International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
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Treaty Basics

Can States Parties to the treaty ever use antipersonnel mines? Does the treaty make a difference in the global landmine problem? Is the treaty worthwhile without Russia, China and the U.S.A on board? Find answers to these questions - and more - in this section.

What is the Mine Ban Treaty?

The Mine Ban Treaty is the international agreement that bans antipersonnel landmines. Sometimes referred to as the Ottawa Convention, it is officially titled: the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.

The treaty is the most comprehensive international instrument for ridding the world of the scourge of mines. When they join the Mine Ban Treaty, states commit to:

  • never use antipersonnel mines, nor to "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer" them;
  • destroy mines in their stockpiles within four years;
  • clear mined areas in their territory within 10 years;
  • in mine-affected countries, conduct mine risk education and ensure that mine survivors, their families and communities receive comprehensive assistance;
  • offer assistance to other States Parties, for example in providing for survivors or contributing to clearance programs;
  • adopt national implementation measures (such as national legislation) in order to ensure that the terms of the treaty are upheld in their territory.

Eighty percent of the world's states are party to the treaty. See the list of States Parties and states not party.

Does the treaty make a difference in the global landmine crisis?

Yes. Eighty percent of the world's states have joined the treaty. Its disarmament and humanitarian achievements are unique:

  • Vast tracts of land have been cleared and put back into productive use;
  • There are fewer new mine victims and in fewer countries each year;
  • The trade in antipersonnel mines has virtually stopped and the number of producing countries is down to only a handful, not all of which are producing actively;
  • Over 46 million antipersonnel mines have been removed from arsenals and destroyed and are now out of circulation forever;
  • The new international norm - where use anywhere by anyone is considered abhorrent - is gathering strength. More and more states are joining the treaty and working hard to implement it. Even non-member states are responding to international pressure and abiding by the spirit of the agreement.

However, this is still a "success in progress" and much remains to be done. Although the annual rate of injuries and deaths caused by antipersonnel mines diminishes, the absolute number of mine survivors keeps growing each year and many of their needs are not being met.

Can States Parties ever use antipersonnel mines?

No, the treaty does not allow for reservations. A State Party cannot join and then reserve the right to use mines in the future or in special circumstances.

The treaty also forbids State Parties to "assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention" (Article 1). The ICBL and many states have interpreted this to mean that a treaty member should not assist another party in using antipersonnel landmines, nor should they derive any direct benefit from a minefield laid by this other party. We believe that involvement in joint operation with others using antipersonnel mines contravenes both the letter and the spirit of the treaty.

What about countries that have not yet joined the treaty?

As part of its advocacy on Mine Ban Treaty universalization, the ICBL continues to urge all states not party to come on board the treaty.

The Mine Ban Treaty has created a stigma around antipersonnel landmines: most states not party to the treaty are responding to international pressure on this issue and have stopped using and producing the weapons. They are in de facto compliance with the treaty even though they are not legally bound by it.

A government needs to ratify or accede to the treaty in order to become formally bound by its provisions.

Accession is the procedure open to governments that did not sign the treaty when it was open to signature (between December 1997 and March 1999). Firstly a government needs to follow its own stipulated procedure for joining an international treaty e.g. submitting it for the approval of the national parliament or assembly; and secondly, the government should deposit an instrument of accession at the office of the United Nations Secretary-General in New York. An instrument of accession is a document in which a government declares its acceptance of the treaty and commitment to its implementation.

Ratification is open to Marshall Islands, the only remaining country that has signed the treaty before 1999 and has not yet officially joined the treaty. It urgently needs to take the required steps at a national level for joining an international treaty and to submit a ratification tool to the UN.

Is the treaty worthwhile without China, Russia, the USA and others on board?

It is regrettable that these countries, and a few others, remain outside of the treaty. However, this does not take away from the importance of the treaty, nor weaken its achievements as one of the few current success stories in International Humanitarian Law and multilateral diplomacy. Eighty percent of the world's states have joined the treaty, and even without the support of China, Russia and the USA, great progress is being made in implementing and promoting its provisions. In sum, the ban and the treaty are working, even without these holdout countries.

It is significant that most states not party to the treaty are responding to international pressure on this issue. Many are in de facto compliance with the treaty even though they are not legally bound by it. For example, the USA is basically abiding by the treaty in practice: it has not used mines since 1991 nor exported since 1992. It has destroyed part of its antipersonnel mines stockpile and is the world's largest individual contributor to mine clearance efforts.

Nevertheless, the ICBL urges those countries that have not yet joined to embrace a ban on antipersonnel landmines and take a step towards the Mine Ban Treaty. Especially, we urge the remaining user of this indiscriminate weapon - Myanmar - to cease use and those that still manufacture mines to halt production.

