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Implementing the Ottawa treaty: Questions and Answers

14-10-1999

The Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction (commonly referred to as the Ottawa treaty) is an important step towards resolving the humanitarian crisis caused by these weapons. While the treaty is a remarkable achievement, much remains to be done if the global landmines epidemic is to be successfully addressed. The treaty has been endorsed by a large number of governments. Yet, for the treaty to become legally binding upon a State, it must take action at the national level. In addition, in order to reduce the threat that anti-personnel mines represent for civilians, all States must ensure that the obligations contained in the treaty are fully implemented. Putting an end to the scourge of landmines is a process which will require concerted and long-term action. 

 Q. How does a State become legally bound by the Ottawa treaty?  

Generally, a State becomes bound by a treaty by ratifying it (in some instances this is referred to as acceptance or approval). Ratification is normally a two-step process. First, a State must follow its own national procedures for adhering to international agreements. In many cases this means submitting the treaty to the national parliament or national assembly for approval. Once these national requirements are met, the government must then notify the United Nations Secretary-General, who is the depositary of the treaty. This is done by depositing an " instrument of ratification " with the United Na tions in New York. The ICRC has prepared kits providing additional information on the ratification process and model instruments of ratification which States are welcome to use.

The Ottawa treaty required 40 ratifications to come into effect and become international law. On 16 September 1998, Burkina Faso became the 40th State to deposit its instrument of ratification with the United Nations. The treaty entered into force and became binding among the 40 ratifying States on 1 March 1999. After that date, each additional State becomes bound six months after its instrument is deposited. At that point the State is considered to be a party to the treaty or a " State Party " . The treaty invites, and the ICRC encourages, States to declare that they will provisionally observe its basic obligations even during this six-month waiting period (Article 18). As at 8 October there were 87 States Party to the Ottawa treaty.

 Q. What "national measures" must a State Party take to implement the treaty?   

The Ottawa treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, development and transfer of anti-personnel mines. To ensure that these controls become a reality in practice, a State Party will have to take a number of regulatory steps at the national level. Specifically, it must adopt appropriate legal, administrative and other measures to prevent and punish any prohibited activity by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction or control. Depending on the national law or procedures, this may require the adoption of specific criminal legislation.

In addition, implementing the treaty's provisions will almost always entail the adoption of administrative measures to make sure that the necessary changes in military doctrine and operating procedures are made. Organizations and corporations involved in the developm ent, production, sale, and transfer of anti-personnel mines must also be notified to ensure their compliance. The relevant ministries will also have to review any export licences involving the sale of anti-personnel mines.

States are required to take additional measures to ensure the destruction of stockpiles and the clearing of mined areas (see below).

The ICRC's Legal Division is available to provide guidance on national legislation, and can supply examples of instruments already adopted by certain States. Copies of such legislation are available on the ICRC Website.

 Q. What must a State Party do with the anti-personnel mines it currently possesses?  

       

Under the terms of the Ottawa treaty, a State must destroy all anti-personnel mines in its possession or under its jurisdiction or control within four years of the treaty becoming binding on it (Article 4). It may, however, retain a small number of mines - generally accepted to mean no more than several thousand - for training in mine-clearance techniques. A State Party will have to draw up plans for the collection, transport and destruction of its anti-personnel mine stockpiles.

As a party to the treaty, each State has the right to seek assistance in the destruction of its stockpiles. This includes the exchange of equipment, material and scientific and technological information. Conversely, every State Party in a position to do so is obliged to provide assistance to other Parties for the destruction of their stocks.

 Q. What does a State Party have to do about mines already in the ground?  

A State Party is required to take a number of steps to ensure that anti-personnel mines no longer pose a threat to the civilian population. First it must, as soon as possible, identify all mined areas under its control which are known or suspected to contain anti-personnel mines. These areas must be marked and civilians have to be kept out of the area by fencing or other means. Secondly, within ten years of its becoming bound by the treaty, all mined areas under its jurisdiction or control must be cleared of anti-personnel mines, irrespective of how they came to be there or who was responsible for laying them. Land believed to contain anti-personnel and anti-tank or anti-vehicle mines must be surveyed, and at least the anti-personnel mines must be removed and/or destroyed. In States affected by large-scale mine contamination, a plan of action will be needed. Requests for extensions of the ten-year deadline can be submitted at meetings of States Parties. These meetings provide a forum for the latter to report on what has been accomplished, indicate where additional work is needed and seek any assistance they may require.

As with the destruction of stockpiles, each State Party has the right to seek international assistance in fulfilling these obligations and to participate in the fullest possible exchange of equipment, material and scientific and technological information. No State Party may impose undue restrictions on the provision of mine-clearance equipment and related technological information intended for humanitarian purposes. Indeed, each State Party in a position to do so is obliged to provide assistance for mine clearance and related activities such as mine-awareness campaigns.

 Q. What about programmes to help landmine victims?  

People who survive landmine explosions usually face a dismal future. In addition to the immediate medical treatment and physical rehabilitation they require (if any is available), they are likely to suffer psychological trauma and have difficulty in finding employment.

Under the terms of the Ottawa treaty, each State Party in a position to do so has a duty to provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation of mine victims, including social and economic integration. This assistance may be provided through the United Nations system, international, regional or national organizations and institutions, the ICRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis. As with the obligations discussed above, a State Party has the right to seek such assistance from others in its efforts to care for its mine victims and help them surmount the difficulties that lie before them.

 Q. Does a State Party have to report on its activities?  

The Ottawa treaty does not establish an independent monitoring mechanism. In an effort to promote transparency, however, it requires each State Party to send an annual report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations which must include the following information:

  • the total number and the types of anti-personnel mines it has stockpiled;

  • the progress made in its mine-destruction pro grammes, including the total number and the types of mines destroyed;

  • the total number and the types of mines kept for training purposes;

  • the technical characteristics of each type of mine it has produced in the past;

  • the location of all mined areas under its jurisdiction or control; details of the type, quantity and age of the mines laid there (to the extent known); and steps taken to warn the civilian population;

  • the national measures, such as legislation or administrative regulations, taken to prevent and suppress violations of the treaty;

  • the status of programmes for the conversion or decommissioning of anti-personnel mine production facilities. 

The first report must be submitted no later than 180 days after the treaty becomes binding on the State in question.

In a further effort to promote transparency, the treaty also provides for annual meetings of States Parties and for a review conference to be held every five years.

 Q. What should be the role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in promoting the entry into force and implementation of the Ottawa treaty?  

National Societies can play an important role in ensuring that the Ottawa treaty is ratified, implemented and respected at the national level. They can contact their governments to discuss progress made and the timetable for ratification. They can also work with their governments to promote the adoption of effective national legislation or other administrative measures so as to ensure that the aims of the treaty are achieved.

In mine-affected countries, the National Societies can help determine the extent of the problem. With ICRC and Federation support, National Societies can carry out surveys to identify the nu mber, location and needs of mine victims and, on the basis of that information, propose programmes to meet those needs. They can also work with the government to help make sure that mine clearance is conducted in accordance with humanitarian, as opposed to political or economic, priorities. 

National Societies in countries not affected by mines can promote and monitor mine-clearance and victim assistance programmes supported by their governments. They can also establish bilateral victim assistance projects with other National Societies or provide support for programmes run by the ICRC or the Federation.

 CICR, DD/JUR/MINA  

 Ref. LG 1999-181-ENG