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‘Ban mines,’ activists urge Clinton, Congress

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Forty thousand post cards from Belgium were on their way to the White House, and 100 activists from around the United States were in the nation’s capital July 9-11 to prod the Clinton administration and Congress to move more quickly on signing the international convention against land mines.

“Six years from now isn’t good enough,” said land mine survivor Jerry White, referring to President Clinton’s claim that the United States will sign the treaty by 2006, providing the Pentagon has developed alternatives to anti-personnel mines. White, director of the Landmines Survivors Network, said Clinton reneged on his 1994 call before the United Nations for the eventual elimination of land mines.

The gathering in opposition to land mines was part of the 40-day People’s Campaign for Nonviolence, sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and supported by a broad array of religious and secular peace and justice groups. The action began on July 1 and will continue through Aug. 9.

In December 1997, in Ottawa, Canada became the first to sign the 1997 Convention on The Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. More than 135 nations have since signed it. The United States and Turkey are the only two NATO members who have not signed the treaty. The United States insists on the right to use anti-personnel mines in joint military operations with military allies who have signed the Mine Ban Treaty.

In 1997, Clinton - ironically the first head of state to promote a land mine ban - bowed to the U.S. military’s wishes to defer signing until the military-industrial complex develops alternatives. The United States has 11 million land mines stockpiled and is one of only 16 countries that refuse to halt production of land mines.

Mine Ban Treaty nations are obliged to destroy stockpiles within four years and clear mines within their own territories in 10 years. Meanwhile, said Nathaniel Raymond, media coordinator of the U.S. Campaign To Ban Landmines, “anti-personnel mines are still killing thousands of innocent men, women and children every year” (the U.S. State Department estimates 26,000 deaths and maimings annually from the 60 million to 70 million land mines scattered throughout nearly 70 countries.

Vietnam is a major sufferer from land mine injury and death. Thirty-three percent of all Vietnam War casualties were from land mines, and the toll continues today, he said. In addition to Vietnam, other heavily mined countries include the Persian Gulf area, Angola, Cambodia and Iran.

Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace laureate honored for her work on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, arrived back in the United States July 10 from a Guatemala land mines forum also attended by Mayan Indian activist Rigoberta Menchú. Williams told a Washington reception honoring anti-land mine activists that thousands of land mines lie hidden in war-ravaged Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The post cards from Belgium were presented to Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., for transmittal to the White House.

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2000