The Ottawa Conference On Anti-Personnel Mines
by Humanitarian Practice Network February 1997

From 3-5 October 1996, the Canadian Government hosted a meeting in Ottawa of states committed to the total elimination of anti-personnel mines (APMs). Of those countries present, 48 agreed to the ‘Ottawa Declaration’ calling for “the earliest possible conclusion of a legally binding international agreement to ban anti-personnel mines”. Canada challenged the participants to return to Ottawa in December 1997 to sign a global ban treaty to be implemented by the year 2000.

Participants at Ottawa also agreed to support a Canadian-US proposed resolution to the UN General Assembly to “pursue vigorously an effective legally-binding international agreement to ban use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines with a view to completing the negotiation as soon as possible”. The resolution passed the First Committee stage on 13 November 1996 with a vote of 141 to 0, ten countries abstaining.

A number of countries have been lobbying to have the APM issue dealt with by the UN Conference on Disarmament, the same negotiating body that has worked on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Around 50 states are members and agreement is made by consensus. Some commentators have interpreted this as a means by which those countries opposed to a ban will undermine the Ottawa initiative, because the need for consensus results only in agreements that satisfy the least cooperative member. One state can effectively stall the entire process.

Another threat to a global ban comes from the definition of APMs used in the revised Protocol II of the Inhumane Weapons Convention, in which APMs are classified by their ‘primary’ design, not by their effect. This may allow manufacturers and exporters to claim that their devices are not primarily anti-personnel landmines, and herald the development and deployment of new hybrid dual-purpose APMs.

On 1 October, the Council of Ministers of the EU adopted a new common EU position. This was announced in Ottawa and includes: a moratorium on the export of all APMs to all destinations; an appeal for national bans or restrictions complementary to those contained in the Inhumane Weapons Convention; and a pledge of a further 7 million ECU (approximately 5.6 million pounds) for mine clearance.