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Preparatory Committee for the 2001 Review Conference of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)

14-12-2000 Statement

Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 14 December 2000.

Today, the vast majority of armed conflicts occur within the borders of States. All too often such internal conflicts have their greatest impact upon civilian populations. In its efforts to promote respect for international humanitarian law among all combatants involved in internal armed conflicts, the ICRC has often found it difficult to persuade parties to conduct themselves in accordance with international humanitarian law when the relevant instruments are not specifically applicable to such conflicts. Extending the scope of application of the CCW regime at the 2001 Review Conference would be an important step in ensuring that the norms prohibiting or restricting the use of certain weapons deemed to have potentially inhumane effects are applied in the conflicts most common today.

Such an amendment of the CCW regime would in no way imply political, diplomatic or legal recognition of armed opposition groups nor would it change the status of disputed territory. Indeed the extension of scope of this convention would build upon, and could even use language from, existing norms applicable to non-international armed conflicts, including:

(1) Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, (2) Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 8 June 1977, (3) the Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 on the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict, adopted in 1999, (4) Protocol II of the CCW Convention, as amended in 1996 and (5) customary international law.

It is also important to note that at the time of the adoption in 1995 of CCW Protocol IV on blinding laser weapons there was nearly unanimous support for applying this instrument also in i nternal armed conflicts. Indeed, all those who spoke made clear their abhorrence of the use of blinding laser weapons under any circumstances. However, consensus on scope was not achieved at the time. Since the adoption of Protocol IV in 1995, 15 States have formally declared upon ratification that they will apply the Protocol in all situations of armed conflict or under all circumstances.

The ICRC considers that a priority of the 2001 Review Conference should be the extension of the scope of application of the CCW and its protocols to non-international armed conflicts. We believe that this is not only achievable in the year ahead but that this is an essential step towards ensuring that the CCW remains a dynamic instrument relevant to the vast majority of modern armed conflicts. We have proposed that a simple and effective way to achieve this extension would be the adoption of an additional Protocol on scope which would extend the field of application of existing and future Protocols.

Virtually all armed conflicts in modern times have left explosive remnants of war in their wake. Unexploded submunitions, artillery shells, bombs, landmines, booby traps and even missiles often remain after the end of hostilities for national authorities and local civilian populations to deal with. In some instances these munitions remain for decades and inflict severe human costs. Between 1945 and 1981, for example, the armed forces of Poland reportedly cleared some 88 million pieces of unexploded ordnance left from the Second World War. During that same period an estimated 4,094 civilians were killed and another 8,774 injured as a result of the unexploded ordnance. Even today, countries across Europe continue to clear land contaminated by World War II munitions. More recent conflicts have also left large quantities of explosive debris in the territories where they have occurred. Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Falklands (Malvi nas), Iraq, Laos, Mozambique, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and the Russian Federation (Chechnya) are just a few examples of recent conflict areas which today are dealing with large amounts of unexploded ordnance.

Laos is perhaps the most striking example of a country struggling to deal with the long term consequences of unexploded munitions. As a result of the conflicts in Southeast Asia during the 1960's and 1970's, it remains severely affected by an estimated 9 million unexploded munitions. Information provided by the National UXO Programme in Laos shows that, since 1973, approximately 11,000 people have been killed or injured by exploding ordnance, roughly half from cluster bomb submunitions.

A more recent and particularly well documented example is Kosovo which is facing a serious humanitarian problem as a result of the presence of a wide variety of unexploded munitions. According to the database of the UN Mine Action Coordination Center in Kosovo, which contains casualty reports from the ICRC and other organisations, the total number of unexploded ordnance related casualties during the one year period following the conflict was 492 persons. In Kosovo cluster bomb submunitions were, along with anti-personnel mines, the leading cause of unexploded ordnance related death and injury - with each of these weapons accounting for about 36% of death and injuries. A variety of other unexploded munitions accounted for the remaining 28% of the casualties.

