An anti-personnel landmine is an explosive device intended to kill
a human being; it was a favourite weapon of war
during the latter part of the 20th century
and in some places still is. Over 340 different types have been produced by over 100 companies in 52 countries; estimates of the total number laid range between 60 and 100 million, although nobody knows for sure. There are many reasons why anti-personnel landmines are evil
; to mention just a few:
- A landmine can’t tell the difference between a combatant and a civilian; nor can it tell the difference between an adult and a child.
- As a result, most of the (very roughly) estimated one million mine casualities have been civilians.
- Landmines don’t go away when the war ends. They hang around for decades: in roads, in farmlands, on river banks, in rice paddies, on school playing fields.
- Those not killed are severely injured and often require amputation of one or more limbs. This requires long-term medical care which is very rarely available.
- Apart from the direct costs of deaths and injuries, landmines can smash village economies by, among other things, destroying people’s ability to grow their own food and cutting them off from external assistance.
- No satisfactory automatic mine-clearing system exists yet, so mines must be cleared by hand. This is dangerous, expensive and time-consuming.
In December 1997 representatives of 122 countries met in Ottawa
to sign the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction". The Ottawa Convention is the first treaty
in history to ban a weapon that has been widely used by military forces throughout the world.
As of 11 September 2000, the treaty has been signed by 139 countries and ratified by 107.
The USA has not signed the treaty. The US Department of Defense says it has no satisfactory alternative to the use of mines in Korea:
the right to use landmines in Korea must be preserved until
alternatives become available or the risk of aggression has been removed.
Without mines, the United States and South Korea could expect significantly
higher casualties and a longer-lasting conflict between North and South.
On the plus side, the US has destroyed non self-destructing mines in its stockpile
, banned all export
of anti-personnel mines since 1997 and contributed more than any other country to demining efforts.
Sources: International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Warchild.org, Human Rights Watch, US State Department.