Obama asked to review policy on landmines, clusterbombs

Leaders from 67 national organizations representing a wide cross-section of American values and constituencies issued a strong call today for President Obama to reconsider U.S. opposition to global treaties prohibiting the use, transfer, and production of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions.

The signers include the Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the head of Evangelicals for Social Action, the President and CEO of CARE, the heads of communion of seven major U.S. churches, two former U.S. ambassadors, and one former senator.

According to the letter, “Reconsidering these two treaties – and eliminating the threat that U.S. forces might use weapons that most of the world has condemned – would greatly aid efforts to reassert our nation’s moral leadership.”

Though then-Sen. Obama was supportive of efforts to restrict landmines and cluster munitions while serving in the Senate, the new president and his administration have not yet taken a position on either treaty.

In December, while nearly 100 nations were gathered in Olso, Norway to sign a treaty banning cluster munitions, a spokeswoman for the Obama Transition Team said that the new administration would “carefully review the new treaty and work closely [with] our friends and allies to ensure that the United States is doing everything feasible to promote protection of civilians.”

The national organizations are calling on President Obama to launch a balanced review within the next six months of the past administration’s decision to stand outside of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The signers ask the president to undertake a review that equally weighs the humanitarian and diplomatic interests of the United States, as well as U.S. military interests, recognizing that Pentagon opposition has kept the U.S. outside of both treaties.

The groups point out that the U.S. military has not deployed antipersonnel landmines since 1992, and it has not used cluster munitions since 2003.

“Every day, JRS programs seek to relieve the suffering of the victims of the tragic effects of land mines and cluster bombs, which take a terrible toll on the lives of refugees and internally displaced persons, killing and maiming the innocent and preventing families in war – torn regions from returning to their homes,” said Fr. Kenneth J. Gavin, S.J., Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was completed and signed by 95 countries in December 2008, follows in the model of the decade-old Mine Ban Treaty, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in March. The United States is one of only 39 nations in the world that is not party to the latter treaty.

Both treaties were negotiated by government leaders, with the support of civil society groups and the International Committee on the Red Cross, aiming to end the use of weapons that disproportionately kill and maim civilians, to promote assistance to victims and victimized communities, and to aid in mine and cluster submunition clearance efforts.

The letter notes that, “The closest allies of United States negotiated the Convention on Cluster Munitions based on their conclusion that these indiscriminate and unreliable weapons pose an unacceptable threat to civilian populations during and long after combat operations have ceased – in much the same way as do landmines.”

On Wednesday, February 11, Senators Patrick Leahy and Diane Feinstein and Representative James McGovern will reintroduce the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act, legislation that would prohibit the use by U.S. troops of highly unreliable cluster munitions that leave behind large numbers of landmine-like cluster submunitions on the ground, as well as any use of cluster munitions in civilian-populated areas. Leahy and McGovern have also been leaders in Congressional efforts over the past 15 years to restrict U.S. use and export of antipersonnel landmines.

The letter was organized by the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), a coalition of religious, veterans, medical, peace, humanitarian, and human rights organizations and thousands of individual members who support U.S. participation in the Mine Ban Treaty. The campaign also encourages the government to increase U.S. funding for mine clearance and landmine victim assistance programs. The USCBL, a member of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines, is coordinated by and based at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington, D.C.

Read the letter to President Obama here.

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