Saturday, February 6, 2016

President Juan Manuel Santos and President Barack Obama, February 4, 2016 (c) Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Juan Manuel Santos and President Barack Obama, February 4, 2016 (c) Carolyn Kaster / AP

The start of mine clearance in Colombia provides the latest example of how the Obama Administration is working to address the global landmine problem in accordance with the goals of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

There was applause at the White House on February 4 when President Barack Obama announced a $50 million funding contribution to mine clearance in Colombia to help the country reach the goal of removing "every landmine in the country within five years."

The president described the demining operation as necessary to ensure "every Colombian child can walk into a brighter future free of fear" and emphasized that "this is a concrete manifestation that we can achieve in a relatively short timeframe that not only ensures that innocents are not injured or killed, but it also means that land that may have been very difficult to develop or to farm now is available."

According to a White House fact sheet, the US is cooperating with Norway and 10 other donor states as well as the European Union on a "global demining initiative" to "help Colombia meet its Ottawa Convention commitment to being mine-free by 2021." The US and South Korea are the ony donor states that have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty, or Ottawa Convention as the US calls it. 

Colombia is mine-affected by landmines--mostly victim-activated improvised explosive devices--made and laid mainly by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The government has not manufactured or used antipersonnel mines since signing the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Colombia is a leading member of the Mine Ban Treaty and hosted its Second Review Conference in Cartagena in 2009, which the United States attended as an observer for the first time, marking the beginning of its participation in the treaty process.

At the end of a round of the Havana peace process negotiations that focused on the rights of victims in March 2015, the Colombian government and FARC made a joint statement announcing the agreement to begin mine clearance. Norway says it marks the first time FARC and the Colombian government have cooperated in the field.

Norwegian People's Aid is helping to implement the project. The State Department has been funding mine clearance work carried out by both Colombian military demining brigades as well as the HALO Trust, the first civilian demining organization to receive accreditation to conduxt demining work in Colombia. 

Representative Jim McGovern has welcomed the mine clearance operation and called on the FARC and another Colombian non-state armed group ELN "to put an end, once and for all time, to the use of this terrible and indiscriminate weapon."

In 2014 the Obama Administration announced a ban on production and acqusition of antipersonnel mines as well as a ban on US landmine use outside of the Korean Peninsula. An export ban has been in place for over 20 years and millions of mines have been destroyed from US stocks.

Commenting on the Colombia announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry said "we understand this challenge" because of "Cambodia and Laos, where the detritus of the war that we were engaged in is still maiming people and taking lives, where we are still working on demining and unexploded ordnance."

On January 31, Kerry criticized the Syrian government for laying landmines around Madaya and other beseiged towns in Syria. Soviet/Russian-made PMN-4 antipersonnel mines been cleared from Madaya. Syrian government use of these mines was first reported in 2012.