<center>Africa: WOA Landmines Alert, 2/16/96

Africa: WOA Landmines Alert, 2/16/96

Africa: WOA Landmines Alert
Date distributed (ymd): 970216
WOA Document

Washington Notes on Africa Update


This will be a decisive year for the campaign to achieve a comprehensive global ban on anti-personnel landmines. Almost 70 countries have joined an initiative spearheaded by Canada that is expected to culminate in the signing of a treaty in December. The Clinton Administration, however, has thrown its weight behind stalled negotiations in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. In this forum any agreement requires a consensus, and is therefore subject to veto by opponents of a ban. While the White House has not definitively rejected the Ottawa process, and the U.S. has sent a delegation to the most recent Ottawa process talks, the go-slow approach favored by most Pentagon officials still has the upper hand within the Administration.

Administration officials say their preference for Geneva is justified because an agreement that does not include major producers of low-technology landmines notably Russia and China would have little effect on world production of landmines. In fact, the decision for the slow track also reflects substantial opposition from the U.S. military establishment to a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel landmines. In previous negotiations, U.S. officials have sought to exempt smart self-destructing landmines and have also argued for the continuing need to use landmines for defensive purposes in Korea. The White House, while expressing support for an eventual global ban, has in practice often deferred to the Pentagon and dragged its feet in international talks.

The cost of delay will be high. Over 100 million of these deadly weapons are already in the ground, causing an estimated 25,000 civilian casualties each year. Low cost makes landmines a weapon of choice in new conflicts as well. It is estimated that for every mine cleared (at a cost of more than $300 each), twenty new ones are planted (at a cost of as little as $3 each).

The momentum for comprehensive bans at global and regional levels is growing. Later this month Mozambique will host an international meeting of nongovernmental organizations engaged in the campaign, and there are proposals to declare Southern Africa a mine-free zone. There are already more countries committed to attending the Ottawa talks than the 61 countries registered at the disarmament conference in Geneva. But the Clinton Administration is unlikely to get on the bandwagon unless public pressure builds significantly.

The entire world would benefit from a comprehensive ban. For Africa, which has several of the most mined countries in the world and is the scene of ongoing conflicts, the early achievement of a ban is particularly urgent.

Rural People of Color Most Affected

It is often noted that landmines do not discriminate between soldiers and civilians, or between children and adults. More than 80% of estimated casualties are civilians.

In another sense, however, landmines do discriminate. Vulnerability to landmines is not random, but depends on who and where you are. The killed and maimed are predominantly poor people of color. Africa is the most heavily mined region in the world, followed by the Middle East, South Asia (mainly Afghanistan), and East Asia (mainly Cambodia and Vietnam). Post-Cold War conflicts--with the widespread use of landmines in the former Yugoslavia, for example--may modify the regional distribution somewhat. But new conflict zones in Africa also provide promising markets for sellers of landmines. The list of countries most victimized by landmines is headed by those that were Cold War battlefields in the 1980s. Angola and Mozambique, the most affected countries in Africa, suffered conflicts fueled by internal strife and by South African and superpower intervention.

Within countries, the people most likely to encounter mines are the rural poor, especially peasant farmers and their children. The disruption of transportation and agricultural production hits hardest the economies of those countries with large rural populations and little industrial infrastructure.

The Global Campaign

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a nongovernmental initiative which began in 1992, has gained strong momentum in only a few years. Consensus is growing around the world that these weapons should be outlawed, as chemical warfare was a generation ago. Studies such as Landmines: A Deadly Legacy (Human Rights Watch, 1993) and Hidden Killers: The Global Problem with Uncleared Landmines (U.S. Department of State, 1993) have documented the worldwide scope of the problem. The use of landmines in Bosnia has reminded the Western world that these weapons can kill people in Europe as well as in far-off Third World countries. Veterans groups and former high-ranking military officers have noted the limited military value of anti-personnel landmines in wars between armies. The International Committee of the Red Cross, notoriously reluctant to take sides in politically controversial issues, joined the call for a total ban in 1994 in light of the unique humanitarian danger landmines pose.

A decade earlier, in 1983, an internationally negotiated Landmines Protocol imposed restrictions on the legal use of landmines in an effort to reduce harm to civilians. That convention has been totally ineffective.

Since then, landmines have become cheaper, harder to detect, easier to disseminate, and more effective in killing and maiming. Military planners in late Cold War and post-Cold War conflicts have often explicitly targeted civilians and the civilian economy. They have found landmines to be effective weapons in damaging these targets. The result is not only increased civilia casualties, but also rapidly escalating costs for supplying humanitarian relief and reconstructing war-torn areas once peace is restored. According to some estimates, ridding the world of all existing mine fields would cost at least $33 billion and take more than 1,000 years.

Forty-five countries, including the United States and South Africa, have already declared moratoria or permanent bans on landmine exports. In 1995 and 1996 international conferences in Vienna and Geneva reviewed the 1983 protocol, but failed to make progress toward a total ban on landmines. Instead, agreement was reached on limited new restrictions, such as requiring parties to keep maps of planted landmines and to use only smart mines built to self-destruct. Yet enforcing such restrictions would be far more difficult in practice than enforcing an unambiguous comprehensive ban.

