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Review Conference of the States Parties to the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects

03-05-1996 Statement

Statement by Mr. Eric Roethlisberger, vice-president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 3 May 1996

This day marks the conclusion of an initial diplomatic response to the immense human suffering caused by landmines. The results are indeed modest given the scale of the horror they attempt to address. But, fortunately, these results do not tell the whole story. This Conference has focused the attention of governments and their military forces on the humanitarian responsibilities involved in landmine use and the need for dramatic changes in their approach to these weapons. The ICRC is grateful for the privilege of participating in and contributing to this process. The history of the development of humanitarian law is an ongoing dialogue between legitimate military needs and the humanitarian concerns of all civilised society. We have sought to keep the spotlight on the human implications of options under consideration and the humanitarian costs of the compromises sought. We look forward to active involvement in future annual conferences and the second Review Conference.

The results achieved do not tell the whole story for another reason. Public conscience and a growing number of States have already stigmatised, as with poison gas, anti-personnel mines. Though not yet reflected in a global consensus, movement towards the elimination of these weapons has proceeded rapidly as State after State has reviewed the balance between military utility and humanitarian concerns and announced support for a ban, unilateral renunciation of production, use and transfer and the destruction of stockpiles. The assumption of moral and humanitarian responsibilities need not be negotiated; it need not await a global consensus. We are greatly encouraged that many States and regional bodies are already considering f urther steps.

Of the measures adopted today the ICRC considers several to be of particular importance:

*extension of the scope of Protocol II to non-international armed conflicts;

*clear assignment of responsibility for mine clearance to those who lay them;

*improved recording requirements; and

*the introduction of protection for humanitarian workers.

The introduction of  articles on transfers in Protocols II and IV are important steps in the development of humanitarian law. However the provision on mine transfers, if narrowly implemented, would represent for most States a step back from present practice. We expect therefore, that States will maintain their current comprehensive moratoria on transfers pursuant to recent resolutions of the UN General Assembly.

The limitations adopted on the use of landmines are, in our view, woefully inadequate. They will encourage the production, transfer and use of a new generation of mines while not prohibiting any existing types other than, eventually, non-detectable APMs. Taken together with the absence of verification measures for production, transfer or use, these measures are unlikely to significantly reduce the level of civilian landmine casualties. The victims of the landmine carnage of recent decades will find little solace in these results. The horrific numbers of landmine victims of recent years are set to continue unless governments squarely face their humanitarian responsibilities and do far more than required by the agreement adopted today.

The ICRC deeply regrets that, for the first time in a humanitarian law treaty, measures have been adopted which, instead of entirely prohibiting the use of an indiscri minate weapon, both permit its continued use and implicitly promote the use of new models which will have virtually the same effects, at least in the short term. Given its mandate and humanitarian responsibilities, the ICRC cannot promote the development and use of new weapons.  We nonetheless support the purpose of civilian protection embodied in Protocol II and will encourage further adherence to the Convention with a view to achieving dramatic improvements including a complete ban on anti-personnel mines. For this purpose we continue to be of the opinion that  anti-personnel mines must be understood to be any munition which is designed to be detonated or exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person, whatever other functions the munition may also have.

The adoption by this Conference of a new Protocol on blinding laser weapons was a landmark achievement for international humanitarian law. Its importance lies both in the prohibition of a particularly abhorrent weapon before its use on the battlefield and its inclusion of a complete prohibition on transfers. While it is regrettable that the scope of this Protocol could not be extended as was agreed in Vienna and reaffirmed in the XXVIth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, we encourage all States to issue a " Statement of Understanding " at the time of adherence indicating that they consider the Protocol to apply at all times.

Because so much remains to be done, this day must also mark the beginning of intensified public and political efforts, at national and regional levels to end the landmine crisis. In this regard we warmly welcome the Danish conference on Mine Clearance Technology in July and the initiative by Canada to convene in Ottawa this September a conference of States supporting an immediate ban to consider which steps they should take to achieve this. The IC RC will also host a regional conference of Central American States on the landmine issue on 28-29 May in Managua and a meeting for southeast Asian States in Jakarta on 29-30 May at which the issue will be addressed. We suggest that future political efforts should integrate hitherto separate elements of the international response, namely: work towards a ban, renunciation of production, stockpiling and use, an end to all transfers and assistance in mine clearance.

The ICRC deeply appreciates the sincere efforts of delegates to this Conference and its preparatory meetings who have sought over two long and sometimes difficult years to achieve the maximum possible results from this intergovernmental process. We also pay tribute to the many nongovernmental organisations without whom this Conference would not have occurred. They have had a profound effect in bringing the reality of the landmines into the negotiating framework and in shaping events far beyond it. The ICRC reaffirms its commitment to continuing our dialogue with the military and to working together on this issue over the coming years with governments and other humanitarian organisations. We look forward to meeting at the next Review Conference with a single unified purpose: the total prohibition of anti-personnel mines.

Ref. UN(1996)20b