by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) Dec 03, 2012
Poland is set to become the final member of the European Union to join the Ottawa Convention banning landmines, organisers said as a global conference on the deadly weapons opened here on Monday.
"Today 160 countries, or more than 80 percent of countries worldwide, have joined the treaty, with another, Poland, expected to announce its ratification during the meeting" in Geneva, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which oversees the implementation of the 1997 treaty, said in a statement.
Once Poland joins the club, all European Union countries and all NATO member states except for the United States will be parties to the treaty.
The announcement came as representatives of around 100 governments, including from countries that have yet to ratify the treaty, gathered in Geneva along with aid workers and campaigners to evaluate what progress has been made in the 15 years since the treaty was signed.
Polish deputy foreign minister Maciej Szpunar was due to announce Poland's "imminent ratification" during the five-day meeting, organisers added in a statement.
Convention spokeswoman Laila Rodriguez told AFP that Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was expected to sign the bill by Wednesday, making the treaty national law.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said that while trade in the deadly explosives had been nearly eliminated, "there is much more left to be done."
"Ridding the world of the plague of anti-personnel mines is a question of will," he said.
"The common objective is clear: We must avoid new victims. Because each landmine victim is one victim too many," Burkhalter said, flanked by his Slovenian counterpart Karl Erjavec and UN human rights chief Navi Pillay among others.
He said that around 45 million stockpiled mines had been destroyed.
While the current total of 160 signatory states "is a lot", he told reporters, "we still need to convince 36 additional states to join. We should not settle for partial success."
Among the concerns to be raised at the Geneva meeting will be landmine use by Syria -- the only state found to have used such weapons in 2012, according to a report issued last week by the ICBL.
The meeting will also discuss the various groups using the deadly explosives in six other countries.
Three signatory countries -- Belarus, Greece and Ukraine -- are also currently in violation of the treaty, having missed their deadlines for destroying all their stockpiled mines.
Nobel laureate calls on US to join landmine treaty
"We're hoping that the United States will finally put in writing what it has done in fact," said Williams, who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which oversees implementation of the Ottawa Convention.
"The US has not used their mines since (the 1991 Gulf War), we haven't exported since 1992, we haven't produced since the mid-1990s, and we have destroyed millions in the stockpile," Williams, an American citizen, told reporters in Geneva.
"So the question is, if you're doing it all already, why not sign?"
Her comments came as representatives of around 100 governments, including the United States and other countries that have yet to ratify the 1997 treaty, gathered in the Swiss city along with activists and aid workers to evaluate what progress has been made in the past 15 years.
The United States, which is one of only 36 UN countries that have not ratified the 1997 Ottawa Convention, has voiced fears in the past its national defence and other security commitments could suffer if it joined.
Others who have not signed up to the treaty include fellow permanent UN Security Council members China and Russia, as well as Cuba, Iran, Israel, North and South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan and Syria.
In 2009, the Obama administration launched a review of the US landmine policy which appears to be coming to an end, Williams said, adding that she felt "there might be a better chance now" Washington will ratify the treaty.
"Given that the US essentially complies with the treaty it makes no sense that is not part of it," she told AFP.
But she acknowledged: "I'm always less than totally optimistic, just because of the history of the US and international treaties."
Having the United States officially lend its support to the treaty would carry great symbolic value, ICBL chair Steve Goose told AFP.
A US ratification "would be a really good push for the 30-some states that are still outside. It will increase the likelihood of those hold-out states coming onboard," he said.
The ICBL says that almost 4,300 people were killed by landmines worldwide last year -- or nearly 12 deaths a day, compared to 32 in 2001.
It says the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad was the only government in the world to lay new landmines this year.
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