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India and the Ottawa Treaty

Dr Medha Bisht is Senior Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi; and former Associate Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA.Click here for detailed profile.
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  • September 26, 2007

    As the Ottawa treaty completes a decade this September, it has been termed a "success in progress" by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). ICBL is upbeat about its vision and mission to put in place a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel landmines. The treaty attempted to redefine the understanding of security by focusing on the consequences that the traditional meaning of security have on the lives of common men and women. Thus, the utility of weapons, be they for defensive or offensive purposes, was for the first time assessed on the basis of freedom from fear - a broadened understanding of security conceptualized by the UNDP Report 1994. For the first time, linkages were drawn to the socio-economic rights of the people, and the human rights debate came to be seen as congruent with the debate on human security. Human rights was thus articulated in terms not only of the first generation of civil and political rights but was expanded to include second generation social and economic rights. This expanded definition of rights was reflected in arguments that highlighted the socio- economic impact that landmines have on the lives of people across the globe. A major factor that facilitated change in the perception of state actors on their understanding of security was the advocacy and effective lobbying unleashed by national and transnational organisations to ban landmines.

    India has not joined the treaty, its main reservation being "legitimate national security concerns" relating to its borders along which minefields constitute an important component of its defence plans. At the same time, it needs to be noted that while the Indian government has shown willingness to reject the use of landmines, it has however shied away from an outright ban on these weapons. A party to the Amended Protocol II (1996) of the Convention on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, 1980, India has claimed that low metal content mines are no longer being produced in the country and that efforts are being made to produce detectable mines. The 2005 Landmine Monitor Report estimates that India has about four to five million of these weapons - the sixth largest stockpile in the world. However, India's stance on the issue of landmines is slowly changing. Of late, it has been showing interest in engaging with the Ottawa Treaty. Its attendance at the First Review conference in Nairobi (2004) gained it observer status. An Indian delegate to the sixth meeting of state parties in 2006 stated that "India's participation is a reflection of our commitment to the common vision of a world free of the threat of landmines and unexploded ordnance."

    The Ottawa treaty mandates a ban on the use of mines as well as on their development, production, stockpiling and transfer. India's categorical statement against mine use would buttress the work of international humanitarian organizations like Geneva Call, which is dedicated to engaging non-state actors to respect and adhere to humanitarian norms. Geneva Call has also successfully persuaded some non-state actors to sign a deed of commitment, wherein they commit themselves to a total prohibition on the use, production, acquisition, transfer and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines and other victim activated explosive devices. In fact it would be apt to bring into notice the efforts of Geneva Call to engage two rebel outfits in North-East India-the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and National Socialist Council of Nagalim. The NSCN was the first rebel outfit to sign a deed of commitment with Geneva Call in October 2003. The KNO and its armed wings followed suit in August 2006. The driving force behind their signing of the deed of commitment was the socio-economic impact that landmines have had on the livelihood of the common people.

    India's commitment to the mine ban treaty could be the forerunner to a fresh initiative by the government to address the Naxal problem from an alternate perspective and also minimize the potential use of these weapons by Naxals in the long term. However, India first needs to take a morally categorical stand on banning these weapons, before any efforts are made to persuade and engage armed outfits in the country.

    Though India seems to justify its landmine policy, it needs to address its security problems through diplomatic efforts. The adverse impact on civilians of the use of landmines during Operation Parakram, when around two million anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines were laid along the India-Pakistan border, has been brought out by various reports in the news media. Firstly, many army personnel themselves died and hundreds were injured while the mines were being laid. Civilians were also affected because mines were sometimes laid in inadequately marked and fenced locations close to civilian areas. Using landmines exacts a heavy toll not only on human life and safety but also adversely affects their livelihood given that mines are often laid on fertile land along the border in Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Proposals for a joint moratorium between India and Pakistan need to be explored in this regard.

    Civil society initiatives in India should make the landmine issue more visible in official policy and decision making circles so as to sensitize Indian minds about the overarching consequences that the use of landmines can have on the security of individuals. In fact, the landmine issue is a stern reminder for the need to go beyond a state-centred understanding and include a societal understanding of security issues.