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International meeting of experts on the possible verification of a comprehensive international treaty prohibiting anti-personnel landmines, Bonn, 24-25 April 1997

24-04-1997 Statement

Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,

The International Committee of the Red Cross commends the government of Germany for hosting this International Meeting of Experts and appreciates the opportunity to express its views on the possibility of including measures to verify and ensure compliance with a treaty totally prohibiting anti-personnel mines.

As we stated at the recent Experts Meeting held in Vienna from 12-14 February, while the ICRC supports the maximum possible verification of compliance with a future treaty we encourage States not to permit negotiation of such measures to stand in the way of an absolute prohibition on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of this weapon. Indeed the humanitarian law norms prohibiting the use of specific weapons were initially established without verification and yet they have been almost universally respected. Verification, together with prohibitions on production, stockpiling and transfer, can reinforce such a norm but should not be allowed to override the importance of the norm itself.

Moreover, the ICRC believes that the monitoring of compliance with a total prohibition on anti-personnel landmines can be seen as a positive exercise, promoting the goal of the international community of eliminating anti-personnel landmines rather than operating primarily to detect possible violations. Given the high proportion of civilian casualties due to landmines, it is unlikely that any large scale use of anti-personnel mines would go unnoticed or unreported. Accordingly, if States deem that it is not appropriate to incorporate an independent verification mechanism into the treaty at this stage, a series of reporting and transparency measures could help to build confidence and promote international assistance in the implementation of the treaty.

For example, an important component of the initiative of the Organization of American Staets (OAS) towards the establishment of a mine-free zone in the Americas requires the governments from the region to submit an annual report to the OAS Secretary General on the number and location of deployed anti-personnel mines, the number removed during the past year, plans for the removal and destruction of the remainder, and the number of civilian casualties caused by anti-personnel mines during the year. These reports will act not only as confidence-building measures but will also help to target assistance to priority areas. A similar regime could be developed to promote the implementation of the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. This could entail annual reporting to the Depositary on the implementation of treaty provisions and the types of cooperation and assistance a State needs or can offer in the areas of mine clearance and the destruction of stockpiles.

Nonetheless, some mechanisms for verification of compliance with international humanitarian law provisions have been developed and might be adapted for a treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. In particular while the 1925 Geneva Protocol did not provide for a verification mechanism, such a mechanism was elaborated in a 1989 report of the United Nations Secretary-General drawn up pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 42/37/C and endorsed by Resolution 45/117/C. This enables the Secretary-General, with the support of a qualified team of experts, to conduct on-site inspections into alleged violations. A verification mechanism of this kind, which seeks to avoid the creation of costly and cumbersome institutions, could play an important role in creating an atmosphere of mutual trust. However such confidence-building is clearly of greater importance in relation to weapons having a strategi c significance than in relation to tactical weapons of limited utility such as anti-personnel landmines.

In seeking to prevent violations, international humanitarian law has generally focused on the conduct of the individual. While the production and use of certain high-technology weapons require a significant level of organization, compliance with most rules of humanitarian law ultimately depends on the individual. This is certainly true in relation to the use of small, low-technology weapons such as anti-personnel land-mines. The production, transfer, acquisition and use of such weapons may readily be undertaken at the local level. It is therefore essential to ensure that individuals, whether combatant or civilian, are aware of the rules of international humanitarian law and are punished for serious violations of those rules.

Provisions on dissemination and training are to be found in the Geneva Conventions and the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. It is recommended that similar provisions are included in any treaty prohibiting the use of anti-personnel land-mines. Beyond this, international humanitarian law has sought to stigmatize, deter and punish abuses through criminalizing individual violations. This approach has received increasing attention in recent years through renewed efforts to punish war crimes, notably at the international level. Prohibiting and punishing violations through the criminal law not only indicates the gravity with which the international community views such abuses, but also ensures that use can be made of existing national and international mechanisms.

Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons already seeks to criminalize certain violations in relation to landmines. However, international humanitarian law goes further by incorporating provisions to punish the worst violations on the basis of universal jurisdiction, seeking to ensure that there is no safe haven for those perpetrating such crimes. It would appear consistent with this approach to treat the most serious violations of the treaty under discussion in the same manner.

It is also important to penalize those responsible for the production, stockpiling and transfer. While such conduct should not be treated on the same basis as the most serious violations of humanitarian law, it would appear appropriate for criminal penalties to be imposed on such offenders. Some countries have already done so under existing national laws on production, stockpiling and transfer. Finally States should be encouraged to adopt all other regulatory measures to prevent and suppress violations. 

The ICRC has reflected these points in an informal draft Article on national implementation which will be circulated during this meeting.

Once again, Mr Chairman, it should be stressed that the International Committee of the Red Cross supports the most effective measures possible to promote and monitor compliance with a future treaty. However any compliance measures should emphasise the positive aspects of any new regime - by encouraging transparency, building confidence and promoting international cooperation. Such measures should draw, where appropriate, on the approaches already developed in the field of international humanitarian law and not delay the achievement of our principal objective - the establishment of a norm prohibiting the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel landmines. Thank you.

 Ref. LG 1997-096-ENG