Ottawa Landmines Conference Highlight: Landmine Ban Proposed

Tasneem Jamal

Celina Tuttle

The Ploughshares Monitor December 1996 Volume 17 Issue 4

Anti-personnel (AP) landmines may soon be things of the past. It may take a few years and a lot of negotiation but discussions for a global ban on the weapons are underway. Private citizens and organizations working to ban the production, export, stockpiling, and use of AP mines are elated following an international conference held in Ottawa in early October.

The Ottawa Conference, convened by Canada, was the first to bring together governments, international agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop strategies and actions towards a global ban on AP mines. The highlight of the conference came in the closing session, when Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy unexpectedly announced that Canada would work immediately with other nations to prepare a treaty to ban AP mines (see below). He invited all states to return to Ottawa by December 1997 to sign the treaty, with implementation by the year 2000. For his announcement the Minister received a standing ovation from NGO delegates and private citizens.

Under consistent pressure from NGOs, momentum for a landmines ban has grown rapidly in the last few years. It was only in 1993 that member states of the United Nations agreed to review an international convention (known as the CCW) intended to protect civilians from the use of AP mines.[1] Beside estimates of 26,000 annual deaths or injuries from AP mines, and reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of as many as 119-million mines in 70 countries, the UN convention was widely seen as ineffective and inadequate.

In September 1995, following a series of expert sessions to establish agreed-upon amendments, governments gathered in Vienna to review the CCW Convention. Despite mounting public pressure for a ban and nearly two years of preliminary negotiations, the review failed to agree on even modest restrictions on AP mines. NGOs attending the Review Conference lobbied for the session to be called off rather than have governments agree to changes high on rhetoric but with little practical benefit. States agreed to reconvene in Geneva in January 1996 to review technical aspects of the Convention and to meet there again for a final session in April.

Throughout the UN review process NGOs accused government delegates of shortchanging humanitarian needs and neglecting development concerns in favour of military interests. Although the Review Conference made progress in certain areas of the UN Convention, a ban never received serious consideration, and NGOs and some governments, including Canada, began to explore other avenues to achieve a global landmines ban.

A little more than a year ago, Canada was reluctant to strengthen its own landmine policies beyond those agreed to by the UN Review Conference. However, under increasing public pressure, Canada announced a moratorium in January 1996 suspending production, export, and operational use of AP mines. Shortly after becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy identified AP mines as a priority issue and departmental staff began to develop a Canadian action plan on landmines. When UN CCW negotiations resumed in April, a representative of the Mines Action Canada coalition was part of the official Canadian delegation. Canada’s decision to host the Ottawa Conference, prompted by the obvious shortcomings of the CCW process, was announced in late May.

The Ottawa meeting was designed with input from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (representing more than 600 NGOs around the world), Mines Action Canada, and intergovernmental agencies such as the ICRC. Participation was open to all countries subscribing to a pre-determined set of objectives supporting a landmines ban and prepared to sign on to specific actions at global, regional, and national levels in order to meet those objectives.

Most of the more than 50 governments participating in the conference had already initiated national restrictions on AP mine use, production, trade, or stockpiles, and all supported an international ban and subscribed to the objectives of the Conference. Yet few, if any, of the governments in Ottawa anticipated Minister Axworthy’s final announcement.

The outcome of the Ottawa Conference poses both risks and challenges for Canada. States angered at not being consulted before the Minister’s announcement may lash back through political and diplomatic channels. Canadian diplomats can be expected to hold their own, enjoying the support of citizens around the world. The most immediate challenge, for Canada and for NGOs, lies in building broad political support for what is now known as the Ottawa process.

While the Canadian government has been working full-time to consolidate support leading up to the treaty-signing in December 1997, other countries have been working to derail the process.

France, although presenting itself in Ottawa as favouring a ban, refuses to support any measure that will lead to early conclusion of a treaty. The French government, supported by Finland and Australia, is pressing to have negotiations on AP mines moved to the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), a route that would ensure a lengthy and drawn-out process. The states of the European Union are divided and even those with progressive national policies may cave in to pressure from France.

In early November a resolution put forward by the United States calling on states to pursue vigorously an international treaty banning the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of AP mines passed the First Committee in the UN General Assembly, 141-0, with 10 abstentions. The US government has not indicated if it will attend the 1997 meeting in Canada, however. The US also advocates a step by step approach, and is pressing for a ban on exports as the first step, a move that again would result in an incremental, extended process.

Nevertheless, a treaty, even one negotiated and initially subscribed to by a small number of countries, will establish much needed, new international standards to prohibit the production, use, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel mines.

Public opinion and the change in political attitudes indicate there will be a ban on anti-personnel mines. Until the Ottawa Conference the big question was when. Now we know.

Celina Tuttle is the co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based coalition Mines Action Canada, of which Project Ploughshares is a member.


1 The “Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects,” more commonly known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention or the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Canada calls for ban

“I am convinced that we cannot wait for a universal treaty. I am convinced that we can start now, even though we may have to proceed with a treaty that does not, in the first instance, include all of the states of the world. Such a treaty can be a powerful force that establishes the moral norm – that the production, use, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel mines is to be banned forever….

“And so today I commit Canada to this goal, to work with our global partners to prepare a treaty that can be signed by December 1997 and implemented by the year 2000. I invite and challenge all of you to join with us to attain that goal….

“I am convinced that the real possibility of a treaty by a fixed date – not some far-off hope for an agreement at some date in an uncertain future – will exploit the unprecedented momentum that we now enjoy, and will make it easier for countries to take the necessary national decisions that will make our group larger. It will make our movement stronger and the chances of success better.”

Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs, October 5, 1996.

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