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International Conference for the Total Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines, Brussels, 24-27 June 1997

26-06-1997 Statement

Roundtable C - Humanitarian Aspects - an Integrated and Coordinated Approach. Statement by Cornelio Sommaruga, President, International Committee of the Red Cross, 26 June 1997

It is a privilege to join you in Brussels on this solemn occasion on which States from around the globe will announce their intention to negotiate a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel mines by the end of 1997. Last October I had the pleasure of being present to offer the immediate support of the ICRC as Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy invited States to come back to Ottawa this year to sign a treaty banning this pernicious weapon. The " Ottawa process " is an unequivocal expression of the revulsion of public and statesmen alike at the " mass destruction in slow motion " we have witnessed through the widespread use of anti-personnel mines.

One-hundred and twenty three years ago Brussels was the sight of the first attempt to codify customary international humanitarian law. Although the Brussels Declaration on the Laws and Customs of War of 1874 was not adopted as a treaty it was the basis of the subsequent Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which reaffirmed prohibitions on the use of poison and of weapons causing unnecessary suffering.

The Brussels Conference of 1997 meets in the same spirit of limiting the horrors of war by banning excessively injurious weapons. We are here under particularly encouraging circumstances: the use of anti-personnel landmines has been stigmatized in large parts of the world, the UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for a legally-binding treaty to outlaw this weapon, twenty-nine States have prohibited its use and seventeen are destroying their stockpiles. The presence of more than half of the States of the world at this historic meeting to launch negotiations for a ban bodes well for its rapid negotiation in Oslo and the signin g of a comprehensive treaty in Ottawa in December.

With most other prohibited weapons, including poison gas, the stream of victims ends shortly after use of the weapon is halted. The particularly pernicious nature of landmines means that the humanitarian work of this Conference will continue for decades even if not one more mine is sown from today. The Brussels Conference will achieve a major success in launching negotiations for a global ban. I take this opportunity to appeal to the conference to make an equally historic commitment to the less visible, more expensive and far more long term humanitarian challenges of care and treatment for the victims, mine awareness and mine clearance. These are the tasks, beyond a ban, by which the commitment and effectiveness of this extraordinary global coalition of NGOs, governments, the United Nations and international agencies will be judged in time.

The ICRC's call, in 1994, for a total ban on anti-personnel mines was based on the experience of our medical staff around the world who had witnessed a profound medical, human and social crisis in nearly all of the situations where these weapons had been used. In medical terms they had created an " epidemic " of exceptionally severe injury, death and suffering. As with other epidemics the solution must be dramatic and comprehensive. This includes on the one hand prevention , through a ban, community mine awareness and mine clearance, and on the other hand assistance to victims through dramatically improved access for landmine survivors to transport, emergency care, surgery, rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

The ICRC has stressed the necessity of an integrated approach, based on the structured flow and analysis of data, in which mine clearance, mine awareness and victim assistance efforts are coordinated and mutually reinforcin g. At the Tokyo Conference in March we put forward the concept of a " mine information system " in affected areas through which all actors - governmental, NGO, deminers, the UN and the ICRC - can pool relevant information and work together to improve our effectiveness.

It is often medical personnel who first learn the location of mines through the tragic stories of their victims. Such knowledge is essential for prioritizing clearance operations. On the other hand, knowledge of the location of mined areas held by clearance teams is crucial to those engaged in community mine awareness. Mine awareness workers frequently have information from affected populations which can help target clearance efforts. Yet far too often this information is not consistently available to other actors at the national or even community levels, due to the absence of integrative communication structures, adequate resources and competition among humanitarian agencies. Mistaken policies are often adopted. The results are too often both tragic and avoidable.

Depending on circumstances such an information flow could be managed by a semi-governmental agency, a government body or an international organization. In some situations regular meetings of involved actors may suffice. What is essential here, as in other humanitarian emergencies, is that all parties must be prepared to contribute and cooperate to ensure an effective response to a situation of massive human suffering.

The ICRC is prepared to play a special role as regards victim assistance. To ensure the consistent and coherent provision of information we are preparing, with input from specialized NGOs and agencies, a standardized " mine incident " report form. We invite all our partners in this effort regularly to share with us reliable information on mine incidents worldwide.

