Background Briefing

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Export and Transfer of Landmines

United States officials have often claimed that U.S. mines are not a significant factor in the global landmine problem.43  It is likely that this argument will be used in part to justify any decision to renew production of antipersonnel mines.  However, the United States exported over 5.6 million antipersonnel mines to thirty-eight countries between 1969 and 1992.44  Deminers in at least twenty-nine mine-affected countries have reported the presence of nine different types of U.S.-manufactured antipersonnel mines and four types of antivehicle mines, including both non-self-destructing and self-destructing types.45  A total of twenty-one states that have banned the weapon have declared possessing (and subsequently destroying) 2.9 million antipersonnel mines of U.S. origin in their stockpiles, more than any other single exporting state.46 

On October 23, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Mine Export Moratorium, which prohibits the export of all antipersonnel mines.47  The State Department issued a regulation implementing the statute, which categorically states, “All licenses, sales or transfers of landmines specifically designed for anti-personnel use, regardless of method of delivery, are suspended until further notice.”48  This moratorium has been extended several times, most recently until October 23, 2008.49  In addition, the Clinton administration announced on January 17, 1997, that the United States “will observe a permanent ban on the export and transfer” of antipersonnel mines. 

In its February 2004 landmine policy announcement, the United States indicated its intent to seek an international agreement that prohibits the sale or export of landmines, both antipersonnel and antivehicle, that do not self-destruct.50  Subsequently, the United States announced it would pursue negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).51 

There is concern that the U.S. proposal to negotiate a ban on the transfer of non-self-destructing landmines could signal that the U.S. is now prepared to engage again in the trade of self-destructing antipersonnel mines.  The law banning the transfer of all antipersonnel mines will expire in October 2008, unless it is extended, and it is not clear if the Bush administration has retained or overturned the formal Clinton administration policy permanently banning transfers of all antipersonnel mines.  The Bush administration may believe that since it has determined that self-destructing mines pose no danger to civilians, there is no need to restrict trade.

Exception for Training and R&D?

In announcing its desire to pursue an international transfer ban, the State Department declared, “Consistent with existing U.S. obligations, we will seek appropriate limited exceptions for training personnel engaged in demining or countermine operations.”52  In fact, despite the export prohibition, the United States has continued to transfer and acquire antipersonnel mines in recent years, presumably for training or research and development purposes.  The State Department reported that thirty-two M87 Volcano canisters, each containing five antivehicle mines and one antipersonnel mine, were sold to Germany in fiscal year 2004 with a license value of $10 million.53  Romania transferred 3,265 antipersonnel mines to the U.S. Navy between April 2003 and April 2004.54  In 2002, Ecuador transferred 1,644 antipersonnel mines to the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (Indian Head, Maryland).55  The U.S. provided 140 M14 antipersonnel mines to Canada for testing of personal protective equipment for deminers in 2001.56  While all four of the above mentioned countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, that treaty contains an explicit exception in Article 3 for transfer of antipersonnel mines for the development of and training in mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques. 

However, it is unclear how the United States can legally justify such transfers given its obligations under the Mine Export Moratorium and CCW Amended Protocol II.  Human Rights Watch is unaware of any formal interpretation or understanding of the export moratorium made to permit the transfer of antipersonnel mines for research and development purposes.  It is not publicly known whether such an exception is contained in an interpretation by the United States of Article 8 of Amended Protocol II concerning prohibitions and restrictions on landmine transfers.57  The Bush administration has not said if it continues to uphold the understandings of its predecessor on this issue.  Repeated requests by Human Rights Watch over a number of years for clarification of this matter have gone unanswered. 

[43] See, for example, Open Letter to U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines from Richard Kidd, Director, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, June 24, 2005.  It states, “The truth is that nearly all of the landmines that deminers are clearing around the world are of foreign - not U.S. – origin. All the mines being cleared today are "persistent" mines, exactly the type that will be prohibited by the new U.S. landmine policy.” 

