The Satya Interview with Mary
Mary Wareham coordinates the research wing of the International
Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). She is employed as a Senior Advocate
in the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, one of six non-government
organizations (NGOs) that founded the campaign in 1992. The ICBL calls
for a total ban on antipersonnel landmines.
In October 1996 the Canadian government issued a challenge to produce
a treaty within one year. The Mine Ban Treaty was negotiated by representatives
from small and medium-sized countries and opened for signature in December
1997. One hundred thirty one countries have signed and ratified the
treaty into law, and another 15 signatories have yet to ratify.
Tens of millions of antipersonnel mines lie buried beneath the earth
in dozens of countries around the world. Millions more are stockpiled
for possible future use by militarized governments. Roughly half of
all landmine victims die within the first few minutes of the blast.
Many others languish and die from loss of blood or lack of transportation
to medical help. Survivors are often maimed, requiring surgery and amputation.
In 1997 ICBL was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its achievement
in bringing about the ban treaty, and was also recognized as an effective
example for peace, due to ICBL’s swift success in bringing different
groups and governments together on a common issue. The Committee concluded:
“As a model for similar processes in the future, it could prove
of decisive importance to the international effort for disarmament
Catherine Clyne recently spoke with Mary Wareham to learn about the
landmine problem and what ICBL is doing to banish these weapons altogether.
How did the ICBL come about?
The ICBL was established when six organizations that were already working
on landmines came together and issued a call for a total ban on the
use, production, stockpiling, and trade of antipersonnel mines. The
second part of that call was for increased resources to go toward mine
clearance and survivor assistance. The campaign then embarked on an
effort to enlist endorsers and lobby governments to sign up for the
cause. We eventually managed to do that in 1997, when the Mine Ban Treaty
was negotiated and opened for signature.
What is the role of Human Rights Watch with the campaign now
and how long have you personally been involved?
HRW heads up the research wing of the campaign, called the Landmine
Monitor. We monitor implementation of the 1997 treaty, and we also monitor
and report on the more general global response to the humanitarian crisis
caused by landmines.
Personally, I started in 1994 in New Zealand, where I’m from.
I did a study on it in political science in 1994-95, and in 1996 I was
invited to come out here and work on the campaign. I’ve been
at HRW since 1998 working specifically on this initiative to monitor
verify implementation of the treaty.
Only five years after its launch, the ICBL was awarded the Nobel
Peace Prize. How did the campaign achieve such success to the point
of being acknowledged by the Nobel Committee?
There’s a number of different factors which contributed to the
success of the campaign. One critical factor was Jody Williams, who
was delegated with the task of coordinating the campaign. She established
a system of communication throughout the network which enabled every
member to feel actively engaged and involved in the effort, and that
their contribution was significant and important.
In the beginning it was not so easy—when we said landmines, governments
and others thought we were talking about coal mines or gold mining.
Now they know what the issue is.
From the outset, we had a very clear goal which could be articulated
in just a sentence or two. We used every opportunity to publicize the
issue. We established a bench-line early on for research, by documenting
the problem in countries around the world and documenting aspects such
as production and stockpiling of the weapon. We sought out friendly
governments and put them on record if they had voiced support for the
ban, and put them on record if they had spoken against it—keeping
track and publicizing these lists, which we continue to do to this
We took advantage of a UN process to review another treaty, which was
not for a total ban of landmines but basically regulated their use.
This agreement had been largely ignored for over a decade because its
rules were too complicated, too difficult to implement. The ICBL showed
that the best way forward was to have a very clear and unequivocal prohibition
rather than a series of complicated rules and regulations allowing use
in certain instances and not in others. In the beginning of 1996, we
sat down with some of the governments who also supported our ban call
and started the process to achieve a treaty.
This effort was notable because it marked the first time that small
and medium-size governments played a leading role and worked together
with NGOs to get something done. Countries like Austria, Belgium, Norway,
and New Zealand, and developing countries like Mexico, Colombia, Cambodia,
and South Africa, were engaged in the leadership. This coalition focused
on a goal and managed to achieve it without the assistance of the so-called
great powers at the time, the permanent five members of the UN Security
Why are landmines in particular so objectionable?
