Anti-personnel landmines
- the eternal sentinels

A farmer walks along a rural road with his produce, but never arrives at market. A playing child runs after his ball, and the ball and the boy's foot are blown away. A mother stooping in a rice paddy, with her child on her back, takes a step, and her legs and her child are gone, in a deadly explosion. Daily routines are violently ended, and people and countries continue to suffer. Landmines, laid years before, for reasons long forgotten, take their toll long after the guns have been silenced. They are a scourge on much of the Third World, destroying lives and bodies, as well as the futures for many struggling Third World countries. The only solution to this global pox, is a total, worldwide ban on the manufacture, sale, storage, and deployment of anti-personnel landmines, through the United Nations, and supported by the United States.

the problem

Innocent men, women, and children in many Third World countries are killed and maimed by anti-personnel landmines. The mines were placed by soldiers during wars of aggression or by combatants during civil wars. But, even when the wars are over and the soldiers have gone, these eternal sentinals continue to maim and kill.

the numbers

The numbers are staggering. There are now 100 million landmines laid in 64 countries worldwide. 100 million more are stockpiled. They are spread over the Third World like a smothering blanket.

In Afghanistan there are 10 -15 million mines, and there are 9 million in Angola. Cambodia has 4 -7 million mines laid and Iraqi Kurdistan has 4 million more. 2 million mines lie under the ground in Mozambique, 1 -2 million in Somalia, and 1 -2 million in Sudan. In the former Yugoslavia there are more than 3 million mines -- 2 million in Bosnia, 1 million in Croatia, and .5 - 1 million in Serbia. Another .3 - 1 million mines lie in wait in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In Africa alone there are 18 - 30 million landmines. During the height of the war in the former Yugoslavia, 600,000 mines were being laid each week.
the toll

The toll in dead and maimed that landmines produce is equally startling. There have been more than 1,000,000 casualties of landmines in the world since 1980, almost all in the Third World. Of that number, it has been estimated that approximately 800,000 were killed and 400,000 lost limbs. Every year, there are 26,000 new landmine casualties worldwide.

In Afghanistan there are already 350,000 - 500,000 people dead and injured by mines, and more occur daily. More than 50% if all livestock in Afghanistan have been killed by a combination of landmines and bombs. In Angola there are approximately 26,000 amputees, and in Cambodia 30,000. In Mozambique, 6,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed or maimed by mines since 1980.
the cost

Landmines don't go away, and because they never sleep, they are called the "eternal sentinels". As a result of their duration, landmines continue to cause harm for years, not only to people, but to countries. Mines buried in farmlands and along roads prevent farming and the transport of food to market. The tens-of-thousands of young men and women taken out of the workforce because of death or loss of limbs, further reduce the amount of food grown or the number of roads and bridges rebuilt. Because farmers have left the land and fled to refugee camps to avoid death and injury, the land lies fallow. In Mozambique, all of the major roads are unusable because of mines laid along them during 15 years of civil war. In Cambodia, the economy, already crippled by war, is further crippled by uncleared mines. Rice paddies are left fallow because of mines, roads cannot be used to transport food because of mines, and tourists stay away because of mines.

But, there would be no problem if there were no landmines.

the merchants

The worldwide trade in weapons is legal, and individuals, companies, and governments make lots of money selling arms. Landmines are no exception.

Almost 100 companies and government agencies in at least 48 countries produce and export 340 types of antipersonnel landmines. Major producers have included, the US, Italy, Sweden, Vietnam, Germany, Austria, Britain, France, China, the former Yugoslavia, and the former Soviet Union to mention a few.

And, as of October, 1994, landmines were still being laid in Bosnia, Serbia, Angola, Cambodia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, and in Tajikistan, Soviet Georgia, and Nagoro-Karabakh.

Although arms sales are accepted as legitimate commerce, most arms, including landmines, are sold by arms dealers on the black market, the sellers comfortably anonymous. Even if there were a real effort made, monitoring the worldwide sale of landmines would be impossible. The only way to try to eliminate the use of landmines, is to ban their manufacture and trade.

the precedents

There are precedents for attempts to restrict the availability of weapons systems. In 1968, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty became international law. In 1972, a UN convention on the prohibition of bacteriological weapons and toxins was agreed to. In 1981, a UN convention called for a ban on chemical and biological weapons, and by 1993, the ban had been signed by 159 countries. In 1993, a UN convention on chemical weapons was passed.

In 1980, a UN weapons convention called for restrictions on the use of invisible shrapnel, incendiary devices, such as napalm, and anti-personnel landmines. The main obstacle to the acceptance of this UN convention were countries with a vested interest in the use, production, and trade of landmines, including the US.

