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Landmines: from Global Negotiations to National and Regional Initiatives

02-07-1996 Statement

Joint Meeting of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board for Disarmament Matters and Heads of Delegations to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 2 July 1996. Intervention by Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the ICRC

 1. The human face of a global tragedy  

Maria is a 3 year old Mozambican child, found chained to a tree outside her hut. A case of parental cruelty? No, a case of a mothers protective love. Maria lives near a minefield and her mother must chain her to a tree when she goes off for the day to find water and firewood. Unfortunately, her mother stepped on a mine far from medical help and never returned.

One fine day in 1992 Amina, a 13 year old Somali child, went to the river to fetch water in the same place she had gone every day. But that day it had rained in the mountains and the waters carried with them mines laid upstream. She stepped on a mine on the river bank which had been safe only the day before; her leg was shattered and had to be amputated by an ICRC surgeon. The mine which struck Amina was laid fifteen years earlier, in 1977-78, when Somalia and Ethiopia were at war and mined the mountains separating the two countries.

65 year old You Eng, a Cambodian grandfather, tells this story: "I was asleep in front of the house when I was awakened by the sound of an explosion and my son's voice calling for help. My grandson was lying in the road, his left leg shattered by the mine blast. My son ran off to seek help. I was there looking at the child who was writhing in pain and I took him into my arms. When I started to get up I lost my balance a little and my right foot hit something. My right leg was amputated at mid-thigh. My grandson's left leg was cut off a little higher up. A few years ago my elder son and my daughter in-law were killed by mines. Now I can no longer feed my family and this makes me ashamed."  

 2. ICRC role  

The ICRC, through its field operations in conflict zones on four continents, has been a direct witness to the landmine carnage. The tragedies above are just a fraction of those we confront each month. And our experience is but faint reflection of the landmine legacy which is claiming the lives and livelihoods of some two thousand victims each and every month.

Our doctors and nurses every single day have to look into the eyes of children writhing in pain from a limb turned into a bloody tangle of blood, dirt, plastic bits, bone fragments and flesh. Eyes which ask us " why, why, why? " ; to which we have no answer.

Landmine injuries are among the most horrific known to our war surgeons. They require more units of blood, longer hospital stays, more surgical interventions and far more resources than most other injuries. They also require lifetime prosthetic care and rehabilitation - which is often not available. And those who reach medical care are the lucky ones; for just as many are estimated to die, often alone - like Maria's mother, at the site of their injury.

Given its mandate to care for and protect the victims of war the ICRC would have been negligent if it did not act. On the operational level we hav e made intensive efforts to develop effective surgical techniques for mine victims and to expand prosthetic and rehabilitative care. In 1995 alone ICRC's 33 prosthetics programs fitted nearly 8 thousand amputees and manufactured some 11 thousand prosthesis. Over the past decade we have treated over 30 thousand mine victims and co-operated with local and national medical personnel to assist many times that number. We are currently running mine awareness programs for civilian populations in Afghanistan, Azerbijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Nicaragua and Somalia.

On the political level the ICRC conducted extensive consultations in 1993 (including the Montreux Symposium) with military commanders, industry officials, diplomats, and legal and medical experts. By early 1994 we were convinced that the only effective solution was the total prohibition of anti-personnel mines.

It is extremely rare for the ICRC to call for the total prohibition of a weapon. The Committee before the end of hostilities in 1918 had referred to in these terms to the scourge of poison gas: " We protest with all the force at our command against such warfare, which can only be called criminal. " In 1921 the ICRC wrote to the League of Nations calling for the " absolute prohibition of the use of asphyxiating gas, a cruel and barbarous weapon which inflicts terrible suffering upon its victims " . The call did not go unheeded. In 1925, during a League conference on the control of the international trade in weapons, governments adopted the Geneva Protocol outlawing this form of warfare.

We now again appeal to the international community to outlaw anti-personnel mines -a weapon which is indiscriminate and out of control. In our view, this weapon is too cheap, too small and too difficult to use according to international humanitarian law to be controlled by means short of an absolute prohibition.

AP mines must n ot only be outlawed, their use must be stigmatized, so that whatever their understanding of the law combatants will choose not to use them.

And finally, mine infested regions must be cleared. Here I would like to pay tribute to the determination and courage of thousands of men and women around the world who put their own lives at risk each day in clearance operations. These operations deserve greatly expanded support, both through the UN Voluntary Fund for Mine Clearance and bi-lateral arrangements.

 3. CCW Review Conference  

Since 1994 the ICRC has had the privilege, in keeping with its mandate as guardian of IHL, to participate in the preparatory process and meetings of the Review Conference of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which ended on 3 May. ICRC contributed official background documentation, analysis of weaknesses of existing Protocol II and proposals for strengthening it. We are grateful for the invitation of the UN Secretary General and of States Parties to participate in this important process.

