Volume 11 Number 2
The Struggle to Ban a Diabolical Weapon
01 April 1998
Yukihisa Fujita is a Member of the Japanese House of Representatives and the Deputy Director General of the Democratic Party of Japan's Global Citizens' Bureau.
A total of 119 million anti-personnel landmines (AP mines) lurk just beneath the ground in 71 countries. They destroy the lives or limbs of 70 people every day. They can explode 100 years after they have been laid.
The end of the Cold War did not end civil wars, and now most AP mine victims are peasants, not soldiers. One fifth are children under the age of 15. Since these mines have been designed to burden hostile armies with wounded troops rather than allow them to leave their dead behind in a quick retreat, amputation and blindness are legion among survivors.
In February 1989, I delivered wheelchairs to the Site 2 refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodia border and saw at first hand the suffering of victims of landmines. I was there on behalf of the Association to Aid the Refugees (AAR), a Japanese NGO founded by Yukika Sohma. Ceasefires and peace treaties are hollow when such accidents continue. This tragedy calls for a global solution. It is a humanitarian rather than a military issue.
Restrictions on the use of AP mines under the 1983 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons did not stem the tide of destruction. In October 1996, Canada proposed the Ottawa Process in which states agreeing to a global ban on AP mines with 'no exceptions, no conditions, no loopholes' would sign a treaty by the end of 1997. The Belgian, Norwegian, Austrian and other governments promoted it, and NGOs worldwide formed a powerful network to pressurize national governments. They proposed a complete ban on the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of AP mines.
By contrast, the United States set itself against the Ottawa Process in January 1997 by proposing to take up the issue at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. In the same month, the Princess of Wales called for a total ban from an Angolan minefield. Her appeal led Britain's new Labour government to change its policy in May, and her sudden death on 31 August mobilized public opinion around the world.
The Conference on Disarmament adjourned in September without having discussed AP mines. In the same month, however, over 100 states assembled in Oslo and agreed a draft treaty for Ottawa. The announcement in October that the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its leader Jody Williams had won the Nobel Peace Prize gave another boost for a total ban.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government's incoherent approach to a ban treaty was causing distrust abroad. At the Lyons Summit in May 1996, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto stated the government's support for a total ban and announced that they would host a Tokyo Conference on AP landmines in March 1997. Japan attended the Ottawa Conference as a full participant in October 1996 and, that December, became one of the 88 co-sponsors of the UN resolution urging a ban treaty.
Yet when I attended the Tokyo Conference in March 1997, I was dismayed that the government had dropped a total ban from the agenda. Immediately after the official conference, I met Ms Williams at the NGO Tokyo Conference '97 on Anti-Personnel Landmines. I redoubled my efforts, although I had been pressing the government, through Diet questions, to get on board the Ottawa Process since December 1996.
The AAR, a member of the ICBL, had published a picture book called Not mines, but flowers. The net profit of £3 from the sale of each copy pays for the Halo Trust of retired British soldiers to clear mines from ten square metres of land in Cambodia. I have been asking MPs to buy this book ever since I was elected in October 1996. Members from all the political parties have purchased more than 4,000 copies, making it a best-seller in the Diet. (The book and its sequel have sold over 300,000 copies worldwide.) In June 1997, Japan participated only as an observer in the Brussels Conference, and then nearly withdrew from the Ottawa Process. With support from other MPs, including a former commando officer now in the ruling Liberal Democratic party, I enlisted 388 Diet members from all the parties -- over half the Japanese Diet -- to petition the prime minister for a total ban. Many of us also founded the Diet Members' League for a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Landmines.
Although Japan attended the Oslo conference in September, it continued to support exceptions and reservations originally proposed by the USA -- even after the latter withdrew from the Ottawa Process. However, on the day after the conference ended, the new Foreign Minister, Keizo Obuchi, objected to his government's intention not to sign the treaty. In October, following the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Diet Members' League requested Prime Minister Hashimoto, Obuchi and Defence Agency Director Fumio Kyuma to see that Japan sign the treaty.
In December, Obuchi flew to Ottawa to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. This was a victory for Japan's civil society, lawmakers and enlightened military officers as well as the world's most powerless people -- 'a new superpower', in Ms Williams' words, is at work.
It is only the first step. Now we must work towards Japan's early ratification of the Ottawa Treaty so that we can contribute to its implementation; monitor the use of the £50 million in official development assistance promised by Obuchi for victim assistance and mine clearance; negotiate the withdrawal of US AP mines from Japan in cooperation with the NATO countries which have signed the treaty; and ensure that ground defence alternatives to AP mines will not be so indiscriminately destructive.