Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 27 November 2008

The UK’s Last Word ?

States parties to the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty (APMBT) are holding their ninth Meeting of States Parties (MSP) in Geneva this week. The first part of the week was primarily devoted to the so-called ‘Article 5 extension requests’. It is the first time that states parties have had to consider such requests and many acknowledged that this would be one of the first true tests of the Convention.

Under Article 5(1) of the APMBT ever state party is under an obligation to:

…destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible but not later than ten years after the entry into force of this Convention for that State Party.
For 16 of 42 states parties that still have anti-personnel landmines (APM) on their territory (or under their jurisdiction) the destruction deadline elapses in 2009. One of them, Uganda, plans to finish work in time. The other 15 submitted requests for an extension of this deadline in accordance with article 5(3) of the Convention.

By Wednesday afternoon all requesting states had had the opportunity to present their case, receive comments and provide clarifications. Most states' requests met with general support, many receiving praise for their detailed and comprehensive submissions and good cooperation.
States identified adverse climate, lack of financial and technical resources, and limited access to mined areas as the main reasons for failing to meet the destruction deadline – and birds: Denmark noted with some pride that mine-induced lack of human activity on the island of Skallingen resulted in an exceptionally large bird breeding place there and the UK expressed great concern that penguin rookeries on the Falklands should not be adversely affected by mine-clearance activies.

Not all requests were well received, though. Venezuela has not undertaken any demining activities since the APMBT entered into force for it in 1999. Neither did the UK in the Falklands. Some states parties therefore took issue with these requests. In their view, not to undertake any clearance during the initial 10 year period was contrary to the spirit of the Convention and may amount to a violation of states' obligation to destroy APMs as soon as possible. Venezuela responded to such criticism by advising 'people without proper knowledge of the work of deminers' not to make such ‘unhealthy value judgements’.

States were even less pleased with the UK for requesting the maximum allowable period of extension - 10 years. Pushing the deadline so far into the future seemed to many to be at odds with every state party's undertaking to do its utmost ‘to face the challenge of removing anti-personnel mines placed throughout the world, and to assure their destruction’. They recommended that the UK revise its request, start demining operations, set a firm deadline for completion and submit a more detailed plan. To this the UK responded that it could do no more and that the statement tabled was its 'last word'. Overall, talks on article 5 were held in a constructive atmosphere but the UK accusing the ICRC of 'unwisely overstepping the neutrality of the institution' sucked some air out of the room.

The decisions on the extension requests will be taken on Friday. In spite of the APMBT foreseeing a decision by a majority vote, many states expressed a wish to proceed by consensus, as has been the practice so far. Others, like Canada, cautioned that 'consensus by all means but not at any cost' should be the objective. We will have to wait until Friday to see who has the last word. Clearly, though, many states are deeply concerned about the negative precedent that accepting the UK’s request in its present form could set for the Convention’s future.

The second major issue the MSP has to deal with concerns Belarus, Greece and Turkey who are currently in violation of their obligation to destroy their stockpiles of APM. Several other states risk finding themselves in a similar situation soon. Greece and Turkey have at least set new deadlines for completing destruction, but Greece has yet to destroy a single APM and Belarus wasn’t able to given an indication about how to resolve the issue.

On a positive note, Indonesia surprised many by announcing that it had destroyed all its stockpiles, 3 years before its deadline. This is an achievement that will hopefully inspire others to follow suit and served as a reminder that most states do in fact honour their commitment.

Megan Kinsella and Maya Brehm.

Megan is a graduate student at Norman Patterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa and presently an intern at UNIDIR.

Photo Credit: 'Expressive Rockhopper' by man_with_noname on Flickr


Anonymous said...

Excellent article.Very informative and I like the penguin photo. Keep up the good work!

John DUNCAN said...

Dear Megan

Diplomacy is often thought of a as a synonym for tact, but as you observed that is not always the case. When nations and international organisations decide to challenge another state's position in the way that occurred during the Ottawa meeting 2 weeks ago it would be surprising if that state's representatives did not respond fairly firmly.

I am sure you have read our blog version of the meeting http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/duncan/entry/landmines_the_falkland_islands.

Perhaps we should cross link our blogs.