Eritrea + 2 more

Press conference on Anti-Personnel Mine Convention

A petition from victims of landmines in 17 countries -- calling for the United States to sign the anti-landmine Convention -- will be delivered to United States embassies today, correspondents were told at a press conference held at Headquarters this morning.
The appeal to United States President Clinton to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti- Personnel Mines and On Their Destruction (Ottawa Convention) has been signed by more than 1,300 victims, and is being delivered on the first anniversary of the Convention's entry into force.

Two civilian victims -- Jerry White and Ken Rutherford, co-founders of the Landmines Survivors Network -- and two Second World War veterans -- John Wack and Duane Robie -- told their stories and called on governments around the world to join the landmine treaty, already signed by 137 countries.

Mr. White said the treaty was a dynamic framework to ban the weapons and remove them from the ground, destroy stockpiles and help the victims. There was strong collaboration between civil society and governments "to ensure that one day we can walk in a mine-free world".

But not every country had signed the treaty, including the United States, Russian Federation and China, he continued. President Clinton should sign the Convention before he left office. He would thus complete the leadership he had initiated in 1994, when he was the first head of State to call for a ban on anti-personnel landmines.

Mr. White said he had been injured in 1984 in Israel, on his junior year abroad while a student at Brown University. He had been camping in the Holy Land when the world exploded. He had not known what a land mine was until he met the one that took away his leg.

Mr. Rutherford said he had lost both his legs to a landmine in 1993, while working as a humanitarian officer for the United Nations in Somalia. Several months later, President Clinton had called on the General Assembly to ban landmines. Now, the treaty had been in force for one year, yet, the United States had not signed. All North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, except Turkey and the United States, had signed; every other country in the Western hemisphere had signed.

Mr. Wack said he lost his leg in 1943, while serving as a deminer in Italy during the Second World War. He later became a weapons designer for the United States Navy, but he said he was horrified by the landmine situation. The fault lay with political leadership. The time had come for them to take action.

Mr. Robie was also a United States soldier in the Second World War, part of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. At age 21, he stepped on a mine that shattered his foot. His actions had earned him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with oakleaf cluster, but he emphasized the courage needed by civilians affected by mines to carry on their lives.

A correspondent asked about the Network's rehabilitation activities, particularly those conducted by survivors themselves. Mr. White said the first amputee peer-support network was set up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where about 12 survivors were working to ensure that mine victims received care and rehabilitation.

Queen Noor of Jordan was now a patron, and the Network had offices in countries, including Jordan, Mozambique, Eritrea and Ethiopia, he said. But, it was still a small and new organization, made up of survivors helping other survivors.

When a correspondent asked how many victims there were worldwide, Mr. White said there were an estimated 300,000 living victims, but those numbers did not include the millions of family members who were also affected. There were roughly 26,000 new victims per year. Every 22 minutes someone, somewhere in the world stepped on a landmine. Many of the cases occurred in isolation and were never reported. Mr. Rutherford added that more than 50 per cent of victims died from landmine explosions. When wars ended, landmines continued to lie in the ground and little effort was made to remove them.

A correspondent asked where the speakers came from. Mr. White said he was from Boston, Massachusetts; Mr. Rutherford from Boulder, Colorado; Mr. Wack, Akron, Ohio; and Mr. Robie, Redway, Minnesota.

How did the veterans react to the Pentagon's contention that it did not want to give up the use of landmines in certain areas, such as the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas? a correspondent asked. Mr. Robie said that he could understand using anti-personnel mines and mines against large vehicles. But after minefields were in place, defensive positions sometimes turned into offensive areas, which meant the defensive unit had to penetrate into the minefields they themselves had created.

Mr. Wack said the United States decommissioned Polaris submarines, which cost between $500 million and $1 billion each. Its one million or so landmines cost perhaps $50 a piece -- that was nothing compared to other expenditures. To regain moral leadership, the United States must take a position on landmines. It could develop a "good, clean weapon" that served the same purpose as a landmine.

When a correspondent asked how landmines had changed over the years, Mr. Robie said they could now last indefinitely and inflict severe damage with little material. Landmines served two purposes, he said. They were defensive tools, but they also kept men off the battlefield. If a man was killed in battle, he was just buried, but an injured man required help from many others, which meant fewer active soldiers.

Asked what weapons he had designed and what alternatives he would propose to anti-personnel landmines, Mr. Mack said he had worked on the Polaris submarine, navy fuses for projectiles, submarine fire-control systems and the air-to-ground rocket. Unless it could be watched, a minefield was useless because the enemy could lift the mines. But when mines were left in an area, anyone could step on them and they did not serve the purpose for which they had been laid.

To replace landmines, he could visualize a radio-controlled mine that provided information when someone was crossing an area or attempting to remove it, he said. It would self-destruct within a set time period, perhaps one or two months, as seamines did. Without great expense, the United States could develop good alternatives.

Asked why this weapon in particular should be stopped, Mr. Wack said it was one thing to use mines as a weapon of war, but landmines affected civilians long after conflicts ended. Mr. Robie added that when armies moved, they did not have the time to remove the mines they had laid, and soon no one knew where they were.

Mr. Rutherford said there were three basic international humanitarian legal points for why the weapon should be banned. It was indiscriminate; it was disproportionate to its military utility -- roughly 90 per cent of victims were civilians; and it caused unnecessary suffering, which went against the Geneva Conventions on the rules of war.

Would the United States signing the treaty actually make a difference? a correspondent asked. Mr. White said that in the treaty's short life, already some 20 million of the 250 million stockpiled had been or were being destroyed. There was an unprecedented partnership among governments and non-governmental organizations, survivors, celebrities and religious authorities. Due to the stigma that was attached to mine production and traffic, the number of producers in the United States had declined from 46 to some 16.

Mr. Rutherford said the treaty had been so effective that even countries that had not signed it had implemented unilateral restrictive landmine policies. China, Russian Federation and the United States all had export bans, as did India and Pakistan. Rather than on-the-ground verification, the weapon was being stigmatized. And the process was working.