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Explosive Remnants of War: A chance to end a lethal legacy

16-06-2003 News Release 03/41

Geneva (ICRC) – Government experts meeting in Geneva will resume talks today aimed at drawing up a new international instrument on the "explosive remnants of war."

These are the unexploded or abandoned munitions which remain long after conflict has ended, threatening the lives and well-being of civilians. The States party to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons have assigned a group of experts to negotiate new rules to address this urgent and widespread problem. The current two-week session is one of three that will be held in 2003.

Recent reports from Iraq highlight the fact that the country is being seriously affected by explosive remnants of war. A long series of armed conflicts have left Iraq heavily contaminated by unexploded artillery shells, hand grenades, mortars and rockets. Following the most recent war, the problem has been exacerbated by munitions which were fired but failed to explode on impact as well as by stocks abandoned by the former government. Of particular concern are the unexploded cluster-bomb and other submunitions found in many parts of the country. These pose a serious risk to civilians and humanitarian aid organizations. In the coming two weeks of negotiations, several organizations will speak about the situation in Iraq and present information recently gathered there. 

The ICRC is taking part in the negotiations and urging the government experts to adopt the strongest possible protection for civilians. In the organization's view, it is indispensable to have a legally binding agreement requiring the warring parties to provide information on the explosive munitions used, to warn civilians of the dangers involved and to clear explosive remnants within a short time. Provisions for aid to t he victims of these devices should also be included.

The current negotiations focus on measures to be taken after the end of active hostilities. However, preventive measures could also be taken, including steps to reduce the volume of unexploded munitions and a prohibition on the use of submunitions against military objectives located in or near civilian areas. " The only way to ensure comprehensive protection for civilians is through a combination of preventive and post-conflict measures " , says Peter Herby, head of the ICRC's Mines-Arms Unit. Although there is broad support for preventive measures from non-governmental organizations and a number of governments, such measures are not on the current negotiating agenda.

The current negotiations provide States with an opportunity to significantly alleviate the human suffering that results from conflict. This tragedy is both predictable and preventable. Only a strong instrument with clear obligations can reduce needless death and injury from the explosive remnants of war.

    

 Further information :

 Camilla Waszink, ICRC Geneva, tel. + 41 22 730 2642