Representatives of more than 75 nongovernmental organizations have called on the United States to join a treaty banning the use of antipersonnel landmines.
Such a ban would illustrate the U.S.'s commitment to protect “civilians from the ravages of war,” and would align with the nation's “generous support for mine clearance programs around the world,” the leaders said.
Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, joined with leaders of both religious and secular groups to encourage the United States to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
Other signatories included representatives from groups including Catholic Relief Services, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA.
In an April 4 letter to President Barack Obama and several members of his administration, the organization heads noted that the U.S. has already banned certain types of mines and called for a ban on the remainder as well.
The Obama administration recently concluded a multi-year interagency review of its landmine policy and is working to make a decision on future U.S. policy.
The signatories noted that the administration has received letters supporting the treaty from many Americans, including more than half of the U.S. Senators, 16 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates and several key NATO allies.
They observed that 159 countries have already agreed to the treaty, including every other member of NATO, every country in the European Union and nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition, they said, the participation of the United States is important for “the universalization of the treaty” because some remaining countries have argued that they will not join if the U.S. does not.
The organization leaders also pointed out that the United States has not used antipersonnel landmines since 1991.
“Surely if the U.S. military has been able to defend the country for the last 21 years without using antipersonnel landmines, it can do so in the future as well,” they argued.
Calling the issue “a crucial humanitarian decision that should not be put off any longer,” the signatories urged the president to submit the treaty to the Senate without delay.
“The last steps to acceding to the treaty are now achievable,” they said, adding that the landmine ban is “vitally important” to efforts aimed at protecting civilians, bolstering international norms and isolating irresponsible regimes.