The ICRC warmly welcomes a number of important improvements in the amended Protocol, including in particular:

(a) extension of the Protocol to apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts,

(b) clear assignment of responsibility for mine clearance to those who lay the mines,

(c) a requirement that the location of all mines be mapped and recorded,

(d) new protections for ICRC and other humanitarian workers,

(e) a prohibition on the transfer of non-detectable anti-personnel mines,

(f) a requirement that States enact penal legislation to punish serious violations of the Protocol, and

(g) annual consultations among Parties to the Protocol to review i ts operation.

Unfortunately, the new limitations on the use of anti-personnel mines are weak and could even lead to an increase in the overall use of these weapons. The existing general restriction against " directing " mines against civilians is, in our view, not enough - particularly as mines cannot be " directed " or aimed.

 (a) Long-lived anti-personnel mines may continue to be produced, transferred and used - if placed in fenced, marked and guarded minefields. However an exception was introduced which waives this requirement in cases of " enemy military action " .

 (b) Self-destructing mines may be used without any specific restrictions on their placement. Since such mines can be remotely delivered over long distances and in huge quantities by artillery or aircraft their use could lead to an increase in civilian mine casualties.

 (c) All anti-personnel mines used must be detectable so as to facilitate mine clearance.

However it is appalling that parties are not required to implement these use provisions until 9 years after entry-into-force of the revised Protocol, which means, probably, 2007 or 2008. By this time we expect that mines will have claimed well over 200,000 new victims - unless far more is done than required by the law.

The revised Protocol places no new restrictions on the use of anti-tank or vehicle mines which, although used on a smaller scale than anti-personnel mines, are just as indiscriminate. These mines may continue to be used even if they are not detectable; neither their placement nor maximum lifetime are specifically controlled. These mines directly threaten operations of the ICRC and other humanitarian agencies whose personnel must daily risk their lives in bringing assistance to war victims. When they force us to send provisions by air they increase our costs by up to 25 times.

Although the ICRC welcomes the improvements in the Protocol's general provisions it is deeply disappointed in:

(a) the weak restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines and the lack of specific restrictions on anti-tank mines,

(b) the excessively long " transition period " for implementation of key provisions, &

(c) the absence of a mechanism to verify the fulfilment of technical requirements for self-destructing mines and to investigate possible violations of the restrictions on use.

Given these weaknesses, which are largely due to the need to adopt the revised Protocol by consensus, the new Protocol, in and of itself, is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the level of civilian landmine casualties.

The ICRC is concerned that the complex technical provisions for the use of various types of mines will not be implemented in the type of conflicts where most recent mine use has occurred. These are often internal conflicts involving poorly trained and equipped forces which may be unable or unwilling to abide by a complex set of rules or to pay an increased price for self-destructing mines.

The disappointing results of the Review Conference have reinforced the ICRC's view that only the stigmatization, prohibition and elimination of anti-personnel mines will put an end to the humanitarian scourge they have caused.

The ICRC will encourage States to adhere to the revised Protocol II of the CCW in order to reinforce the minimum international legal norms which apply when mines are used. However, these norms do not oblige States to use mines or to invest in new mine types. We will therefore encourage States to go far beyond their minimu m legal obligations and to renounce the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines   on the basis of:

(a) their broader moral and humanitarian responsibilities,

(b) the indiscriminate nature of the weapon,

(c) the conclusions of a wide range of acting and former military commanders that the use of anti-personnel mines in accordance with law and doctrine is difficult, if not impossible, even for modern professional armies, and

(d) a judgement that the limited military value of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by their human, economic and social costs.

 4. Towards elimination  

The ICRC, together with the entire International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, will continue efforts to inform the public, military circles and decision makers about the human tragedy caused by landmines and to achieve the stigmatization of anti-personnel mines in the public conscience. The goal will be to ensure that, even before a legal ban is in place, combatants will choose not to use anti-personnel mines due to the abhorrence of their own societies of their effects and that producing countries will choose neither to produce or transfer these pernicious weapons.

We also suggest the following short-term agenda towards the goal of the elimination of AP mines, now endorsed in several resolutions of the UN General Assembly:

 (a) National and Regional Initiatives - The end of the landmines crisis need not await a globally negotiated consensus. National governments and regional or sub-regional organizations can decide to end the crisis in their own territories and thus contribute to a global solution. The twenty-five States which have renounced the use of anti-personnel mines by their own forces and the eleven which are destroying their stockpiles have begun the process of freeing the world from the menace of these arms. Such actions should be seen as a means of protecting one's own populations and territories should conflict occur.

When a critical mass of States have taken such steps a de facto ban will have been achieved; a legal ban may follow as State practice regarding mines changes.

