By John Ryle
Indiscriminate use of landmines became widespread during the post-Cold War era. Cheap, effective and easy to transport, mines were increasingly used in internal conflicts as a means to control and terrorize civilians, in addition to their conventional military use as an area denial weapon.
In 1997, after a worldwide campaign, 122 governments signed a ban on antipersonnel mines in Ottawa, Canada. Commonly known as the Mine Ban Treaty or the Ottawa Convention, it comprehensively prohibits the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of antipersonnel mines. It obliges State parties to it to clear mines they have laid and to make provision for their victims. By 2010, 156 States had ratified the convention. But major mine producers such as the United States, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan have not signed. The treaty has two other limitations: it does not cover antitank mines, non-State actors—rebels and insurgent groups—cannot be party to it.
Although the United States has announced self-imposed controls on the transfer of mines, te U.S. and other nonsignatories are legally bound only by the pre-existing Protocol II of the Conventional Weapons Convention of 1980 (Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons That May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects), which is widely agreed to be vague and unenforceable.
Some legal specialists, however, have argued that all mines are unlawful under customary international law, which prohibits the use of weapons that are by their nature indiscriminate.