Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Anti-personnel mines: Signing up to the treaty

Last May, a series of events titled “Maputo+15” was held in Geneva to draw attention to key issues arising at the Maputo Review Conference (23 to 27 June 2014) of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention 15 years after the international community had first gathered in Mozambique to begin to implement that treaty.  One of the events in the Maputo+15 series was a panel discussion on 21 May that addressed the issue “Is the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (APBMC) sufficiently universalised?” 

The object of universalisation is the acceptance of legally binding obligations under the Convention by the entire international community of nation states. The rationale is that the wider the acceptance of the obligations in the treaty the stronger will be the international law and norms it establishes.  The more widespread the acceptance of the law created by any treaty, the stronger will be the international rule of law.

By the time of the first Review Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2004 there were an impressive 143 parties to the APMBC. Between entry into force in March 1999 and the Nairobi Review Conference five years later, parties joined on average at the astonishing rate of almost 30 every twelve months. By the second Review Conference in Cartagena, Colombia in 2009 the number had risen by 13 to 156 parties. By the time of the third Review Conference in Maputo this June that number will have increased by a further 5 to 161 parties.

If results-based accountancy rules were applied to those outcomes, clearly we are experiencing the law of diminishing returns.  But it is significant nonetheless that the APMBC’s 161 parties constitute 84% of the international community of nation states. By comparison, there are 193 member states of the United Nations. In the arms control and disarmament field, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention each have 190 parties, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention 168, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty 162, the Convention on Inhumane Weapons 117 and the Cluster Munitions Convention 84 parties to date.

Of the 50 states that once produced anti-personnel mines, all but 16 are now party to the APMBC.  It is also significant that, conscious of the stigma now attached to the use of anti-personnel mines, some states not yet party to the treaty have reduced their reliance on these weapons or modified their approach to them. For example, the US has not produced anti-personnel mines since 1997 and has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the assistance of victims of those weapons.

In terms of the objective of universalisation, some of the questions that can be expected to arise at the Maputo Review Conference are:
- how content should the international community be that 4 in every 5 states are party to the APMBC? Should parties express their satisfaction and devote their energies instead to universalising other treaties such as the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Arms Trade Treaty?
- how far have we come in terms of the promise by the parties to mine victims to end the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines, for all people for all time?
- in view of the diminishing returns mentioned earlier, should we approach norm-setting in a different way, e.g., through securing political commitments from those states that are reluctant to enter into the legally binding commitments of the APMBC?

For the panel in the Maputo+15 event, the answer to the question with which it had been tasked - whether the APMBC was “sufficiently universalised” - was ‘no’.  The humanitarian imperative – the rationale of the APMBC – demands that strenuous efforts should continue to be made to sign up additional states. The focus should remain on the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel mines, not their perceived military utility.

Representations to each non-party should be pitched as having a practical purpose with an emphasis on enhancing the standing of that state in the international community as a measure of respect for international humanitarian law. It is important to demonstrate that the international significance of becoming party to the APMBC warrants the effort necessary at the domestic level to implement the obligations of the Convention.

Stressing that the rationale behind the proposed treaty action is in the national interest and will also promote regional solidarity are key ingredients in the campaign for universalisation. There should be a determination to reach the highest levels of Government, so that Ministers of parties use opportunities, for example at regional meetings, to lobby their non-party counterparts to join the treaty. 

These are important questions and messages on the issue of universalisation for the representatives of the 161 parties to the APMBC to weigh when they gather in Maputo on 23 June 2014.

Tim Caughley, Resident Senior Fellow, UNIDIR