WASHINGTON (August 5, 1997) -- In the continuing effort to press the United States government to participate in international efforts to secure an early ban on landmines, the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference has again urged President Clinton to exercise "strong, unambiguous, and convincing U.S. leadership now" on antipersonnel landmines.
According to Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, "bold action by the United States on this vital moral question could improve dramatically prospects for achieving this goal [of a global ban], not in the distant future but before we begin a new century."
Specifically, Bishop Pilla urged the U.S. government to become "fully engaged in the Ottawa Process," given the lack of progress to date in the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. The Ottawa Process, which President Clinton declined to endorse earlier this year, is a "fast-track" process that will convene states to sign a treaty banning antipersonnel landmines in December. Nearly 100 nations have already committed themselves to this process. It is expected that it will take years to conclude a treaty within the U.N. structure.
Bishop Pilla also urged the President to "lead by example" and support congressional legislation that would end new U.S. deployments of antipersonnel landmines, beginning in 2000.
Bishop Pilla's letter was hand-delivered on July 31 to Mr. Sandy Berger, the President's National Security Advisor, by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, the chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee.
In addition to urging stronger leadership on landmines, Archbishop McCarrick expressed concerns about the stalemated Middle East peace process and the difficulties faced by the Christian community in the Holy Land. In discussing religious freedom around the world, Archbishop McCarrick thanked Mr. Berger for the Clinton administration's recent high-level opposition to a restrictive Russian law on religion, and urged similarly strong action on behalf of religious freedom in China. Other issues discussed included the Cuban embargo's impact on humanitarian aid shipments and the continuing problems of refugees in the Balkans, from where Archbishop McCarrick recently returned.
Bishop Pilla's letter and Archbishop McCarrick's meeting are the latest in a series of communications between the Catholic Bishops and the U.S. government on landmines. In June "The Catholic Campaign to Ban Landmines," coordinated by the USCC, was launched to educate Catholics in the United States about the moral aspects of landmine use and to increase pressure on policy makers to endorse a quick ban on landmine production and use. 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. There are more landmines in the African nation of Angola than children.