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March 2003
Mining for Morality

The Satya Interview with Mary Wareham


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 and peace.”

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 and 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 day.

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 Council.

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 wildlife.

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 dogs 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 the side of mountains in Afghanistan, which is not the same as in the deserts of Kuwait.

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 financial support.

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 us 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 ten 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 there 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 day. 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 been 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 developed?
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 deactivated.

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


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