WASHINGTON, (January 14, 1997) -- The U.S. must exert "unambiguous and convincing" leadership now to secure a global ban on anti-personnel landmines, the president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops has urged President Clinton as he decides how to proceed toward a ban.
In a letter sent to the White House yesterday, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, welcomed the Clinton Administration's stated goal of a global ban on what he called "these indiscriminate weapons," and urged the U.S. government to go beyond the "limited steps it has taken thus far."
"Your upcoming decision on U.S. participation in the Ottawa Process offers a critical opportunity for the United States to take serious steps toward its stated commitment to negotiate an effective and verifiable ban without unnecessary delay," Bishop Pilla said. "We urge you to join with other nations committed to a global ban to press ahead in international efforts to advance this objective."
President Clinton is expected to decide soon whether to pursue a landmines ban through the Ottawa process, a Canadian-led effort to convene like-minded states to sign a treaty banning landmines in December 1997, or to pursue more limited objectives, such as a ban on mine exports, that have a greater chance of including Russia, China, and other countries opposed to a total ban.
In noting the current moratorium on U.S. landmine exports and the one-year moratorium on U.S. use of landmines, Bishop Pilla said the "prospects for a global ban could be enhanced if the United States continues to lead by example. Independent initiatives could include making permanent the current moratorium on exports, considering a moratorium or ban on production, and reopening the matter of a renunciation of use. These and similar actions by the United States could further the process of stigmatizing these indiscriminate weapons, which is an essential part of pursuing a global ban."
A global ban on anti-personnel landmines has been an objective of Catholic Bishops around the world for several years. The U.S. Bishops issued a major statement on landmines and the arms trade, Sowing Weapons of War, in June 1995. Pope John Paul II has appealed to world leaders to "renounce such instruments of death and adopt a definitive ban on their production, sale, and use." Opposition to landmines, however, is not limited to religious figures. Last April, 14 retired U.S. generals and one retired admiral signed on to an effort to eliminate the weapons, including retired General Norman Schwartzkopf who is reported to have said that such an effort would be "humane" and "militarily responsible."
It is estimated that 100 million landmines are strewn around the
world, maiming and killing an estimated 500 people per week, most
of whom are civilians.