Land Mines Convention Reexamined in Geneva


AN international effort is under way to clamp down on the production of land mines and to extend the present Land Mine Protocol to internal as well as cross-border conflicts.

Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) say the Protocol, established at the 1981 Convention on Land Mines, focuses on mine usage only, and urge a total ban on production, stockpiling, trade, and use of the land mines.

But according to a survey commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 1993, governments, military officials, and some mine clearance specialists view a total ban on antipersonnel land mines as either undesirable or unachievable because of the legitimate military role they play in conflict situations.

A preparatory meeting for next year's United Nations Review Conference of the Land Mines Protocol convened in Geneva on May 16 to discuss a French proposal for modification of the 1981 Protocol. The conference includes representatives of countries that ratified the 1981 Protocol and those requesting observer status.

In addition to extending the Land Mine Protocol to cover internal conflicts, the French proposal suggests setting up a verification board to monitor countries that have ratified the protocol, and enforce sanctions against those who violate it.

Littering the globe

More than 100 million antipersonnel land mines are scattered across 62 countries. According to Handicap International's annual report, the countries with the highest concentration of land mines are Afghanistan (10-15 million), Angola (9 million), Cambodia (4-7 million), Iraqi Kurdistan (4 million), former Yugoslavia (nearly 3 million), and Mozambique (2 million).

According to a recently released UNICEF document, the world has one land mine for every 20 children. Some mines are nicknamed ``toys'' and ``butterflies,'' and are built to attract children by provoking their curiosity. Depending on the type of mine, victims can be killed or crippled and blinded.

NGOs led by the six original members of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines - Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Medico International, Mines Advisory Group, Physicians for Human Rights, and Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation - held their own meeting in Geneva on May 9-11 and called for the comprehensive ban.

``There is no such thing as good mines or bad mines. Even mines equipped with a self-neutralizing or a self-destructing device have a failure rate of 25 percent,'' says Nicoletta Dentico, vice president of the NGO Mani Tese and Italian coordinator of the Campaign to Ban Land Mines. ``These devices can be activated from 2 minutes up to 50 years after they have been placed in location, thus there is always going to be an element of doubt regarding the safety of these mines vis-a-vis civilians.''

But the ICRC survey states that a total ban is too encroaching. ``It would breach the rights of freedom of enterprise, it would be difficult to monitor and enforce, and manufacturing would move from the controlled countries to mavericks and field factories.''

The NGOs are urging that the Review Committee consider the serious long-term medical, social, environmental, and economic effects of antipersonnel mine warfare. For example, a land mine may cost less than $3, but demining averages between $300 and $1,000 per mine, Ms. Dentico says.

The NGOs say the 1981 Protocol failed to halt the escalation of civilian mine casualties because of its many loopholes. The most-contested issues are that the Protocol only applies to international conflicts, not civil or internal conflict, and has only been ratified by 41 countries - some of which are major exporters of land mines (China and republics of former Yugoslavia).

Another '80s boom

There are over 350 models of antipersonnel mines on the market. Italy is the top-ranking manufacturer and exporter in the Western world, second only to China.

The Italian mine business experienced a major boom during the mid-1980s due to lenient government controls, but faced a financial crisis toward the end of the decade.

Based on data provided by Emergency, an Italian humanitarian project for the emergency treatment and rehabilitation of mine victims, sales picked up again in 1991 when the company Valsella Meccanotecnica (one of two land mine manufacturers partially owned by Fiat) breached the international embargo and sold 9 million land mines to Iraq.

Since December 1993, Italy launched its own national campaign to ban land mines.

But, Dentico says, Fiat's companies are believed to be transferring their production to Singapore, thus improving their image without having to give up their lucrative antipersonnel mine business.

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