Similar to submunitions and other unexploded ordnance, anti-vehicle (AV) mines can have a major impact on civilian populations. However, this impact is qualitatively different from that of the munitions mentioned above. The most disturbing effects of other unexploded munitions are the maiming or killing of indiv idual civilians. In contrast, the most severe effects of anti-vehicle mines are often the denial of humanitarian assistance to large numbers of civilians in both conflict and post conflict situations and the limitation of movement of affected populations. The lingering presence of AV mines all too often prevents essential foods, medicines and other relief supplies and services from reaching vulnerable populations often in desperate need of such help.

A survey of ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society operations reveals a total of 20 incidents involving anti-vehicle mines in 11 countries during the 1990s. Each of these incidents resulted in the cancellation of relief operations for already vulnerable populations. A total of 16 staff were killed and 63 injured in these incidents. When relief had to be delivered by air due to mined roadways the financial costs to the ICRC increased between 10 and 20 times.

This scenario is repeated year after year in a variety of countries as the ICRC, United Nations and other humanitarian agencies are forced to abandon civilian populations due to the presence or suspected presence of anti-vehicle mines. The result is that the humanitarian assistance, which civilians have a right to expect under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977, is simply not available. In addition to this denial of assistance, many civilians lose their lives from anti-vehicle mines on transport routes as they attempt to continue or rebuild their lives in war-torn lands.

An additional issue is the use of submunitions in populated areas. By design, submunitions are area weapons. That is, when delivered by the cluster bomb, rocket or other means, they will be dispersed over an area of up to several hundred square meters. When targeting is imprecise or a targeting error occurs the effects of missing the target in a civilian area can be far greater tha n with most traditional ordnance. In addition, those submunitions that fail to explode are an immediate threat to the civilian populations concerned - rendering dangerous such essential activities as obtaining food, water and medical care and blocking relief activities on behalf of these populations.

The scale of the humanitarian problem of explosive remnants of war is likely to grow dramatically in the future. The increased ability to rapidly deliver large amounts of ordnance over greater and greater distances means that even conflicts lasting only a few days can leave huge numbers of unexploded munitions. Protracted conflicts will have even greater effects. Furthermore, as cluster bombs and land-based delivery systems for submunitions become more readily available and proliferate beyond the few countries which currently use them, these weapons and their associated humanitarian problems will occur in more and more regions of the world. The ICRC believes there is an urgent need for States Parties to begin a structured process aimed at addressing this problem in the context of the 2001 CCW Review Conference and achieving concrete results in the following years. Specifically we have proposed that States consider the adoption of a new protocol to the CCW to address the problems caused by explosive remnants of war.

Such a protocol should deal comprehensively with the problems caused by unexploded munitions - including anti-vehicle mines, submunitions and other munitions. Such a protocol would address a variety of issues based on principles already contained in the CCW and its protocols including responsibility for clearance, provision of technical information to facilitate clearance, provision of warnings to civilian populations, technical requirements for self-destruction when a munition no longer serves its military purpose and, in the case of submunitions, a prohibition of use against military objectives located within a concentration of civilians.

The ICRC is pleased to submit to this Preparatory Committee a detailed written report on the issues we have raised here today including an analysis of relevant existing rules of international humanitarian law and proposed elements of a new protocol on remnants of war. We also have made available copies of a summary report of a recent meeting of governmental experts, held in Nyon, Switzerland, in which the problem of remnants of war and possible approaches to addressing this issue were considered. It is also my pleasure to invite delegates to a briefing on the ICRC’s proposals in this field to be hosted by the ICRC's Director of International Law and Communication which will be held at the ICRC headquarters tomorrow from 9:00 to 10:30 am. Further details on this event can be found among the papers at the back of the room.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, we would like to highlight the fact that the humanitarian problems posed by explosive remnants of war are both predictable and largely preventable. By taking up the challenge of addressing this issue delegations have a chance to make a significant impact in reducing the scale of human suffering caused by armed conflicts. We look forward to working with you in this important endeavor.