Campaigners push Biden to dump Trump-era landmine policy

US will have to defend its continued use of landmines to the UN on Thursday

Women participate in efforts to clear landmines in Basra, Iraq March 27, 2021. Picture taken March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Aty. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

The Biden administration is under pressure to abandon former president Donald Trump’s policy of stocking anti-personnel landmines in US arsenals and permitting their use on the battlefield.

US politicians and groups such as Amnesty International and Civic have urged President Joe Biden to walk the talk on human rights and eschew the weapons, which detonate indiscriminately and have killed and maimed countless civilians, including children.

In January 2020, the Trump administration flouted an international ban by permitting the use of anti-personnel landmines as long as they could be deactivated remotely.

On Wednesday, Patrick Leahy, a US senator from the Democratic Party, urged Mr Biden to “return to the Obama policy on landmines” and “renounce these indiscriminate weapons that have no place in the arsenal of civilised nations”.

Adotei Akwei, Amnesty’s advocacy director, urged the Biden administration to dump Mr Trump’s “outdated and destructive” policy on the devices and follow US allies by joining the global Mine Ban Treaty signed in the late 1990s.

“This landmine policy starkly sets the US apart from its allies,” Mr Akwei said.

“It is in direct opposition with President Biden’s aspirations to be a global human rights leader – for the US to truly be a leader, it must change its landmines policy as soon as possible.”

Federico Borello, director of the Centre for Civilians in Conflict, urged Mr Biden to “overturn the policy of the previous administration and replace it with one that bans the use, production, acquisition and transfer of these dangerous weapons”.

“Anti-personnel landmines are indiscriminate weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, and especially children, both at their time of deployment and for decades after,” Mr Borello said.

But the Pentagon has called the weapons a vital tool for modern warfare.

On Tuesday, Press Secretary John Kirby said the Trump-era policy from former defence secretary Mark Esper was under review.

“We’re analysing the process by which that decision was made, to continue to espouse conventional landmine use,” Mr Kirby said.

“And when we complete that analysis of that decision, then we’ll be able to have a better idea of whether or not further review of our landmine policy is warranted.”

The UN has long campaigned against the use of anti-personnel landmines. The devices are banned in more than 160 countries and the Ottawa Convention has, since 1997, set standards against their use.

Nations that have not signed the pact include the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and North Korea.

On Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is due to address a ministerial-level Security Council meeting on the use of landmines at which a US envoy is expected to account for Washington’s position.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday lamented the cost of clearing landmines from conflict zones and the “damage that is left behind, the children that are killed” by the devices, which are laid on or beneath the ground.

In February, France pledged an extra $617,000 to support UN demining teams in Iraq, where unexploded weapons left behind by ISIS continue to threaten the lives of civilians.