U.S. a No-Show At International Anti-Landmine Conference

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The Bush administration decided not to send any representatives to an international conference on eradicating land mines that opened in Kenya this week. We go to Nairobi to hear from a spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. [includes rush transcript]

An international conference on eradicating land mines has opened in Kenya this week. The conference is the first review of progress in ridding the world of anti-personnel mines since the 1999 Ottawa Convention. Ethiopia became the 144th nation to accept the Convention banning antipersonnel mines. Some 40 countries including the US, China and Russia have refused to sign the treaty, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines and calls for mined areas to be cleared within 10 years.

The Bush administration has decided not to send any representatives to the conference. Actor Danny Glover, making his first trip as a goodwill ambassador the UN Children”s Fund (UNICEF), said: “As a citizen of the U.S., I feel embarrassed and angry.”

An estimated 20,000 people die because of landmine explosions every year.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now by Mark Hiznay. He’s spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. He joins us from Nairobi. Welcome to Democracy Now!

MARK HIZNAY: Thank you for having me on today.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you explain the significance of this conference?

MARK HIZNAY: It’s — it marks the fifth year of implementation of the treaty that was negotiated and signed in 1997 to comprehensively ban the weapon, the anti-personnel mine. This is a weapon that claims more civilians than it does military and denies the socioeconomic use of land and claims casualties now ranging somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people a year. We have been able to document in the year 2003 over 8600 casualties, but we also recognize that more than half of the incidents go unreported. So this is where the state’s parties get together and take stock of how far they have come in five years and have cooperatively working hand in hand with civil society and the U.N. to implement this treaty, to destroy the weapon, to assist the victims and to clear the mines. It’s also looking forward to the next five years which in 2009, the first deadlines for states to clear mines that are in the ground, start happening. So there’s a lot of work to do and there’s a lot of commitments to be made and followed through on here.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the countries that have not signed on? Ethiopia’s the latest country, 144 to sign the treaty. What about the United States? Why does the United States hold out, and is it alone in not even sending a representative to the Nairobi conference?

MARK HIZNAY: It’s kind of a curious situation because no one noticed here. Yes, they knew that the U.S. was not going to send a delegation officially, and they cited cost reasons because the way these conferences happen, the U.S. would have had to bear 20% of the conference cost, which would have been somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000. But they have been putting statements out here that are quite puzzling to the countries that are here, and there are about 43 countries that have not joined the treaty and over half of them are here. China is here, Russia is here, India is here, Israel is here. All of these countries that have used land mines in the recent times, which the United States hasn’t used anti-personnel mines since 1991, they are here and they are listening. The U.S. was evidently concerned that the political agenda against — the political agenda, as they say, against countries that retain the weapon and retain the right to use the weapon would be too severe for them to withstand. In February, the Bush administration announced its new policy of regarding land mines and it foreswore this treaty, and said it retained the right it use certain types of antipersonnel mines indefinitely and without geographic restrictions. It walked back many years and several commitments of previous administrations. It’s collectively “so what.”

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Britain? I mean Princess Diana made this her number-one issue when she was alive.

MARK HIZNAY: Well, definitely the role of bringing this issue into the public attention during a critical time when the treaty was being negotiated certainly helped and the United Kingdom is an active partner in matters of treaty interpretation, resource mobilization and bringing other countries here that might affect the countries that couldn’t necessarily afford it to make sure everyone is represented here. Britain announced today, in fact, with Argentina in a joint statement that they are beginning cooperation to begin demining the Falkland Islands which Argentina mined during the conflict there in the early 1980’s.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Hiznay, I want to thank you for being with us, spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Joining us on the line from Nairobi where the International Conference Against Anti-Personnel Landmines is taking place.

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