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Mines: summary of the present law

01-02-1995

Two sources of international law currently regulate the use of antipersonnel mines.

The first is international humanitarian law, two basic rules of which apply directly to antipersonnel mines, namely:

Parties to a conflict must always distinguish between civilians and combatants. Civilians may not be directly attacked and indiscriminate attacks and the use of indiscriminate weapons are prohibited.

It is prohibited to use weapons which cause unnecessary suffering. Therefore, the use of weapons whose damaging effects are disproportionate to their military purpose is prohibited.

These rules have become part of customary international law and thus apply to all States irrespective of their treaty obligations.

The second source is treaty law, which applies only to States party to specific treaties. The most relevant text is the 1980 United Nations Convention certain conventional weapons (CCW). Protocol II of this treaty is entitled Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices.

 The main provisions of the Protocol are as follows:  

Mines may be directed only at military objectives, indiscriminate use is prohibited and all feasible precautions must be taken to protect civilians.

Remotely-delivered mines may not be used unless their location is accurately recorded or they are fitted with an effective neutralizing mechanism.

Record must be kept of the location of pre-planned minefields, and th e parties to a conflict are also to keep records on other minefields laid during hostilities.

At the end of hostilities, the parties are to try to agree either among themselves or with other States or organizations to take the necessary measures to clear minefields.

 Shortcomings of the 1980 Convention  

Major weaknesses of the Convention are that (1) it does not apply to internal armed conflicts where most recent mine use has occurred, (2) no clear responsibility is assigned for removal of mines, (3) it does not prohibit the use of non-detectable mines, (4) provisions for remotely delivered mines are not strong enough, (5) provisions on the use of hand-enplaced mines are too weak, and (6) there is no effective implementation or monitoring mechanism. An additional problem is that, by late 1994, only 42 States had become party to the Convention. This may be attributed both to the weakness of its provisions and to the lack of mechanisms for follow-up and regular review. A number of States have announced their intention to ratify or accede to the Convention before the October 1995 Review Conference.

Given the serious flaws mentioned above, the 1980 Convention has had little or no effect on the use of anti-personnel mines in recent conflicts, with devastating results for civilian populations in many parts of the world. Strengthening of the Convention should be among the highest humanitarian priorities of the international community.

 The Review Conference of September-October 1995  

As a result of public pressure to respond to the crisis caused by land-mines the French government took the initiative in 1993 to ask for a Review Conference of the 1980 Convention. This was endorsed by States Parties which at the 1993 U.N. General Assembly ag reed to establish a " Group of Governmental Experts " to prepare revisions to the Convention and to make the necessary arrangements for a Review Conference. This Group met three times in 1994 and held its fourth and final meeting in January 1995. Its recommendations will be sent to all participating governments and to the Review Conference itself, which will be held from 25 September to 13 October 1995 in Vienna, Austria. At the Review Conference States Parties will consider amendments to the Convention submitted by the Group of Experts and may adopt them, as presented or in revised form, as new legally binding international norms.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was invited to participate in all meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts, to prepare for the Group background documentation and to present proposals covering land-mines and other weapon systems which could be considered as the subjects of new protocols. The Group of Governmental Experts has recommended that a new Protocol prohibiting the use of blinding laser weapons be considered for adoption by the Review Conference.

Participation in the Review Conference is open to all States. Non-governmental organisations may take part in its public sessions. The ICRC and U.N. agencies will participate as observers in all official meetings of the Review Conference.

A position paper on the substantive proposals prepared by the Group of Governmental Experts is available upon request from the ICRC.

International Committee of the Red Cross

February 1995