) entitled “Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction” by a vote of 152 states in favor, none against and 19 abstaining.  The draft resolution supports the universalization of the Mine Ban and “call upon all States and other relevant parties to work together to promote, support and advance the care, rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of mine victims, mine risk education programmes and the removal and destruction of anti-personnel mines placed or stockpiled throughout the world.”

To date, three African countries, Egypt, Libya and Morocco have refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty and all three made statements during the discussions of the draft resolution that provides insight into their positions and why they have remained outside the treaty regime.

From a press release issued by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs on November 5, 2012 (UNODA).

Morocco

Morocco voted in favor of the draft resolution to support the humanitarian goals of the Treaty.  Morocco supports the concepts of the Treaty and provides funds for victim assistance domestically and funds to neighboring states to support mine action.  Morocco also participates in meetings of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.

Sounds nice, right? But no mention of the extensive minefields maintained by Morocco in Western Sahara which would need to be dismantled if Morocco acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.  In this way, Morocco is like Iran which argued that “landmines remained an effective means for certain countries to ensure their security and to protect civilians.”  Only a political solution to the Western Sahara question would eliminate Morocco’s perception that it needs to use landmines for national protection.

Egypt

Egypt was one of the 19 countries that abstained from the vote on the draft resolution.  Egypt said that the Mine Ban Treaty does not enjoy international consensus and was negotiated outside of the United Nations framework; only the latter of which is true as demonstrated by the fact that no country voted against the draft resolution.  Egypt also argued that “countries with long borders” have a legitimate military use for landmines to protect national security and those national security interests outweigh the humanitarian concerns, which Egypt feels are over-emphasized in the Treaty.  Egypt also argued that the Treaty does not require states which lay landmines to clear those landmines, instead the state in possession of the territory on which the mines are found is responsible for mine clearance.  Egypt argues that Germany and the United Kingdom which laid millions of mines on Egyptian soil during World War II should be responsible for clearing those mines and as long as the Treaty does not force them to do so, Egypt will not accede.

Libya

Libya also abstained from the vote on the draft resolution, reiterating Egypt’s position that the Treaty does not force states that lay landmines to clear them and noting that German and British forces also used landmines in Libya in World War II.  Libyan representatives did say that they were “keen” to participate as an observer in meetings of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and recognized the “human suffering” caused by landmines.  Interestingly, no mention was made of the recent use of landmines by Gaddhafi’s forces during the 2011 rebellion in Libya, but Libya did report it had co-hosted a workshop on landmines with the Canadian government.

Lastly, and almost completely unrelated to the draft resolution, Tanzania mentioned its partnership with APOPO which uses Giant Pouched Rats to find landmines.  The representative “expressed hope that all people of good will would take a look at that method, which was worthy of consideration.”

Michael P. Moore, November 10, 2012

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