In 1993, Senator Patrick Leahy (D - Vt.) introduced legislation to place a moratorium on the US export of antipersonnel landmines. In 1993, the Clinton Administration imposed a 3-year moratorium in the US on the sale, export or transfer abroad of mines. And, in December 1993, the Clinton Administration sent letters to 44 mine-producing countries, asking them to declare similar export bans.

In 1994, the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to move the world toward an international anti-personnel landmine ban. In August, 1994, South Africa banned landmines. They are also banned in Germany and Italy. In September of 1994, President Clinton declared a goal of the eventual elimination of landmines. At present in the US, landmines are banned for export, but only until 1996.

the resisters

Although there is momentum toward a total ban on landmines, there are also resisters. The 1980 UN convention on landmines and incendiary devices, was obstructed by the US, France, and Britain. In addition, the US fought attempts to stop the production of napalm. Today, in the US, the Pentagon wants to preserve the availability of landmines to protect troops and to channel enemy forces into "killing zones".

Recently, the US has tried to have the UN Convention on Landmines amended to require a switch to self-destructing and self-de-activating mines, instead of having an outright ban on the weapon. Supporters of a total ban say that self-destructing mines are too expensive, and would not be purchased by poorer countries, if cheaper ones were available.

the supporters

In 1992, an international campaign to ban landmines began to attract new support. That year, a committee representing a number of worldwide organizations, launched the campaign. The committee represents over 350 human rights, humanitarian, medical, development, arms control, and environmental groups in more than 20 countries. US-based groups include the Vietnam Veterans of America, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam America, Physicians for Human Rights, and the International Rescue Committee. Also represented are UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.


It looked like 1996 would be the year of change. A huge international effort to ban landmines yielded some results. Forty-one nations, from Afghanistan to Uruguay, have now stated their support for an immediate and comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines. Twenty-four nations have renounced use of AP mines. Eleven nations are now destroying part or all of their stocks of antipersonnel landmines. Twenty one nations have prohibited production of antipersonnel mines. In January, Canada suspended all production and use of antipersonnel mines, effective immediately. In April, Germany renounced all production and use of antipersonnel mines, effective immediately. On May 3, the last day of the recent UN review conference, France, Portugal, Malta, Angola, and South Africa called for an immediate ban.

In the US, several high-ranking military officers, both active and retired, called on President Clinton to support an immediate and total ban on landmines, and Clinton had wanted to announce that the US would ban the use of land mines by 1999.

Clinton caves in

But, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces was strongly opposed to a land mine ban, and Clinton sinply caved in and adopted the Joint Chiefs' position. He felt he could not upset the Joint Chiefs and appear to be a weak Commander-In-Chief in an election year. So he accepted the Pentagon plan for continued use of land mines.

In announcing his policy President Clinton failed to fulfill his September 1994 pledge to eliminate antipersonnel landmines. He is yielded to the wishes of his most hawkish military advisers, while ignoring the protestations of many in the State Department, Agency for International Development, and other branches of government who are most familiar with the humanitarian and socio-economic disaster caused by mines.

Rhetoric but no action

President Clinton's declaration for the elimination of antipersonnel landmines is empty rhetoric until a definitive deadline is added to that goal. The Clinton Administration promises the US will work for the elimination of long-lived landmines and will promote the use of short lived landmines. Short- or long-lived, all landmines are indiscriminate and especially injurious weapons of terror. Long-lived mines inflict lifetimes of suffering on in nocent people for years after the conflicts end. Continued promotion and production of any antipersonnel mines legitimize their continued use. Continued use of short-lived mines will complicate verification of a comprehensive ban. Survivors of war will still be prevented from rebuilding their lives and communities.

A landmine by any other name is still a landmine. To use landmines is immoral and should be made illegal. Present policies and actions of the U.S. government fail the humanitarian cause of protecting civilians from the scourge of landmines.

The US. is now an obstacle to international efforts to ban mines. It stands alongside nations such as China and Russia which continue to insist on producing and using antipersonnel mines, rather than joining forces with the majority of Western nations that have acknowledged that the humanitarian costs of those mines far outweigh their limited military utility.

American voters will need to make a concerted effort to convince both the White House and the Congress, that a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines will not only remove a devastating burden from countries in the Third World, but that it is immoral to produce and use them.

To support the ban effort, contact the President, and your Senators and Congressperson, and tell them that you want the production, stockpiling, and use of anti-personnel landmines by the United States ended, now.

For information on the international effort to ban landmines, contact:

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation
1347 Upper Dummerston Road
Brattleboro, VT 05301
802-254-8807 phone
802-254-8808 fax

Foreign Policy and Pentagon

Life and death in Third World

Landmine watch