By Andy Sambidge
Human Rights Watch applauds move by sultanate; says it hopes more MidEast countries will follow suit
Oman has joined the international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines, Human Rights Watch has announced.
The sultanate is the eighth Arab country and 162nd country worldwide to join, the rights group said in a statement.
It added that the move should encourage the remaining 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa to join the Mine Ban Treaty and respect its provisions.
More than half of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa are affected by uncleared landmines and explosive remnants of war.
New casualties caused by landmines and these explosive remnants were reported in 2012 – the most recent year for which complete information is available – in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen.
“Oman has finally recognized that the long-term threat landmines pose to civilians far outweighs any military utility these weapons might provide,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Oman’s decision to relinquish these weapons sends a strong signal to other governments across the region that now is the time to join the landmine ban.”
The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty bans the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines and requires clearance of mined areas within 10 years as well as assistance to landmine victims.
Treaty members include eight countries from the Middle East and North Africa – Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, and Yemen.
In March, Oman's foreign affairs minister, Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, informed the Mine Ban Treaty envoy, Princess Astrid of Belgium, of the government’s decision to join the Mine Ban Treaty. The Mine Ban Treaty will take effect for Oman after a mandatory six-month waiting period.
Government officials have indicated that Oman has never produced or exported antipersonnel landmines, but it is believed to have imported and used them in the past.
Several of the Middle Eastern and North African countries that have yet to join the Mine Ban Treaty remain staunchly opposed to it, including former landmine producer Egypt, landmine producer Iran, and landmine users Israel and Syria.
Morocco has stated that it voluntarily adheres to the treaty’s provisions and regularly participates as an observer in key meetings of the Mine Ban Treaty along with other non-signatories from the region – Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.