Archived page: may contain outdated information!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

Eliminating Anti-personnel Landmines: Continuing the process

28-06-1999 Statement

Zagreb Regional Meeting on Landmines. Address by Dr. Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Zagreb, 28 June 1999.

It is an honour and a pleasure to address the Zagreb Regional Conference on Landmines. I thank the Government of Croatia, the Croatian Red Cross and the Croatian Mine Action Centre for inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross to take part in this event and for inviting me to address this important meeting. By hosting this meeting, Croatia is helping to keep the spotlight on the plague of landmines which this region knows all too well. But we will also focus on the comprehensive solution to this problem contained in the Ottawa treaty and the crucial efforts being made in the region to implement its provisions.

Much has occurred since the countries of this region last came together to discuss landmines. As many of you will recall, in March 1998, only 3 months after the signing of the Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines, the Government of Hungary took an important initiative in hosting the Budapest Regional Conference on Anti-personnel Landmines. That meeting was a significant step because it recognized the importance of regional co-operation in addressing the landmine problem and helped further the dialogue on this issue between governments and civil society. By reconvening governments, non-governmental organizations, international agencies and other interested parties in Zagreb this week, the Government of Croatia continues that process, provides an opportunity to examine what has been accomplished thus far in the region and focuses our attention on what remains to be done before the scourge of landmines will be forever removed from this part of the world.

Since Budapest, the international community has moved with unusual speed. On 1 March 1999, the Ottawa treaty entered into force becoming international law more rapidly than any previous multilateral arms related convention. Today, 82 States have now ratified the treaty. Another 53 States are committed to its object and purpose as a result of having signed it. Thus, over two thirds of the world's governments have now committed themselves to ending the use of these pernicious weapons, destroying their stocks of anti-personnel mines, and acting to address the plight of mine victims and mine-affected communities. Further indications of this trend are the decision of Ukraine to sign the treaty and begin the destruction of its stockpiles, the decision of Russia to end its production of some types of anti-personnel blast mines and the recent bilateral agreement between Turkey and Bulgaria not to use anti-personnel mines under any circumstances and to remove and destroy all such mines along their common border.

The Ottawa treaty represents the comprehensive framework for ending the man-made epidemic of death, injury and suffering caused by anti-personnel mines. Yet, its objectives will only be achieved when the treaty is fully implemented and unversalized. States which have ratified the treaty must begin to take measures to ensure its complete implementation. This includes, among other things, the adoption of national legislation to prevent and punish violations, institution of changes in military doctrine and procedures, the promulgation of measures to ensure the destruction of stockpiles and the identification and clearing of mined areas. States in a position to do so must also take steps to provide for the care and rehabilitation of landmine victims. But, governments do not need to wait until they have formally ratified the treaty to begin to undertake such action. Signatories in particular, are encouraged to begin the process of implementation and by doing so hasten the complete elimination of these weapons. Even non-signatiories have done, and can do, much to contribute to solving the problem on the ground. 

Yet, even in light of these developments there are States which still consider the anti-personnel mine to be a legitimate weapon of warfare. I would say to them today that you rely upon a weapon the military value of which has been questioned and the use of which has been stigmatized by world opinion. Many of the 135 countries which have adhered to the Ottawa treaty used these devices extensively in the past. Many are former producers. But they have nonetheless all come to agree that any utility the anti-personnel mine may possess is clearly outweighed by its appalling human costs. The use of these weapons by any State in any circumstances offends the public conscience and basic principles of humanity. 

Let us recall that the anti-personnel mine is unable to discriminate between civilian and combatant. This is also a weapon which, by design, inflicts some of the most horrific wounds seen by war surgeons. The explosion from a buried anti-personnel mine forces earth, grass and pieces of the mine casing and victim's shoe into the wounded areas. It causes injuries so severe, that the victim will have to undergo multiple operations, prolonged rehabilitation and be left with a permanent and severe disability. Coupled with these are the social, psychological and economic implications of being an amputee. Should not such injuries, even when inflicted on soldiers, be considered to exceed that which is needed to take a soldier " out of combat " - which is the only legitimate purpose of anti-personnel weapons? I again urge countries which have not yet done so to join the Ottawa treaty as a matter of urgency.

I would also encourage all States to ratify amended Protocol II to the 1980 United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons. This in strument, regulating landmines, booby traps and other similar devices is particularly important, even for States Parties to the Ottawa treaty, because it governs the use of anti-vehicle mines. These devices are not covered by the Ottawa treaty but nonetheless have had severe impact on civilian populations in many regions of the world. Amended Protocol II entered into force on 3 December 1998 and thus far has been ratified by 37 governments. 

Many of the countries represented here know well the horrible consequences associated with the use of landmines. This area, in particular, is a testament to the full range of human, social and economic costs of these weapons. In this sub-region scores of men, women and children have been killed and maimed by these devices. The presence of landmines has slowed the pace of post-war reconstruction, hindered the return of refugees and displaced people and blocked the cultivation of valuable farmland. Today, in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia landmines continue to attack civilian populations nearly 4 years after the end of the fighting. One cannot help but feel a sense of outrage about the senseless deaths, injury and suffering landmines are inflicting here and in other parts of the world. It is time for this man-made plague to come to an end. It is my hope that this common belief and the desire to contribute to the efforts have brought us together here today.

This conference will learn of and pay tribute to the many efforts already underway to alleviate the suffering that these weapons have wreaked and prevent further destruction. Demining teams are at work in the countryside, mine awareness is being taught in the classrooms, rehabilitation clinics are producing and fitting prosthesis and mine survivor organizations are active in several countries. In Bosnia and Herzegovina reports indicate that mine casualty levels have dropped significantly due to these courageous and painstaking efforts. Yet, much remain s to be done before one will walk in these lands without fear. Vast areas remain mine-affected and too many victims do not have access to the full range of rehabilitation they require. Our task in the coming 2 days is to determine how, through regional co-operation and the support of the international community, the objectives of the Ottawa treaty can become realities on the ground sooner rather than later.

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been actively involved in this region in protecting civilian populations from the effects of mines. Since early 1996, the ICRC has conducted extensive mine awareness training in both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in close co-operation with the respective Red Cross Societies. In both countries the ICRC employs a community based approach to involve local communities in mine awareness activities. In Croatia, the ICRC works very closely with the Croatian Red Cross which together have trained 150 volunteer mine awareness instructors. Thus far, over 140,000 men, women and children have been taught about the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 122 volunteers from approximately 100 municipalities across the country have been instructed in conducting mine awareness training. The ICRC is currently working with other organizations to ensure that refugees returning to Kosovo are provided with basic information about the dangers of mines prior to their return. The ICRC is also working with a number of governments to assist them in their ratification and implementation process for both the Ottawa treaty and the 1980 Convention on Conventional weapons.

In closing, let us recall that it was in this region that Europe learned the bitter lessons of landmines firsthand. It is this experience which helped convince most European States to renounce the use of anti-personnel mines. Let us make this Zagreb meeting the moment when governments and civil society in the reg ion pay tribute to those who have already lost lives and limbs by redoubling efforts to save others from this plight, to assist those in need and to ensure that no country will ever use anti-personnel mines again.

Ref. EXSO 99.06.28-ENG