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Review Conference of the States Parties to the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects

01-01-1996 Statement

Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, January 1996

Mr. President,

We earnestly hope that this renewed session of the Review Conference will find a way to resolve the deadlock of the Vienna session and we are confident that you, Mr. President, will make an important contribution to achieve this result.

Although this session of the Review Conference has frequently been referred to as a meeting on " technical issues " , the provisions under discussion during this meeting, namely Articles 2-6 of Protocol II and its Technical Annex, are in fact the very heart of the landmine regime. Any decision taken on these provisions will determine whether there is to be a meaningful regulation of the use of landmines that will genuinely solve the problems caused by their use.

Mr. President, both you and the delegations present are aware that, in our opinion, only a total ban on anti-personnel landmines can solve the problem and that the introduction of technical specifications on the manufacture of mines will not do so. The reasons for this opinion were outlined in our President's speech in Vienna. However, for the purposes of this meeting and for the sake of brevity we will now limit ourselves to a few specific comments.

 Definition  

As the major problems are caused by anti-personnel mines, the definition of an anti-personnel landmine needs to be clear and unambiguous. In particular we see no reason why the definition of an " anti-personnel landmine " should differ from that of a " mine " other than making it clear that the intended victim is a person. The introduction of the word " primarily " (Article 2 para.3 of the President's text) makes the definition weaker and therefore not only weakens the Protocol rather then strengthening it but also introduces uncertainty which is detrimental to the legal regime governing the use of anti-personnel landmines. In particular, if a munition is designed so that it can be used both as an anti-personnel mine and for some other purpose, then it should be considered to be an anti-personnel mine for otherwise it may well escape all the restrictions introduced by the amended Protocol. This is true not only for directional fragmentation mines but also anti-tank mines that are designed to have anti-personnel characteristics.

 Detectability  

On the issue of detectability, it is clear that the technical annex should specify the technical characteristics that will render a mine detectable using easily available means. However, it should be kept in mind that mine clearance specialists who have extensive experience in different parts of the world stress that it is particularly difficult to find mines in soils rich in iron, or in former battle grounds that contain very large numbers of metal fragments. They have all stressed to us that the shape of the metallic element in the mine is of greater importance than the weight alone. It would therefore be worth considering whether the present formulation, which refers to weight irrespective of its shape, has sufficient empirical proof of its efficacity in all soil types and situations.

With regard to the grace period to be allowed for rendering all mines used detectable, we would simply like to draw attention to the fact that every year another 2 - 5 million mines are being laid and each mine costs up to US$1000 to remove, the cost being greater and the procedure being slower and more dangerous when the mines are difficult to detect.

We would al so at this point like to record our disappointment that consensus could not be reached on assuring the detectability of anti-tank mines which would have considerably helped mine clearance teams and thereby protected both civilians and humanitarian workers.

 Self-destruct/self deactivation mechanisms  

Mr. President,

We are aware that a great deal of attention will be given during this session to finding agreement on the type of self-destruct and/or self neutralising mechanisms that should be introduced for anti-personnel mines. It is clear that the reliability of such mechanisms needs to be assured, not only for humanitarian and environmental reasons but also because mines can severely hamper a country's recovery from armed conflict. So far this conference has not discussed how the reliability of such systems is to be demonstrated. Will it be experience alone? A major danger is that such mines will be used in large quantities without mapping or fencing as they will be considered safe. However, any failure will mean that the areas in which they have been used are not safe. Experience in different parts of the world has shown that the mere fear of the continuing presence of live mines can effectively prevent large areas of land being used.

We would also urge that the grace period for the introduction of such mechanisms be as short as possible in order to be able to establish as quickly as possible whether the new regime is effective. Each year of delay will add to the present appalling annual figure of approximately 24 thousand new landmine victims.

Still on this topic, Mr. President, we would like to reiterate our great concern with the fact that the present formulation of Article 5 of the President's text continues to allow " dumb " mines to be laid in unfenced and unmarked areas during times of direct ene my military action. This is the very time that the Convention's new restrictions are most needed but the present formulation undermines the entire purpose of the proposed new regime. We fear that the proposed amendments as they stand, if adopted, will not change the present situation very much.

 Transfers  

Finally, Mr.President, we would like to make a statement now about a topic that will be further considered in the April session. After careful consideration, the ICRC has decided to formally support the proposal made in Vienna for a total ban on the transfer of anti-personnel landmines. It is of great importance that the gains that have been made in this regard, i.e. the fact that 23 States have introduced comprehensive moratoria on the export of such mines, not be undermined. A weaker provision in the amended Protocol could be used as a basis for the reintroduction of exports which would be a tragic result. Rather, other States should be encouraged to follow the example of these 23 countries. Such a total ban on transfers would also be in keeping with the General Assembly resolution adopted on 12 December 1995 on the Moratorium on the export of anti-personnel landmines (resolution O in UN doc.A/50/590) and with the objective of the eventual elimination of landmines declared in the same resolution.

In this regard we are particularly pleased with the resolution adopted on 12 December 1995 by the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which supports the " complete elimination " of anti-personnel landmines. Taken together with the support for a total ban by the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity, the European Parliament and twenty individual States, the OIC resolution reflects a growing awareness that a ban on anti-personnel landmines is the only solution to the current landmine crisis.

Thank you Mr. President.

Ref. UN(1996)2b