This week, Geneva plays host to the Tenth Meeting for Representatives of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty. 156 countries have now signed up to the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel landmines. Representatives from these nations will attend the meeting to report on progress towards mine clearance, destroying stockpiles of landmines and other related work such as supporting landmine survivors. Last year, an area five times the size of Paris (198 km square) was cleared of nearly 300,000 mines and international funding totalled 449 million dollars. Casualty records from landmine and explosive remnants were also at their lowest since Landmine Monitor reports began in 1999. 3,956 mine deaths were recorded in 2009 and governments will be urged to “Keep up the Energy” so this toll can be reduced still further over the coming years.
39 nations have yet to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, including China, Israel, Russia and the United States. On the second day of the meeting, a letter from 15 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates was sent to President Obama urging the US to change its landmine policy, which is currently under national review. Israel is also not a signatory to the treaty, believing its heavily-mined frontiers serve its security interests (though neither the US or Israel deploy new mines).
However, this year has seen some shift in Israeli thinking on the issue. In February, an 11 year-old Israeli boy called Daniel Yuval was walking with his family in the Golan Heights. Unusual heavy snowfalls had encouraged families into this mountainous region which borders Syria. Possibly the snow had obscured warning signs and fences for one of the estimated 2,000 minefields in the area, because an exploding mine injured Daniel and his siblings. Pictures of Daniel’s father carrying his injured children, his T-shirt stained with blood, dominated the newspapers and stirred public debate. Now, seventy-three members of the 120-seat Israeli parliament have co-sponsored a bill to set up a national body for clearing mines which “are not required for security purposes”. If the bill is backed by the government and voted through, the task of clearing at least some of the estimated 260,000 land mines in Israel, many from wars decades ago, can begin in earnest.
Daniel had his right leg amputated and now campaigns against landmines. The 11 year-old Israeli boy will also address the meeting in Geneva this week to highlight the plight of victims. Daniel is living proof of the words spoken at the opening of the Tenth meeting by Sylvie Brigot, the executive of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) - “the threat posed by landmines is still urgent”. However, as Ms Brigot went on to say, “it is also a finite problem that can be resolved if governments remain committed until all mined areas are cleared.” Many will be hoping that as well as strengthening the commitments of current treaty members, a new resolve might be stirred in governments such as the US and Israel to address the problem of landmines.