Explosive remnants of war: Negotiations on a new instrument in 2003
Large numbers of civilians are killed or injured each year by unexploded munitions. Most become victims after the fighting has ended in spite of the fact that they were not the target of the munition when it was laid, delivered or fired. In many contexts it is a variety of munitions which affect civilian populations. These include landmines, submunitions from air borne cluster bombs or land-based systems, artillery shells, hand grenades, rockets and other unexploded ordnance (UXO). While these weapons may have had a military utility when initially used, that value is usually no longer relevant when the munition is encountered by civilians or humanitarian aid agencies.
Laos is a particularly stark example of the severe consequences of explosive remnants of war. Today, the country continues to suffer the effects of the large amounts of bombs and explosive munitions dropped there nearly 30 years ago. Millions of UXO litter the country and according to the main clearance agency in Laos, approximately 11,000 people have been killed or injured in UXO accidents since 1973. In addition to these human costs, the presence of unexploded munitions has had severe socio-economic effects which have exacerbated the country's poverty over the years.
Kosovo is a more recent example. In the one year following the end of the conflict in that region 492 people were killed or injured in UXO accidents. According to data collected by ICRC mine awareness staff throughout Kosovo, roughly 1/3 of these victims were killed or injured by anti-personnel mines, 1/3 by submunitions and 1/3 by other ordnance. There have also been large numbers of UXO victims in Afghanistan, Angola, Iraq, Mozambique, the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and many other conflict zones. In Poland, more than 12,800 people were killed or injured by UXO in the years after the end of World War II.
Although the international community has made significant progress in addressing the humanitarian problems caused by anti-personnel mines, the broader problems caused by other " explosive remnants of war " have not been addressed. In particular, there has been litt le discussion on how to minimize the impact of unexploded munitions, other than AP mines, in the post-conflict context. While there has been considerable support among governments for greater restriction on the use of anti-vehicle mines, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes that a more comprehensive approach should be considered.
The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), adopted in 1980, seeks to minimize the effects of certain weapons in conflict and post-conflict situations. The Convention is the primary instrument of international humanitarian law regulating weapons which may have indiscriminate effects or cause unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury. The Convention contains protocols which prohibit weapons employing fragments not detectable by X-rays (Protocol I) and blinding laser weapons (Protocol IV). Other protocols place limitations on the use of landmines, booby traps and similar devices (Protocol II) and incendiary weapons (Protocol III) due to their potentially indiscriminate effects.
The Second Review Conference of the CCW was held 11 to 21 December 2001 in Geneva. One of the purposes of the conference was to consider proposa ls to strengthen and develop the rules to minimize the effects of certain weapons. The conference provided an important opportunity for the international community to address the problems caused by explosive remnants of war.
The ICRC proposed that States Parties consider the adoption of a new protocol to the CCW which could significantly reduce the human casualties and socio-economic consequences caused by explosive remnants of war. As proposed by the ICRC, the protocol would:
Establish a responsibility for those who use explosive munitions to clear those which remain following the end of hostilities or to provide the technical and material assistance needed to ensure such clearance (this responsibility could be supported by a variety of technical measures including, for example, a requirement that munitions, including submunitions, be equipped with self-destruction mechanisms and a requirement that munitions be made detectable);
Require the rapid provision of technical information to the UN and demining bodies to facilitate swift clearance and minimize risk to clearance personnel;
Require those who use explosive munitions likely to have long term effects to provide information to organizations conducting mine/UXO awareness and to provide effective advance warning to civilian populations about the delivery of such munitions;
Prohibit the use of submunitions against any military objective located within a concentration of civilians.
The Second Review Conference of the CCW established a Group of Governmental Experts to examine the problem and possible solutions. Following extensive work on this issue in 2002, the group recommended that a new instrument be developed. Specifically, the group proposed that it be given a mandate to negotiate a new instrument on " post-conflict remedial measures of a generic nature which would reduce the risks of explosive remnants of war. " This is understood to mean general measures to be taken after the end of active hostilities, such as the main elements of the ICRC proposal. States Parties adopted this recommendation and negotiating sessions will be held in Geneva 10-14 March, 16-27 June and 17-24 November 2003. Participants will include representatives from States Parties and observer States and organizations.
A new instrument on explosive remnants of war would be a significant development and strengthen an area of international humanitarian law where few rules currently exist. It would be an essential step towards lessening the unnecessary death, injury and suffering seen all to often in post-conflict situations. The ICRC encourages all States to participate in the work of the Group of Governmental Experts. It also urges the group to work expeditiously and adopt a new instrument by the end of 2003.
16 January 2003
International Committee of the Red Cross