Because of their indiscriminate nature: they’re specifically designed
to explode by the presence of a human being. Other weapons may explode
unintentionally because they have not functioned as they’re intended
to, like cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war. The
antipersonnel mine, however, doesn’t distinguish between soldier
or civilian, adult or child, man or woman. It’s this indiscriminate
nature that makes it illegal under international humanitarian law, which
has certain principles, such as the principle of discrimination; and
the principle of proportionality, that what you do in the battlefield
will be in proportion to the impact that it has on civilian populations.
We viewed the longer-term impact of the weapon as far outweighing any
short-term military benefits that could be gained by its use—these
weapons are not picked up at the end of the battle.
It is also an issue in terms of preserving wildlife: mines are still
lying in the ground in wait—not just for humans, but for anybody
who happens to come along. I just saw that another elephant was blown
up in Burma last week and they estimate that about 30 elephants are
killed or maimed by mines in Burma every year; same thing in Thailand
and other countries. In Afghanistan the snow leopard has been maimed
and killed; in southern Africa mines kill and maim gazelles and other
Can you tell me about the mine detecting dogs? How does that
work and how are the dogs treated?
Mine detection dogs are what we call MDDs. In 1997 Jody Williams was
given a MDD by one of the humanitarian organizations engaged in mine
clearance, and this dog has been working in Bosnia ever since. The
are treated very well; they’re basically born and bred to do this
work. They sniff out the explosive content in the minefield; once they’ve
found something, they sit down and the dog handler will mark that spot
for the deminers and give the dog a treat. Dogs have become increasingly
important in demining work, but they’ll never replace humans.
People can sponsor a mine detection dog by visiting our website.
What are some of the problems with demining?
There’s many. Technology hasn’t really changed since WWII.
The best way of clearing mines, still, is a person with a long prodder
(like a knitting needle) sitting or lying on the ground and probing
for mines at a 45 degree angle. This is extremely time-consuming, boring,
tedious, difficult work, so if you doze off and make a mistake, you
lose your limbs or your life.
There’ve been certain developments, such as the increased use
of mine detection dogs, metal detectors, better safety equipment and
gear for the deminers, GPS systems which can help with the recording
of mined areas and database advances. But there’s no silver bullet
out there to map all the mines in the world. A whole kind of toolbox
effort is needed. Plus the circumstances are different in every country,
clearing mines from rice paddies in Cambodia is not the same as on
side of mountains in Afghanistan, which is not the same as in the deserts
Ninety countries around the world have got some kind of problem with
uncleared mines, and only a fraction of those have some humanitarian
mine clearance effort underway. The problems they face are huge. They’re
doing the job and they’re doing it well, but it’s still
going to take some time unless they get an injection of funds and resources.
What are some of the most heavily mined places in the world?
There’s not a way in which you can define that, but I’d
say among the most heavily mine-infested would be Afghanistan, Angola
and Cambodia. In Cambodia last year there were 800 mine victims, and
there were over 1,000 recorded in Afghanistan, and a similar amount
for Angola—these are just recorded mine casualties. We believe
that 50 percent of mine casualties die within the first five minutes
from loss of blood. Often they’re alone at the time of the incident—herding
cattle or sheep or tending crops—in a remote area with nobody
around to hear the explosion.
These three countries have all now joined the treaty and are implementing
it in good faith: they’ve destroyed their stockpiled mines, they’re
passing legislation to prosecute individuals who are caught using mines,
they’re making huge steps forward in terms of removing the mines
and helping victims, but they still need a lot of encouragement and
From your standpoint and that of HRW, how did receiving the
Nobel Peace Prize affect the campaign?
We’ve always said that it was not so much the Nobel Prize, but
the treaty that would enable us to really make our call for a ban on
mines a reality; the Peace Prize was like the icing on the cake. But
it certainly did help us to get those 122 governments to sign the treaty
in December 1997. Other factors, such as Princess Diana’s support,
also helped. But since that time, it has also been very useful for
to use the Nobel Prize as a platform to continue our work. It gives
us credibility to keep going.
For those who aren’t aware, can you talk some more about
the treaty itself?