What about non-state armed groups and the treaty?

Non-state armed groups may not become States Parties since only recognized governments may join. However, these groups may make use of mechanisms, like Deeds of Commitment or Codes of Conduct, where they declare their commitment to stop the use, production, transfer and stockpile of antipersonnel mines, destroy stockpiles and cooperate in victim assistance and mine clearing activities.

Many non-governmental organizations involved with the ICBL work to educate and convince non-state armed groups about the importance of banning antipersonnel mines. The ICBL has also urged States Parties to pay greater attention to the issue and support efforts to obtain strong ban commitments from non-state armed groups.

How can we be sure that States Parties respect their commitments?

States Parties' record of compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty has been generally very good. This reflects the high level of respect with which it is treated and the cooperative approach surrounding the treaty's implementation.

The treaty aims to promote transparency and trust amongst States Parties. Non-governmental organizations therefore have an important role in monitoring and encouraging compliance. The ICBL's Landmine Monitor systematically reports on the implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty.

States Parties are required to take "national implementation measures", such as passing domestic legislation banning landmines. See this information kit on national legislation from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Annual transparency reports are sent by States Parties to the UN Secretary-General, about the type and quantity of mines in stock, the progress of mine destruction programmes, details of all mined areas and measures taken to assist victims (among other issues).

Meetings of States Parties and the intersessional work programme are an important occasion for review and monitoring.

Article 8 of the treaty outlines a procedure to address possible cases of non-compliance: States Parties can pose questions via the UN Secretary-General. Then, if necessary, a special meeting can be held and this could decide to send a "fact-finding mission" which would ultimately report to the Secretary-General. After this States Parties can give consideration to other "ways and means to clarify or resolve the matter", including initiating procedures under international law.

What role do NGOs play in treaty implementation?

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a crucial role in encouraging compliance with and universalization of the treaty. This is done when we make public statements condemning and stigmatizing any breach of the treaty and when we seek clarification about the interpretation or application of certain elements of the treaty.

This often happens during Intersessional Standing Committees meetings or annual meetings of the States Parties. We also do this through our campaign activities worldwide.

Landmine Monitor is an important initiative by the ICBL to monitor implementation of and compliance with the treaty, and more generally to assess the efforts of the international community to resolve the landmines and explosive remnants of war problem. It is not a technical verification system or formal inspection regime, however the Landmine Monitor report is another important mechanism for holding governments accountable.

NGOs, through their monitoring and advocacy activities, help strengthen the international norm against any use or possession of antipersonnel mines by anyone, which is essential for the successful implementation of the treaty.

What is the Ottawa Process?

The so-called Ottawa Process that led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty has been described as unorthodox, historic and unique. What was so different about it?

The treaty was the product of an unusually cohesive and strategic partnership between governments, international organizations like the ICRC, UN agencies and civil society represented by the ICBL.

For the first time, small and medium sized powers (from Australia to Zimbabwe) came together and decided on a course of action. They took the lead and were not held back by some of the superpowers that had not yet agreed to ban landmines (such as China, Russia and the USA). Most former mine producers and many users, including Belgium, Cambodia, Italy, Mozambique and South Africa, joined the process.

The Ottawa Process took place outside the UN system and the treaty negotiation conference relied on voting, rather than consensus procedures. Governments were also required to "opt in" - meaning that governments attending the treaty negotiation conference in Oslo, for example, had to agree on the text beforehand. This, together with strong leadership at the negotiating conferences, ensured that the treaty remained focused and strong and prevented a few governments from watering down the treaty or slowing down the negotiations.

The ICBL played a major role in the actual drafting of the treaty, from its earliest stages. We were given a formal seat at the table in all of the diplomatic meetings leading up to the negotiations, and then during the negotiations themselves.

It was very quick - the treaty was negotiated within a year, which is unprecedented for an international agreement of this nature. Also it took only nine months for 40 states to ratify the treaty, thus facilitating its entry into force. In contrast, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) for example was adopted in 1980 and came into force in 1983.

For more information: Ban History

Isn't the mine problem being solved by new technology and clearance techniques such as demining rats and genetically modified plants?

Unfortunately, no new developments to date provide a magic solution. Clearance continues to rely on a 'toolbox approach', which includes manual and mechanical demining and the use of mine detection dogs. Related areas of surveys, fencing or marking and mine risk education also play an important role in preventing or minimizing casualties.

Research and development is welcomed particularly where it improves the speed, safety and efficiency of existing clearance methods. But it needs to be well-coordinated and focused on operational needs. For example, there is no point spending lots of money on developing a hi-tech solution if this won't ultimately work in the mine-infested rice paddies of Cambodia or dusty plains of Afghanistan.

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