US commitment to stop using antipersonnel landmines anywhere in the world except Korea doesn't go far enough, say Human Rights Watch.
"It's good that the Obama administration is inching toward joining the Mine Ban Treaty, but Korean civilians need protections from these weapons just as much as the people in every other country," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines.
"A geographic exception to the ban is no more acceptable today than when the treaty was negotiated."
Under the new policy, the US will not use antipersonnel mines outside the Korean Peninsula and commits to "continue our diligent efforts to pursue material and operational solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to accede" to the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention.
The US said it would abide by key requirements of the 1999 accord everywhere except on the Korean Peninsula.
Numerous retired US military officers, including those who commanded forces in Korea, have said that using antipersonnel mines there is of little or no military value.
On June 27, 2014, the US announced a ban on US production of antipersonnel landmines and committed not to acquire or replace stockpiled mines "as they expire in the coming years." That policy announcement did not preclude the US from using its stockpile of 3 million self-destructing antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world.
Critics said there was no justification for the US' continued insistence on the right to use them on the Korean Peninsula.
"It cannot make the case that it is OK to use anti personnel mines in Korea but nowhere else on earth because of the long-term danger to civilians," said Goose.
The US has agreed to destroy its stockpile of 1.3 million landmines. However, there is also a supply of so-called smart landmines that can deactivate or self-destruct.
The United States has around 29,000 troops based in South Korea, which has remained technically at war with communist North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in stalemate.
A 2008 United Nations report said landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people every year.