The U.S. Bypasses Conference on Land Mines

By Drinan, Robert F. | National Catholic Reporter, January 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Bypasses Conference on Land Mines


Drinan, Robert F., National Catholic Reporter


Catholic groups were visible and articulate at the U.N. World Conference on Land Mines that concluded on Dec. 3 in Nairobi, Kenya. The Vatican was an early signatory of the Land Mine Treaty of 1999, known as the Ottawa Convention.

The Jesuit Refugee Service was present in Nairobi with a number of land mine survivors from Cambodia. Pax Christi's national groups were there joined with other religious non-governmental organizations. The 149 Catholic bishops of India urged the strengthening of the anti-land mine treaty even though India has not yet ratified it.

The absence of the United States in Kenya at the fifth anniversary of the Ottawa Conference was the most depressing feature of the conference, which was attended by representatives of 140 nations that have ratified the treaty. A statement by the Bush administration issued in February 2004 pledged to eliminate land mines by the year 2010 and pledged to give $70 million a year to the elimination of land mines.

But the vast group of non-governmental organizations that is seeking to remove land mines was deeply disappointed at the non-attendance of the United States.

In the five years since Ottawa, nearly 40 million land mines have been destroyed. But land mines still kill or maim 40 people a day or 15,000 to 20,000 a year.

Some 23 mine-infested countries are sub-Saharan nations. In 2002 and 2003 land mine casualties were reported in 20 of the 23 mine-infected countries.

Land mine removal is slow and expensive. The U.S. State Department estimates there are 60 million land mines posing risks to civilians in more than 60 countries. The Washington-based Land Mine Survivor Network, headed by Ken Rutherford, who lost both legs from a land mine in Somalia in 1993, regularly reminds the world that the United States by its lack of support gives an excuse to other nations not to sign the Ottawa treaty. …

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