In October 1996 the Canadian government convened a conference in Ottawa bringing together 50 full participant countries and 24 observers to plan for adoption of a total ban by the end of 1997. The International Campaign, now consisting of more than 650 nongovernmental organizations in more than three dozen countries, is working to gain the support of as many governments as possible for a comprehensive ban.

Landmines in Africa

According to the U.S. State Department's 1993 study, Africa is the most mined region in the world, with 18 million to 30 million mines laid in 18 countries. Of the 17 countries around the world most severely affected by landmines, seven are in Africa.

By far the most seriously affected country is Angola, with estimates ranging from 9 million to as high as 20 million mines. Next is Mozambique, with more than a million, followed by four countries in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan) with half a million to a million each.

Every country in Southern Africa, with the exception of Lesotho and Mauritius, has had people killed or injured by landmines. The Great Lakes region, previously not significantly affected, now has more than 250,000 mines in Rwanda, and there are fears that the ongoing conflict in the region may lead to much wider use of landmines. Other areas with significant numbers of mines include the Western Sahara and Liberia.

An estimated 70,000 Angolans have become amputees as a result of landmines, including both civilian and military victims. In Mozambique the National Mine Clearance Commission estimates that at least 40 people are killed by landmines each month.

South Africa, with an existing landmine production capacity, announced in October 1996 that it supported a global landmine ban and would ban export of mines. Alhough veterans groups across the political spectrum in South Africa have called for a ban on production and stockpiling as well, the South African Defense Force has proved reluctant to take this additional step. South Africa has an estimated stockpile of about 300,000 anti-personnel landmines.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which held its annual conference last year in Cambodia, will hold this years meeting later this month in Maputo, Mozambique. The conference is being hosted by the Mozambican Campaign Against Landmines, which has 17 nongovernmental organizations as members, and is supported by parallel campaigns in other countries in the Southern African region. National movements, which have been established in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, recently sent a joint letter to Southern African heads of state asking them to declare the region a mine-free zone, to adopt a permanent ban and to destroy all stockpiles.

U.S. Bans Exports, But Not Use

The U.S. Congress, spear-headed in its efforts by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), has taken a leading role in advancing the cause of a total ban on landmines. The response of the Clinton Administration has been ambivalent. In a message to the United Nations in 1993, and most recently in January of this year, President Clinton has expressed verbal support for a global ban. The United States has adhered to a moratorium on the export of landmines since 1992, and the President announced in January that the export ban would become permanent. The United States has allocated almost $15 million a year for research on new demining technologies, and the budget to support demining operations in other countries has risen from $18 million in 1994 to $60 million in 1996.

The U.S. government has been unwilling, however, to abandon its own use of landmines in Korea. Internal Pentagon studies show that a combination of alternative measures could replace the defensive use of landmines in Korea within the three-year phase-out period the Canadian treaty would allow. In international negotiations, nevertheless, the Administration has sought to find alternatives to an immediate ban, advocating more gradual measures that might result in a total ban by the year 2010.

By opting for the Geneva slow track rather than the Ottawa fast track this year, the President is giving up an opportunity for quick progress toward a ban by the majority of the worlds countries. Instead, he is pegging advance on the issue to measures that will be acceptable to hold-out countries such as Russia and China.

This negotiating course adopted by President Clinton, wrote Sen. Leahy in The New York Times (Jan. 19, 1997) risks delaying achievement of a real landmine ban well beyond his final four years in office. If the Geneva process does not show real progress by June, the Senator added, the United States should become an active participant in the Ottawa process.


[Note to non-U.S. readers: This posting is provided both for your background information and for possible forwarding to those of your U.S. contacts you think would be interested.]

1. Contact The Administration

Write the White House and the State Department. Urge them to give wholehearted U.S. support to the Ottawa process aimed at achieving a total ban on anti-personnel landmines this year. Parallel slower negotiations should continue with countries still unwilling to give up landmine production and use.
Send your letter to:

Mr. Samuel Berger
National Security Advisor
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Fax: (202) 456-2883

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-6434

2. Contact Congress

Write to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), thanking him for his leadership in working for a total ban on landmines. Encourage him to continue his efforts and to push strongly for U.S. participation in the Ottawa process.

Honorable Patrick Leahy
433 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-3595

Send copies of your letters (or separate messages) to:

Honorable John Ashcroft
Chair, Senate Africa Subcommittee
170 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Edward Royce
Chair, House Africa Subcommittee
1133 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 226-0335

Honorable Maxine Waters
Congressional Black Caucus
2344 Rayburn House Office Building
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Fax: (202) 225-7854

And of course, send copies to your own two Senators and to your House member.

For more information, or to submit an endorsement to the campaign, contact: US Campaign to Ban Landmines (Mary Wareham, Coordinator), Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 2001 S St, NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20009, Ph: +202-483-9222, Fax: +202-483-9312, E-mail: Much additional information is available on the International Campaign's web site at and on the UN's demining database (

Message-Id: <> From: "WOA" <> Date: Sun, 16 Feb 1997 19:27:39 -0500 Subject: Africa: WOA Landmines Alert

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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