Human rights and disarmament activists reacted bitterly Wednesday to the decision by the administration of President Barack Obama, who will receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize next month, not to sign the 10-year-old treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.
The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), a coalition of scores of activist groups, called the administration’s decision "shocking," while Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the Campaign’s most influential members, described it as "reprehensible."
"President Obama’s decision to cling to anti-personnel mines keeps the U.S. on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity," said Steve Goose, the director of HRW’s Arms Division, who also noted that Washington stood alone among its NATO allies in refusing to sign the treaty.
"This decision lacks vision, compassion, and basic common sense, and contradicts the Obama administration’s professed emphasis on multilateralism, disarmament, and humanitarian affairs," he added.
A leading Democratic lawmaker, who spearheaded the drive in the early 1990s to ban Washington’s export of the weapon to other countries, also decried the decision, which was announced by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly Tuesday.
Sen. Patrick Leahy said the decision constituted a "default of U.S. leadership" and charged that it appeared to be based on a review that "can only be described as cursory and half-hearted."
Like Leahy, the USCBL, which is part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), said it was especially disappointed by the way the administration’s review of the treaty was carried out.
"While we were told to expect a landmine policy review… we were taken by surprise that it had already been concluded behind closed doors without the consultation of non-governmental aid workers, legislators, and important U.S. NATO allies who are all States Parties to the treaty," said Zach Hudson, the group’s coordinator.
"We also have been offered no official reasons as to why the U.S. would continue on this present course – other than that nothing has changed since Bush reviewed the policy in 2004," he added. "President Obama should explain these actions to the international community, which held such high hopes for a different kind of U.S. engagement."
"It’s painful that President Obama has chosen to reject the Mine Ban Treaty just weeks before he joins the ranks of Nobel peace laureates, including the ICBL," Goose added.(Inter Press Service)