In January 1997, Diana, princess of Wales, famously walked through an active minefield in Angola to raise awareness of the ongoing threats posed by land mines. During her visit, with the help of a removal expert, Diana detonated one of the remaining mines.
“One down, 17 million to go,” she said while pushing the button.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of death of Diana, a passionate advocate for land-mine eradication, as well as the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The treaty, signed Sept. 18, 1997, is an international agreement signed by 163 countries (most recently the Marshall Islands) with the goal of creating a mine-free world by 2025.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) are sister organizations that monitor that 1997 treaty and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, respectively. And each year, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a program within ICBL-CMC, issues reports on international progress.
The Monitor’s most recent reports did highlight some negative trends: 2015 reached a 10-year high with 6,461 mine casualties, and casualties from cluster munitions doubled in 2016 from the year before, to 971 deaths.
All land-mine casualties are unfortunate, says Stephen Goose, director of the Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, but it is important to remember how far the world has come. Before the treaty in the mid-1990s, says Mr. Goose, it was common to have 26,000 casualties per year, almost nine times greater than recent annual rates. And despite the overall increase, largely due to the civil war in Syria, the majority of countries saw a decline.
“The increased casualties are alarming,” says Jeff Abramson, program manager at the Monitor, “but the bigger picture is that these have been successful treaties.”
International support for the treaties has not only drastically reduced civilian casualties, but also stigmatized the use of these weapons. Because of these treaties, even countries who are not signatories (such as the United States), feel a responsibility to disavow the new use of land mines and cluster munitions and aid cleanup efforts around the world.
Cleared land, where children can walk to school without fear of stepping on land mines, is a direct result of this aid. According to the 2016 Landmine Monitor report, almost 370 square miles of land were cleared of mines in the…