|Anti-personnel mines claim many casualties every year, often in the very poorest countries. The European Union has decided to go beyond the international obligations laid down in the Ottowa Convention and do more to prevent these tragedies. MEPs have always taken a close interest in this issue, and the European Parliament ensured that Community legislation adopted in 2001 required all stockpiles of mines held by Member States to be eliminated as part of a broad prevention strategy. Special EU budget funding for measures to deal with anti-personnel mines was also introduced at Parliament's prompting.
Anti-personnel mines do not discriminate between soldiers and civilians, and often explode in areas where the civilian population is attempting to cope with the aftermath of an armed conflict. Unless they are removed or neutralised, these mines constitute a lingering threat for years to come.
Following pressure from civil society organisations, 122 countries signed the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines in December 1997. Since then, stocks of over 30 million mines have been destroyed by the Convention's signatory states. But although over 110 countries no longer use anti-personnel mines, much remains to be done. Around 65 countries still suffer from the continued presence of mines. The estimated number of new landmine casualties each year is between 15 000 and 20 000, a great many of whom are civilians, including children. Mines not only cause the loss of human life and horrific mutilation but also hinder the economic and social recovery of countries that have been the theatre of conflicts or civil wars.
A budget of 140 million euros
The legislation agreed by the Council of Ministers and Parliament on the basis of a draft from the Commission has several main goals. Firstly, to set up specific EU funding and a legal instrument to ensure that maximum resources can be used for mine clearance operations, assistance to victims, education and research into the most effective methods. A budget of 140 million euros has been set aside for the period 2002-2009 purely for mine-related measures. This budget ensures that the EU's policy is an ongoing one, without the need for fresh negotiations on the funding every year. Action against anti-personnel mines calls for decision-making procedures that reflect the global scale and gravity of the problem. They must be quick, flexible and effective. Other measures have also been adopted, and the overall financing devoted by the EU to this campaign is in the order of 240 million euros.
A second goal is to meet urgent humanitarian needs by preventing mutilation and loss of life, and providing assistance for the rehabilitation of victims. However, anti-personnel mines and other unexploded munitions pose a major obstacle to the restoration of normal economic and social activity. This calls for the kind of long-term commitment that emergency humanitarian aid and reconstruction are unable to provide.
The EU's strategy consists of giving priority to training with a view to boosting local capabilities in the countries affected. This approach has been backed by Parliament, which has promoted the 'civilian strategy' that is now widely used by the international community. MEPs believe that the training up of specialised personnel will enable local populations, on the one hand, to pursue a policy of prevention and, on the other hand, to benefit from existing international structures.
The operations financed under the Community legislation comprise a whole range of measures such as mine awareness education, the training of specialists, the surveying and marking of suspected areas, detection, mine clearance and the destruction of mines in the ground, the destruction of stockpiles, assistance to and the rehabilitation and socio-economic reintegration of mine victims and, finally, information management.
The EU also provides financial support to partners such as NGOs and agencies with specialised know-how. Lastly, funding is provided under the budget for suitable mine clearance equipment for the countries affected, which can vary greatly according to the type of terrain in which the mines have been laid.
More recently, in its Resolution of 22 April 2004, the European Parliament again urged all states to sign and ratify the Ottowa Convention. In particular, it called on the United States to reconsider its decision not to sign up to the Convention. Parliament thus hopes that all parties, including non-state actors, will agree to establish a total ban on anti-personnel mines.