The Mine Ban Treaty and Obama: To Sign or Not to Sign

The Obama Administration has initiated a comprehensive review of the US landmines policy to decide whether or not the US will join the Mine Ban Treaty.

PHR has re-engaged in this campaign at the request of The US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) and members of the Administration, and we are hopeful that this will be an opportunity to show the world that the US respects health and human rights.

Over the next few months, we’ll be updating you on the treaty via a new blog series (this is post #1) and asking for your help to urge President Obama to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

One immediate action item: We are asking the presidents of major US health professional associations to sign a letter to the Administration [pdf] showing the unity of the medical, public health and nursing community against the use of landmines. If you have any contacts at major health professional associations who might be able to help, please email Gina Coplon-Newfield at gcoplon-newfield[at]phrusa[dot]org as soon as possible.

As you may know, PHR is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a grassroots movement that brought the international community together to form the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the use, trade, production, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. PHR and the other ICBL founding groups were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward achieving the treaty, which 156 countries have signed.

As with many international human rights treaties, the US has refused to sign, arguing that US soldiers are exposed to risk if the country can’t use landmines as a deterrent weapon. The United States’ position sets us apart from most other countries: indeed, all other member countries of NATO are signatories to the treaty (Poland plans to ratify the treaty in 2012). By refusing to sign, the US joins China, Russia, Cuba, India, and Pakistan among the countries that have not committed to stop using landmines.

The US has not used landmines since the 1991 Gulf War, yet previous administrations have chosen to keep the weapon available, just in case.

Early in his tenure, it appeared President Obama had made the same decision. In November 2009, a White House spokesman stated that after reviewing the matter, the Obama Administration had decided not to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. The announcement prompted public outcry among human rights groups, and the following day, the White House insisted the issue was still under review. The current review is headed by Samantha Power and Barry Pavel at the National Security Council.

We expect the Obama Administration to make a decision in the next few months, making it critically important that the President hear from health professionals and human rights activists about how harmful landmines are to humanity. We will soon send out an action alert, which will give you the chance to email Obama and urge him to sign onto the Mine Ban Treaty. Please take action, and urge friends and family to do the same.

Congress is joining in the advocacy too. On May 22, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont sent a letter co-signed by 68 senators (including 10 Republicans) to President Obama, encouraging him to develop a plan to overcome any obstacles to joining the Convention. 68 is a magic number: international treaties must be approved by a 2/3 majority in the Senate, so if Obama decides to sign onto the treaty, 68 Senators would be enough to accede to it (of course, though this letter is a good indication of potential votes, it's not a guarantee).

PHR members have been advocating to ban landmines for more than 15 years, and we need your help again at this critical juncture. Keep an eye out for more actions alerts and blogs. And spread the word—this is our best chance to join the Mine Ban Treaty in years, and we need your voice!

Get Updates from PHR