04.09.14

LEAHY: US Must Sign Treaty Banning Landmines

[Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has long been the leading U.S. official pressing for a worldwide ban on the use of these weapons. In a statement today on the Senate floor, he again urged the administration to sign the international treaty banning landmines.  Leahy has pressed every administration since the Clinton administration to join the international treaty.  Leahy is the most senior member of the United States Senate, and chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for overseeing the State Department’s budget, including foreign aid and assistance. Video and audio will be available later today.]

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Ridding the World of Landmines
Senate Floor
April 9, 2014

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, imagine if 15 percent of the land area of your state was littered with a hundred thousand landmines.  Each one a tiny explosive, buried a few inches beneath the surface of the ground that explodes when an unsuspecting person steps on it. 

Each one capable of killing a child, or blowing the legs off an adult.

If it sounds farfetched, it is not.  That is the reality today for many countries – from Vietnam to Angola to Colombia.

If that were the reality in our states, I think we would agree that these inherently indiscriminate weapons – designed to be triggered by the victim regardless of whether it is a civilian or combatant – do not belong in the arsenal of a civilized country.  

In fact, 161 nations have already agreed, and they have joined an international treaty banning them.  They include every member of NATO except the United States.  They include every country in this hemisphere except Cuba and the United States.

We condemn the use of IED’s against our soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan, as we should.  Why not anti-personnel landmines?  There is no appreciable difference.

Again, I ask this:  If landmines were littering this country – in schoolyards, along roads, in corn fields, in our national parks – and hundreds of American children were being crippled like this Cambodian girl who lost her left foot, how long would it take before the White House sent the Mine Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification?  Two days?  Two weeks?  I doubt it would be longer.

We hear the same excuses, year after year.  Yet if you get beyond the talking points and the power points, it is really about bureaucratic inertia and a lack of leadership.

For 20 years the Pentagon has insisted that Korea is the problem.  But 20 years later there is no evidence they have done anything to revise their Korea war plans without anti-personnel mines, or that any President has ever told them to.

The U.S. Government deserves credit for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clear mines and help mine survivors.  The Leahy War Victims Fund has been an important part of that.

But this girl, and there are countless more like her – thousands of new mine victims each year – show the other, tragic side of the story. 

Americans expect more from their government.  So do I.  So should every Member of Congress.     

It has been 20 years since President Bill Clinton at the United Nations called for the elimination of anti-personnel landmines.  Two years later, in 1996, he said, quote:  “Today I am launching an international effort to ban anti-personnel land mines.” 

Eighteen years later, we are still waiting.  We are waiting for action, not words.

I have spoken with President Obama about this.  I was encouraged when, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, he said, quote:  “I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”  

Coincidently, that was a decade after the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. 

How fitting it would be if President Obama gave real meaning to those words by putting the United States on a path to join the Mine Ban Treaty. 

That is what he needs to do.  It is what the world needs.

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