[44] Of this total, 4.14 million were non-self-destructing mines and approximately 80,000 were self-destructing mines.  The remaining 1.36 million were Claymore mines.  These figures do not include direct commercial sales.  Sixteen of the recipient countries are considered to be mine-affected.  Human Rights Watch obtained this information in August 1994 through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Defense Security Assistance Agency and U.S. Army Armament, Munitions, and Chemical Command concerning U.S. landmine deliveries under the Foreign Military Sales Program and Military Assistance Program.

[45] Mine threat files maintained by demining organizations and mine action centers in mine-affected countries contain information on the types of mines encountered.  Similar information is included in the annual transparency reports submitted by states party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.  Human Rights Watch has cross-referenced this primary source data with secondary sources such as annual editions of Jane’s Mines and Mine Clearance and databases compiled and maintained by the Canadian, French, and U.S. militaries.  The countries where U.S. manufactured mines have been found include: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, South Korea, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam, and Zambia, as well as Western Sahara (under Moroccan control).

[46] The following States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty have declared stockpiles of antipersonnel mines of U.S.-origin: Australia, Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Greece, Honduras, Japan, Jordan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, and Venezuela.  In keeping with their treaty obligation, all of these states have destroyed, or are in the process of destroying these antipersonnel mines, except, in some cases, a small number retained for demining training and research.  Three former exporting states account for the vast majority of the imported antipersonnel mines declared by States Parties between 1999 and 2004: United States (2.9 million), China (1.4 million), and Russia/U.S.S.R. (1.06 million). Another 22 landmine exporting countries also contributed to the global stockpiles. 

[47] Public Law 102-484, Sec. 1365, October 23, 1992.

[48] Public Notice 1727, “Suspension of Transfers of Anti-Personnel Mines” FR Doc. 92-28460, Federal Register, November 18, 1992.

[49] Public Law 107-115, Section 548, January 10, 2002.

[50] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, “Fact Sheet: New U.S. Policy on Landmines,” February 27, 2004.

[51] U.N. Office in Geneva, Press document: “Conference on Disarmament Hears Statement by United States on Landmines and Fissile Material,” July 29, 2004.  It is highly unlikely the effort in the CD will go anywhere, as the CD has not even been able to agree on its agenda since 1997.  In a practical sense, there is little need for a new agreement, as there has been almost no trade in antipersonnel mines since the mid-1990s.  A de facto global ban on trade already exists and is holding tight.  Moreover, several Mine Ban Treaty States Parties have pointed out they could not agree to a new international instrument on mine transfer that has a lesser standard than the ban treaty.

[52] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, “Fact Sheet: New U.S. Policy on Landmines,” February 27, 2004.  Similarly, the Pentagon has stated, “Consistent with existing U.S. obligations, it will include appropriate exceptions for training personnel engaged in demining or countermine operations.”  Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, “Annual Progress Report: U.S. Department of Defense Removal and Destruction of Persistent Landmines and Development of Landmine Alternatives,” December 2004, p. 4.

[53] “Report by the Department of State Pursuant to Section 655 of the Foreign Assistance Act, Direct Commercial Sales Authorizations for Fiscal Year 2004,” p. 51.

[54] Romania, Mine Ban Treaty Transparency Measures Report, Form D.2, April 2004.  Four types were transferred: MAI-75 (1,300), MAI-68 (1,300), MAI-6 (620), and MAI-2 (45).

[55] Ecuador, Mine Ban Treaty Transparency Measures Report, Form D.2, May 31, 2002.

[56] Canada, Mine Ban Treaty Transparency Measures Report, Form D.2, April 24, 2002.

[57] The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Report on the ratification of the protocol states that “the administration further clarified with the Senate its understanding of issues related to Article 8 in two classified memoranda and a letter to Chairman Helms.  The Senate received these documents on July 23, 1998.”  Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Executive Report 106-2, May 13, 1999, p. 51.  However, this understanding has not been made public and does not appear to be reflected in the formal reservations and understandings adopted by the U.S. upon the Senate providing its advice and consent in ratifying the treaty in 1999.

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