Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines.
The Treaty was a humanitarian breakthrough that has resulted in a five-fold decrease in victims since 1992, the demining of thousands of square meters of land, and the destruction of tens of millions of mines. This anniversary reminds us that the mobilization must not weaken, especially toward the States which have not yet acceded to the Treaty or those, such as Syria, who still use landmines. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Richardier, Executive Director and co-founder of Handicap International, reflects on the campaign against landmines:
Fifteen years ago today, the whole world met in Ottawa to sign the treaty against landmines (to ban use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. This Convention is lauded today as one of the most successful bodies of international humanitarian law.
Immense progress has been made since a handful of men and women first started campaigning 20 years ago. In October 1992, six organizations refused to accept the intolerable scourge of antipersonnel landmines, and established the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Back then, every year, more than 20,000 people were killed or maimed by these weapons and the vast majority of these victims were civilians. The mobilization of civil society and organizations such as Handicap International resulted, after five years of campaigning, in the signing of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. It was the first time in history that a conventional weapon was banned and in December 1997, the work of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines was honored when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Our perseverance finally won out. Our persistence gave us the credibility required to campaign against another type of weapon which also has horrific consequences on civilian populations: cluster bombs. As for the impact of the Ottawa Treaty, it is in itself quite significant:
• 160 countries are State Parties to the treaty, representing 80% of the world's nations
• Almost 4,000 km² of mined land has been cleared
• The number of new victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war has dropped significantly, with less than 5,000 recorded cases per year, five times less than in the 1990s.
• Almost 45 million landmines have been destroyed in 87 countries by demining operations
• Almost 90 million landmines stockpiled by the State Parties have also been destroyed
• Today, no States, even those who are not party to the Ottawa Treaty, export antipersonnel landmines
However, we must not let up. We must ensure that the founding principle of a world without landmines does not just remain a utopian vision but a concrete reality. State Parties must not give up on the final objective: to return land (that is) free of mines to the civilian populations whose tragedy has justified Canada's initiative and its alliance with the ICBL organizations.
Sadly, some governments, as Syria, continue to make use of these weapons and mined fields in many countries continue to kill and maim: worldwide, one new victim is still recorded every two hours. Almost three-quarters are civilians, and over 40% are children.
This is why Handicap International calls upon the international community to finish the work and eradicate antipersonnel landmines, to honour the commitments of the Treaty they have signed, reinforce mine clearance and victim assistance work, and to pressure remaining States to become parties to the Ottawa Treaty.
For the last 30 years, Handicap International has been ceaselessly working to clear mined land, raise the awareness of threatened populations, provide orthopedic fitting for victims and ensure their inclusion in society. Handicap International has become a spokesperson on the international stage for the millions of people living under the threat of these weapons.
We must hold on to our common commitment so that we do not let the victims of human barbarity fall once more into the oblivion and fatalism from which they had emerged through a historical alliance sealed between citizens mobilization and a few determined organizations.