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TakeAction: United States removes restrictions on landmine use: What should Canada do?

At the end of January, US President Donald Trump reversed the Obama-era ban on the use of landmines (other than in the defence of South Korea).

The brief statement from the White House says, ” The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama Administration’s policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries. The President is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops.”

A new US policy on landmines “will authorize Combatant Commanders, in exceptional circumstances, to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces.”

The United States has not signed the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines (otherwise known as the Ottawa Treaty or Mine Ban Treaty), although 164 other countries have done so.

In a statement from Human Rights Watch, Steve Goose, director of HRW’s arms division said, “Most of the world’s countries have embraced the ban on antipersonnel landmines for more than two decades, while the Trump administration has done a complete about-face in deciding to cling to these weapons in perpetuity. Using landmines, which have claimed so many lives and limbs, is not justified by any country or group under any circumstances.”

HRW points out that “in recent years, landmines have only been used by regimes known for their human rights abuses in Burma and Syria, and by non-state armed groups like ISIS” and that the US has not actually used landmines since 1991, exported them since 1992, produced them since 1997, and have, in fact, destroyed millions that were stockpiled.

In an op-ed in the Globe and Mail, former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy and John English, a former special ambassador on landmines, address the “reducing risk” rationale, which was, as they put it, “debunked effectively during the debate on the landmine treaty negotiations in the 1990s, when the International Committee of the Red Cross, supported by senior U.S. army commanders … pointed out that the weapons were a huge risk to civilians and soldiers alike.”

They also say that the US is not acknowledging the impact and effectiveness of the Ottawa Treaty, including the drop in annual rates of those injured or killed by landmines which have accompanied the major de-mining projects still in process.

The lifting of US restrictions “gives licence to rogue combatants around the world, to say nothing of major powers such as Russia and China, which will now feel free to amend their own no-use policies.”

In an op-ed published by Postmedia in their various newspapers, Erin Hunt (Mines Action Canada) and Liz Bernstein (Nobel Women’s Initiative), in addition to raising similar points to Axworthy and English about the reduction in casualties and demining projects, also discuss the failure of “technological fixes,” such as the the self-destruct mechanism in non-persistent landmines, to reduce casualties.

Hunt and Bernstein also call on the Canadian government to publicly support the ban and fund demining projects, as well as assist victims. They suggest that Canada take on the role of president of the Ottawa Treaty, an annual commitment Canada has never assumed.

What you can do

Write to Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and suggest that Canada publicly re-affirm its commitment to upholding the Ottawa Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Landmines, and confirm its financial support for de-mining activities around the world.

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