Ban landmines nowEvery 15 minutes someone is killed or maimed by a landmine. Almost all of those affected are civilians, and many of them are children. For every survivor, two die. The majority of survivors require amputation.
Landmines have claimed more victims than nuclear, chemical and biological warfare combined. Today, 100 million mines litter the world. A third of these are in Africa, with up to 15 million located in Angola alone. Already, one in every 470 Angolans is an amputee.
In Cambodia, the situation is even worse. One fifth of the Cambodians born in the early 1990s will be killed or injured by a landmine before they turn 50 years old.
If people were being maimed and killed in such large numbers by a disease or natural disaster, the world response would be probably be immediate and significant, at least for a time. Governments of countries such as Australia would probably contribute to internationally coordinated relief operations, and the big business media would report the epidemic and the resulting human devastation with at least a pretence of sympathy.
When it comes to the destruction of innocent lives by weapons of war, however, the response of capitalist governments is very different.
Last week, the Australian government reaffirmed its refusal to support a total ban on landmines at this month's conference in Vienna to review the 1980 UN Inhumane Weapons Convention (IWC) and the Landmines Protocol. According to the federal minister for defence, science and personnel, Gary Punch, the abolition of landmines is a "utopian ideal" which would be "difficult to enforce".
This position is indefensible.
The proposal for a total ban on landmines has been endorsed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, the UN high commissioner for refugees and UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. International agreement on a total ban would be a major advance on the current IWC, which applies only to wars between two countries, omitting any mention of internal armed conflicts which is where most recent mine use has occurred. It also assigns no clear responsibility for the removal of mines and does not prohibit the use of non-detectable mines.
Even with these weaknesses, the IWC has been signed by only 44 countries since 1980. In the same period, despite the annual removal of up to 100,000 mines worldwide, at a cost of $300-$1000 per mine, at least another 2 million have been laid each year.
The Australian government, falling in behind other imperialist powers, justifies its refusal to support a ban on landmines on the grounds that they are "legitimate weapons of defence". This is particularly the case for Australia, says Punch, which has "a vast amount of territory to defend with a small force".
The real reasons behind support for the continuing manufacture, sale and use of landmines, however, are not defence related but economic.
Landmines are a big profit spinner, generating up to US$200 million per year in sales. There are currently almost 100 manufacturers in 48 countries producing 5-10 million anti-personnel mines in 227 different models annually. (The Australian government is reported to have considered manufacturing landmines for export as recently as two years ago, deciding against it only because the market was already saturated.)
More fundamentally, in a global system in which the extraction of maximum profits from an increasingly impoverished and resistant world population is underpinned by military might, the profiteers are reluctant to relinquish their legal right to use any existing weapon of war, especially those that are most effective against rebellious Third World populations concentrated in rural areas.
Landmines have been described as "fighters that never miss, strike blindly, do not carry weapons openly and go on killing long after hostilities are ended". They are also weapons of terrorism directed against the poorest, most oppressed populations in the world.
In solidarity with these people's right to peace, freedom, a healthy environment and social justice, we must insist that the Australian government act immediately to endorse and strengthen the campaign for a comprehensive ban on the production and use of all landmines.