Landmines Bill - Tribute or Betrayal?

On 10 July, the historic Landmine Bill was passed through parliament with great speed to be in place for the first anniversary of Diana's death. But is it a tribute to her memory, or a betrayal of her cause?

Certainly it is an unprecedented piece of legislation in the UK, a vast improvement on the previous laws and it should enable the UK to ratify the Ottawa Treaty: an international convention banning the use, production, sale and transfer of anti-personnel land mines in all circumstances. The government is to be congratulated on its progress.


Explosion from a landmine

However, there is a certain amount of doubt over the exact meaning of the Landmines Bill. Does it really mean that the UK will never use anti-personnel mines in any circumstances, or does it leave loopholes? Robin Cook has gone on record, on national television and in parliament, to deny that there are any loopholes. He has categorically stated that UK troops will never be involved with the use of anti-personnel mines in any way.

In future conflicts where UK troops are present, Robin Cook will have to be held to his words because the Landmines Bill in many people's eyes is not water tight. Anti-mine campaigners have to hope that Robin Cook's current interpretation of the law will be adhered to by this and future governments and that UK troops will never use anti-personnel mines under any circumstances.

The possible different interpretations arise in clause 5 of the bill which prohibits only the laying of anti-personnel mines. So, British military personnel can still be involved in international military operations to possess, transport and transfer anti-personnel mines and even to assist, encourage and induce others in the laying of mines!

Furthermore, the first clause of the bill states that an anti-vehicle mine with an anti-handling device is not an anti-personnel mine. However, anti-vehicle mines with anti-handling devices can be lethal to de-miners because they are designed to explode when handled. The mine does not know who is a soldier, who is a civilian and who is a child.

On balance, much progress has been made. But, it is vital for the campaign to continue to press for a better ban on anti-personnel mines to prevent Diana's campaign from becoming a mockery.

Clare, Greater Manchester Landmine Initiative (0161 834 8301, c/o gndcnd@gn.apc.org)