The ICRC has been compiling, since 1995, a registry of landmine incidents fr om credible sources throughout the world. This register, which we will soon make available on the internet, records incidents in which some 7,404 persons were killed or injured from landmine explosions in 1996 alone. These incidents are spread over 41 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. As it is likely that these statistics record but a small fraction of the devastation of human lives which landmines are causing, they suggest that the estimates of 2,000 casualties per month may underestimate the scale of the problem. They also demonstrate, once again, that this epidemic knows no boundaries of time or geography and has taken root in virtually every situation where mines have been used.

Returning now to the humanitarian law side of this Conference I would like to stress that the ICRC welcomes the initiative being taken here not only as a means of creating a new international humanitarian law treaty but as a return to the practice, well established in classical international law, of developing and universalizing law through national initiatives rather than relying solely on consensus negotiations, which frequently can lead to a lowest-common-denominator result. Indeed the 1874 Brussels Conference and its successors in the Hague in 1899 and 1907 were the direct result of initiatives by successive Russian Czars which were taken up by leading statesmen of the era. Even recent documents such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 were developed in negotiations which did not require consensus in their rules of procedure.

Experience in international humanitarian law has shown that clear and unambiguous norms, such as those being endorsed in this Conference, are more compelling, easier to promote and more readily implemented than complex and nuanced regimes. The result is that they are more easily universalized over time, even if all States cannot subscribe to a given rule at the o utset. Examples include the absolute prohibitions on the use of exploding and expanding bullets and of chemical and biological weapons - all of which were far from universal at their adoption but have now become customary law. In this regard it is encouraging to note the participation of 111 and 121 States at recent meetings in Vienna and Bonn to discuss the text of a treaty banning anti-personnel mines, considerably more than participated in recent negotiations on the continued use of this weapon.

In an effort to ensure that the Ottawa Treaty attracts the broadest possible adherence from the outset, particularly among mine affected States, the ICRC hosted a regional seminar for the twelve countries of the Southern Africa Development Community in Harare in April 1997 and cooperated with the Organisation of African Unity, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the government of Turkmenistan in the preparation of regional conferences on landmines this year. The ICRC sponsored a regional seminar for States of Central America in Managua in May 1996 and will next month host a meeting for experts from Asian military and strategic studies institutes in Manila, in cooperation with the government of the Philippines. We are pleased to note that the regional conferences in Africa, Central America and Europe called for an immediate end to the use of anti-personnel mines at the national level and for the establishment of regional zones free of this weapon. They have also encouraged member States to sign the treaty in Ottawa in December.

We would like to commend Austria for having produced an excellent draft Convention which will form the basis for negotiations in Oslo and which already commands a high degree of acceptance. By consulting widely in the preparation of this draft the Austrian text has facilitated negotiations and thus saved both time and lives.

The ICRC would like to underline several elements which we cons ider crucial to the effectiveness of the future treaty and which, we are pleased to note, are contained in the current draft text. These are (a) an unambiguous definition of an anti-personnel mine, (b) an absolute prohibition on production, transfer and use from entry into force, (c) the destruction of stockpiles and emplaced mines in the shortest possible time, (d) positive provisions for technical assistance in implementation and (e) penal sanctions to punish serious violations of the treaty. The treaty should neither permit reservations nor allow for withdrawal while a party is engaged in armed conflict. We will be circulating detailed comments on the draft text in the coming weeks.

As we go forth from this Conference tomorrow let us never forget that the legal prohibition of anti-personnel mines must be firmly rooted in the stigmatization of this weapon as a weapon of war so that, whatever their knowledge of the law, combatants will choose not to use this arm because their consciences and communities will not tolerate it.

Let us also remember that mines, whether " dumb " or " smart " , know nothing of the law and will terrorize generations of innocents until every last one has been removed and destroyed. While the debate over the legal status of anti-personnel landmines may soon be resolved, the humanitarian problem they have created has barely begun to be addressed. Being maimed by an illegal weapon will bring little solace to future victims. Today's child amputee with no hope of an artificial limb will find scant comfort in a total ban tomorrow. The legacy of this epidemic will demand massive resources and sustained commitment for decades. Let us commit ourselves today not only to Oslo and to Ottawa but also to the victims and to mobilizing within the international community and its institutions for the long road ahead.

 Ref. EXSO 97.06.26-ENG