The Ottawa Convention prohibiting antipersonnel mines has set the international standard of action to address in a conclusive manner the human suffering caused by land mines. The efforts of the convention since it took effect five years ago have markedly reduced the use and supply of antipersonnel mines, and few new land mines are being produced. Convention members have destroyed more than 31 million stockpiled mines, vast tracts of mined land have been cleared, and the number of new victims is decreasing.
There is ample evidence that when the U.S. chooses to take a progressive lead it can have a strong positive world impact. Bill Clinton was the first international leader to call for a total ban on antipersonnel mines and at this point five years later, 141 countries have accepted and ratified the convention. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has announced that it will turn its back on it--once again reaffirming that while international rules are fine for the rest of the world, the United States will go its own way. (See column by Wolfgang Petritsch, Austria's ambassador to the United Nations and president-designate of the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World: International Herald Tribune, March 3, 2004.) The current administration recently announced that it isn't yet prepared to ratify the convention. While virtually all of our allies have accepted the Ottawa Convention, the Bush administration seems to think that our armed forces might have a tactical need for antipersonnel mines to protect America from terrorism. This policy runs directly counter to our stated humanitarian objectives.
This puts one in mind of the U.S. being unable to ratify the 1948 UN Genocide Convention for more than four decades after dozens of other countries had signed it. Taking so long that someone as noteworthy as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren could say: "We, as a nation, should have been the first ratify the Genocide Convention ...Instead, we may well be near the last." Recall that Senator William Proxmire, bless his persevering tenacity and determination, on January, 11, 1967, stood up on the Senate floor to deliver his first genocide speech. He unceremoniously announced his intention to begin a campaign that would not cease until the United States had ratified the Genocide Convention. He declared: "The U.S. Senate's failure to act has become a national shame... I serve notice today that from now on I intend to speak day after day in this body to remind the Senate of our failure to act and of the necessity for prompt action."
Senator Proxmire then proceeded, without ever repeating himself, to make daily speeches on this issue over the next nineteen years. He made 3,211 speeches on genocide and the need for convention ratification. He made his final speech on the subject on October 19, 1988--at the point when the Genocide Convention was finally ratified by the U.S. Senate. By that time it had already been ratified by 97 other countries, including all the major world powers. And even at that, it wasn't ratified until conservative senators (Jesse Helms, Orrin Hatch, and Richard Lugar) had added a rider of reservations, understandings, and declarations which rendered the treaty virtually meaningless. One reservation held that before the United States could be called as a party to any case before the ICJ (International Court of Justice), the president would have to consent to the court's jurisdiction. Only the United States would decide whether it would appear before the World Court. This is directly analogous to our being unable to try a person for murder unless he first agreed to the trial.
We've broken our own record for bullheaded inflexibility. Where a mere 97 countries preceded us to the humanitarian high ground with the ratification of the Genocide Convention, we now have 141 countries (and still counting) preceding us on ratification of the Ottawa Convention. Do we need another Proxmire to badger us for forty years about our moral and humanitarian responsibility to ratify the Ottawa Convention? Do we have any interest at all in membership in the international community?
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