Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

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

22-04-1996 Statement

Statement by Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 22 April 1996.

I come here today to raise with distinguished delegates an issue which I believe is of fundamental importance to the success of this Review Conference and to global efforts to end the landmine scourge.

But first, I would like to underline the importance of this Conference and of the negotiations you are about to resume.  The Review Conference and its preparatory process have already played an indispensable role in focusing governmental attention on the desperate need for action to stop the killing and maiming of innocents caused by landmines. This process has been a catalyst for the review by many governments of their policies on the production, use and transfer of landmines. Many dramatic steps have been taken by national governments, particularly since the adjournment of the first session in Vienna. We are told that eight States have suspended or permanently renounced the use of anti-personnel mines by their own armed forces.  Since Vienna, the number of States supporting the total prohibition of these weapons has nearly doubled to include 29 countries.  These actions reflect a clear trend, on the ground if not yet in the negotiating framework, towards the complete prohibition and elimination of anti-personnel mines.

As I stated in Vienna the actions you take here will decide the fate of a hundred thousand potential landmine victims over the next five years.  Short of a total ban, the compromises reached here will be paid for in human flesh and human lives for a very long time. I urge you and your governments to do your utmost both to achieve dramatic results in this forum and to take additional national and regional steps to ensure that anti-personnel mi nes are no longer produced, used or transferred.

This Conference has rightly focused, above all else, on strengthening the restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines.  And yet the Conference appears set to adopt a definition of this weapon  (in Article 2, paragraph 3 of the President's Text) which would introduce a dangerous ambiguity into the heart of the proposed regime.  Unlike the definition of a " mine " in the same text, the definition of an anti-personnel mine speaks of a weapon " primarily designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person " . If this definition is adopted, any other accomplishments of this Conference could over time be subverted by the confusion and possible abuse which this definition could produce. Efforts to put an end to the humanitarian crisis caused by anti-personnel mines may well be severely threatened or even totally undermined.

If a munition is designed so as to be capable of use as an anti-personnel mine and for some other purpose it should clearly be considered an anti-personnel mine and be regulated as such.  The primary purpose of such a munition would be difficult or impossible to assess while its intended functions can usually be clearly demonstrated.

This problem is not merely legal or theoretical.  A recent publication of Jane's Information Group Trends in Landmine Warfare notes that " the rise in scatterable mines has blurred the already thin line between anti-personnel and anti-tank weapons " and describes mines which have both anti-personnel and anti-tank characteristics. Such mines are expected to become smaller and cheaper in the future and can be remotely delivered in huge quantities. An additional problem arises with directional fragmentation mines which, in our view, should be c onsidered as a mine unless they are only capable of being detonated by remote command. Other future technologies will present similar challenges and invite abuse of an ambiguous definition.

It is our view that anti-personnel mines should be defined as those " designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person " which is consistent with the general definition of a mine used in the Convention. Introduction of ambiguity in this crucial definition could over time weaken the very protections against anti-personnel mines which this Conference is mandated to strengthen. I strongly urge every delegation to carefully consider its position on this matter.

I would like briefly to address other issues which the ICRC considers to be important at the current stage of negotiations:

*Only the complete prohibition of anti-personnel mines, which is easily implemented and far more readily verified than other proposals being considered, will be effective. If this cannot yet be achieved by consensus in this forum States should consider taking unilateral action, which should not be seen as a security concession, but as a means of fulfilling their humanitarian obligation to protect their own population and territory in the event of armed conflict. The recent ICRC study on the military use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines, the conclusions of which have now been supported by 43 senior commanders from 17 countries, clearly highlights the difficulties of using these weapons according to legal and doctrinal norms, their limited effectiveness and their negative effects on one's own forces.

*In keeping with existing moratoria in most mine-producing countries the transfer of anti-personnel mines should be prohibited within the framework of the 1980 Convention. Provisions on transfers which this Conference adopt s should be as far reaching as possible so as not to be a retreat from present practice and should enter into force immediately upon adoption.

*Other amendments should enter into force in the shortest possible period. Transition periods of years or decades could compound the landmine crisis and add many decades to the hundreds of years which clearance of existing mines will require.

*To protect civilians and humanitarian workers anti-tank mines must be made detectable and anti-handling devices not permitted.

*The strongest possible protections should be provided, under draft Article 12, to missions of humanitarian organisations. In the case of the ICRC these provisions are an essential expression of the commitment, which States have undertaken by adhering to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols,  to provide access to war victims.

*The scope of the Convention must be extended to non-international armed conflicts and effective measures for implementation added.

*To ensure further development and effective implementation of the Convention future Review Conferences should be held on a regular basis every five years. Following the end of this Conference an interim diplomatic process aimed at encouraging adherence, implementation and dialogue on further improvements would be highly desirable.

Recent actions by a wide range of States have demonstrated that neither the public conscience, nor Parliaments nor governments are powerless in face of the affront to humanity which landmines present. Neither is this Review Conference. It has both the opportunity and a moral obligation to make an historic contribution to ending this scourge.  It has already taken dramatic action against the threat of blinding laser weapons.  We await similar action on anti-personnel mines.

Ref. EXSO 96.04.22-ENG