A landmark international treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines became reality early last month when 121 countries signed the accord at the end of a three-day conference (December 2-4) in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. The treaty aims at changing the face of modern warfare as it bans the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of landmines, which have been a constant feature of armed conflict ever since their deadly debut on the world scene in the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the US Civil War (1861-1865).
The Ottawa conference brought to fruition a six-year global campaign to outlaw the devices spearheaded by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize in October. The campaign saw governments joining hands with popular figures and humanitarian and human-rights nongovernmental organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in an effort to outlaw all forms of anti-personnel landmines.
The landmine ban campaign built momentum last summer following the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales, who had adopted it as one of her favourite causes. Skillfully banking on media attention that she used to receive wherever she went, Diana stood with mine victims in places like Mozambique, Angola and Bosnia. In our quasi-Orwellian age which is dominated by a ‘pulp media-celebrity complex,’ her celebrity glamour helped focus media spotlight on the plight of landmine victims. Photos of the Princess with landmine victims became a daily diet dished out by the media during the days of mourning for her.
The ban also represents a triumph for Canadian diplomacy which managed to marshal worldwide support for the treaty in a mere 14 months - a record achievement in the usually protracted disarmament negotiations. The signing of the treaty was the final step in what became known as the ‘Ottawa process to ban landmines.’
Frustrated with the outcome of the Geneva-based United Nations Disarmament Conference, which concluded in May 1996 with agreement merely to limit some types of mines within nine years, Canada launched its own campaign for a total ban on landmines. In October 1996, delegates from some 50 countries attending a conference in Ottawa were challenged by the Canadian minister for external affairs Lloyd Axworthy to fast-track the process of hammering out a treaty and return to Ottawa before the end of 1997 to sign a global ban.
The treaty, which is formally called the ‘Convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines and on their destruction,’ is the latest in a long process of international lawmaking that seek to reduce the barbarity of modern warfare. Like its predecessor treaties placing curbs on the use of chemical and biological weapons, the Ottawa ban constitutes not only a mere disarmament pact but also a milestone in international humanitarian legislation. As such, it reflects a growth in the jus ad bellum (justice in a war) tendency of international law which places restraints on the permissible range of the use of force by States involved in wars.
Speaking at the conference, ICRC president Cornelio Sommaruga compared the importance of the landmine ban treaty to that of the 1925 international convention to ban the use of poison gas. He added: ‘For the first time, a weapon which has been in widespread use by armed forces throughout the world is being withdrawn from arsenals due to its appalling human, economic and social cost.’
By signing the treaty, the signatories pledge not to deploy, ‘develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, anti-personnel mines’ (Article 1). Once the treaty comes into effect, signatories have four years to destroy their existing stockpiles of landmines as well as any other stockpiles under their ‘jurisdiction and control’ (Article 4). Moreover, they pledge to remove all mines still in the ground in areas under their ‘jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than 10 years after the entry into force of this Convention...’ (Article 5).
The treaty also specifies terms for ensuring the compliance of signatories with its provisions. Article 8 states: ‘The States Parties agree to consult and co-operate with each other regarding the implementation of the provisions of this Convention, and to work together in a spirit of co-operation to facilitate compliance by States Parties with their obligations under this Convention.’ Any country that accuses an adversary of violating the treaty can call on the United Nations secretary-general to convene a meeting of signatory States which can send an inspection team to the suspect country.
A signatory can withdraw from the treaty after signing, but only after a six months’ ‘notice of such withdrawal to all other States Parties, to the Depository and to the United Nations Security Council. Such instrument of withdrawal shall include a full explanation of the reasons motivating this withdrawal.’ However, a signatory does not have the right to withdraw if ‘it is engaged in an armed conflict.’ In that case, ‘the withdrawal shall not take effect before the end of the armed conflict’ (Article 20).
The Convention comes into effect six months after 40 countries have ratified it. ‘Once we have it ratified, it becomes international law,’ Canada’s Axworthy told reporters at the conference. However, as is the case with all international treaties, a wide gulf separates signing from ratification.
Most countries’ constitutions vest the power to ratify international treaties with the legislative branch of the government. The process of ratification, therefore, may entail long-drawn parliamentary deliberations as well as amendments to those national laws that contradict the provisions of the treaty. Some Canadian officials indicated that it may take more than two years before the required 40 countries have ratified the Convention.
Muslimedia: January 1-15, 1998