The Mine Ban Treaty prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling
of antipersonnel mines; and there are other requirements such as transparency
reporting and domestic implementation legislation. It has several deadlines:
governments have four years to destroy their stockpiled mines, and
years to destroy the mines which are already in the ground. Under the
treaty, about 35 million mines have been destroyed in recent years;
that’s been a really good sign of progress. The treaty also encourages
parties to assist other states to implement the treaty. To bring other
countries on board, states that are rich are expected to provide funds
for mine clearance and victim assistance, and to help destroy stockpiled
mines and give technical support for those who cannot do it.
What is the position of the U.S. government on the issue? What
are some of the major sticking points for the countries that have not
ratified the treaty?
The campaign has always placed priority on stigmatizing the antipersonnel
mine so that users will no longer want to use the weapon. We’ve
succeeded to a great extent in that most of the heavily affected countries
are now part of the treaty, countries like Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia,
Colombia, Mozambique, Nicaragua. These are countries in which not only
the government has rejected the weapon, but the armed forces and the
people more generally. There’s a great awareness about the dangers
posed by mines and a general revulsion of them by the public. This has
been a key goal of our campaign because it leaves the producers with
no markets. We’ve gone from having about 56 governments producing
mines at the end of the 1980s, to a current total of 14 which we believe
continue to produce mines; though most of them have some kind of export
moratorium or prohibition in place.
As far as the United States is concerned, it had some great leadership
in Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who managed to get an export moratorium
passed early on so the U.S. has not exported mines since 1992. It hasn’t
produced since 1997, but keeps a foot in the door, so to speak, so that
it can, if need be, start manufacturing again. The U.S. has about 11.2
million mines stockpiled; that makes it the third largest stockpiler
after China and Russia. The majority of these mines are housed in the
U.S., not actually in Korea, where the U.S. says it would need to use
mines if the North invaded. We’ve seen various studies and statements
from military experts saying mines are not essential in Korea, especially
when you look at all of the other weapons available to the U.S. if
were to be a conflict there.
Back in 1997, the military did not want to set a precedent of giving
up a weapon system because NGOs asked for it. At the time, President
Clinton had fairly weak military standing, and he accepted what the
military recommended. That Pentagon point of view persists to this
Clinton managed to obtain some consolations, in that the U.S. would
work to join the treaty by 2006 on the provision that it could find
an alternative to the antipersonnel mine. This alternative has not
found and it’s not likely to ever be found, although they’ve
spent hundreds of millions of dollars searching for one. So it remains
to be seen if the U.S. will join by 2006.
Are there more “humane” landmines that have been
There are so-called “smart” mines which self-destruct after
a certain period of time. This is not the campaign’s preference,
we’ve fought long and hard for the treaty to prohibit all antipersonnel
mines regardless of whatever special devices they had on them, because,
while active, this mine is still indiscriminate. The “smart”
mine is not hand-placed but scattered from artillery or from the air
over wide areas where they cannot be effectively marked so civilians
can be kept out. They have failure rates from anywhere beyond 10 percent;
and you’ve still got to get rid of the things once they’re
on the ground.
The U.S. has a significant inventory of these so-called self-destructing
mines. It used them last in the Gulf War in 1991, but even then, American
soldiers would not tread on areas with these mines even though they
had been set to self-destruct within 24 hours. The military commanders
did not want to risk putting their troops into a minefield that was
supposed to have deactivated itself for fear it had not been completely
What lies ahead?
There are about 48 “hold-out” countries which have not yet
joined the treaty and it’s not a nice bunch of governments. It’s
mostly countries in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, but
also China and the U.S.; and a lot of them don’t have civil society
representation which the campaign can work with. Non-state actors or
rebel groups—groups that are not responsible to anyone—using
antipersonnel mines in places like Burma and Colombia are also a major
concern for us.
Stockpiling of mines is a big concern. The 48 non-signatories to the
treaty account for the bulk of the world’s stockpiled mines. We’ve
put out a number of about 230 million antipersonnel mines—mines
that are sitting in warehouses, basically waiting to be taken out of
their boxes and put in the ground.
To learn more about the International Campaign to Ban Landmines,
to get involved and to read Landmine Monitor’s research, visit www.icbl.org.