Nairobi — The United States' actions and measures have much in common with the precepts behind the Ottawa Convention, says Ambassador WILLIAM BELLAMY.The United States of America applauds the humanitarian efforts of the countries and organisations gathered this week for the Nairobi Summit on the Ottawa Convention.
We welcome and share their interest in reducing and eventually eliminating the threat of landmines to innocent civilians. The US is strongly committed to this goal and we are proud of the fact that much of the progress that will be celebrated in Nairobi is due to our efforts.
So why isn't the United States participating in the Summit? Simply put, we are not a party to the Ottawa Convention and we are unable to join it because of concern for our men and women in uniform and because of our security responsibilities around the world to our friends and allies.
Does this mean that the US is against the precepts behind the Ottawa Convention? Absolutely not. The nations that are part of the Ottawa Convention have made great progress in curbing the manufacture and export of anti-personnel landmines, reducing stockpiles, and generating resources for mine action programs around the world.
The US's actions and the measures of the Ottawa Convention actually have much in common. For example, in 1992, five years before the Ottawa Convention was created, the US banned the export of its anti-personnel landmines. That ban remains US law. In 1996, the US began clearing the last permanent minefield that it had laid - on the perimeter of its base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 1998, the US completed destruction of more than 3.3 million of its persistent (non-self-destructing) anti-personnel landmines, keeping only enough for the defence of South Korea, training and research - the last two exceptions permissible under the Ottawa Convention.
But perhaps the most important step by America was to establish the US Humanitarian Mine Action Program to render assistance to mine-affected countries around the world. Just this year alone, the program, the largest in the world, achieved several successes that will be discussed at the Summit.
In January, Djibouti became the first African nation safe from the humanitarian impact of landmines (mine-safe), thanks to US assistance and the excellent work of Djibouti's US-trained deminers. In October, the US program enabled Honduras to also become mine-safe.
The US program is also helping to reduce Angola's terrible landmine burden, is opening a key railroad in Mozambique so that valuable produce can be exported thereby enriching Mozambican farmers, and opened eight kilometres of a vital road in Sudan's Nuba Mountains so that displaced persons could return to their homes without risking their lives due to landmines.
US assistance enabled Rwanda to build a national mine action programme leading to injuries from landmines and unexploded ordnance dropping from 218 in 1994 to zero in 2003. Roughly 600,000 Rwandans have returned to their homes and farms now that landmines there have been cleared.
Next year, thanks in part to the United States, Namibia should be able to declare itself mine-safe. The United States even established the world's first Quick Reaction Demining Force that is based in Mozambique where it clears mines in between global deployments.
The United States will continue to work with other nations to advance humanitarian mine action, regardless of their stance on the Ottawa Convention.
Our record is proof of our sincerity. Since the United States helped to invent humanitarian mine action in Afghanistan in 1988, it has invested over $900 million in demining, mine risk education, mine survivors assistance, and research on better ways to detect and clear landmines, in nearly 50 countries worldwide. Next year the US investment in humanitarian mine action will reach $1 billion dollars!
In our view, it is time to put aside differences over paper treaties and focus on concrete steps where they are needed most - in the minefields of the world. Let us work together so that everyone may join the people of Djibouti, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Moldova, Kosovo Province, and soon Namibia, to walk the earth in safety. On behalf of the Government of the United States, I wish success to every nation that wishes to protect civilians from the harm done by indiscriminate use of persistent landmines.
The writer is the United States' Ambassador to Kenya.