We welcome the resolution adopted last month by the Organisation of American States which called for the establishment of an " Anti-personnel Mine Free Zone " in the Americas. A similar initiative of the Central American Parliament, in which national renunciation of AP mines is combined with increased assistance for mine-clearance and victim assistance could make Central America the first mine infested region to free itself from this scourge.

In February 1996 the Council of Ministers of the Organisation of African Unity called on sub-regional organizations on the continent to launch initiatives for the prohibition of AP mines in support of the OAU's previous commitment to a total ban.

Although this type of initiative has not yet reached governmental level in Europe, the European Parliament, on 13 May, called on all Member States to unilaterally ban the production and use of AP mines and to destroy existing stocks. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, in April of this year, also supported the total prohibition of these weapons. The Interparliamentary Union, representing parliaments, around the world already supported a ban in 1995 and more recently sent an appeal signed by some 250 of its members to the President of the CCW Review Conference. Last December the Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference appealed for the " complete elimination " of anti-personnel mines.

We believe that the political basis for far reaching international action has been established and that the time is ripe for concrete actions on the national and regional levels.

 (b) International Initiatives.  We are also encouraged that Canada will host a international conference in Ottawa in autumn 1996 to bring together the more than forty States which support a global ban on AP mines to consider short and medium term steps they will take towards this end. As the first international meeting of pro-ban States the meeting could significantly increase momentum towards a global ban and promote the types of national and regional measures mentioned above. We also believe it is essential to integrate, on a political level, efforts towards a ban with measures to stop transfers and assistance in mine clearance. We also hope this will be the first of a regular program of intergovernmental meetings in the coming years which will actively pursue the international community's goal of a anti-personnel mine free world.

 (c) Negotiations for a legal ban.  Although it is essential to continue building support for a future global legal ban on anti-personnel mines it is our view that it would be premature to begin, already now, any new global negotiations before political and regional efforts have a chance to mature. Given that recent negotiations by consensus on new legal restraints produced only minimal results the ICRC is concerned that new negotiations, particularly if conducted on the basis of consensus, would lead to disappointing results and could even divert attention from the dialogue needed nationally and regionally, as well as between political and military circles, on how progress can best be achieved.

 (d) Military utility. Progress in international humanit arian law is the result of an ongoing dialogue between military imperatives and humanitarian concerns. The ICRC sought to launch such a dialogue on the issue of anti-personnel mines through the publication, in March 1996, of a study on the actual use and effectiveness of these weapons in conflicts since the second world war. One of the surprising findings was the lack of previous studies, even in military circles, of the use of anti-personnel mines, as used in actual combat. The ICRC will seek to broaden and deepen the dialogue with military organizations on this issue and would welcome collaboration with other appropriate bodies in this effort.

 (e) Increased assistance to mine victims - Currently only a small proportion, estimated at 15%, of mine victims have access to rehabilitation programs. Greatly expanded resources to provide both emergency medical treatment, blood transfusion services and lifetime prosthetics care to victims will be needed, even if mine use were stopped immediately. National and international agencies must be encouraged to increase support for these essential efforts through bilateral arrangements and through assistance to humanitarian agencies including the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

 (f) Enhanced mine clearance efforts - In 1995 the United Nations requested $75 million for mine clearance funding but received only $20 million; this compared to an estimated $33 billion required to clear all currently emplaced mines. A massive and long-term international effort is needed if future generations are to be spared paying the price for today's landmine legacy.

Mine clearance, as was witnessed in El Salvador, can also become a cooperative and reconciling endeavour, among former parties to a conflict. Cooperative efforts among countries in mine affected regions might also help provide substantial benefits to regions concerned.

 5. The broader context  

The landmine issue is but a part of a phenomenon of increasing concern to the ICRC: the virtually unrestricted flow of vast quantities of weapons, particularly small arms, throughout the world and their consistent use in flagrant violation of the norms of international humanitarian law. In recent decades the ICRC has witnessed an appalling spread of small arms, like a cancer, into almost every corner of the world and to groups, including children, which would never before have had access to them. If this trend continues unabated all of the efforts of the international community and of the ICRC to teach respect for humanitarian law will be insufficient. They will be literally overwhelmed by the flow of arms. For it is far easier and far faster to distribute weapons than to disseminate humanitarian law principles to those who possess them.

The ICRC is increasingly convinced that the transfer of arms is a humanitarian law issue. In the coming year we intend to launch a study, as requested by the XXVIth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, on the relationship between arms availability and violations of humanitarian law and to initiate a process of dialogue on the issue within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

 6. Conclusion  

Whether the issue is mines, or small arms, or blinding laser weapons the core issue is the same: whether humanity's moral and humanitarian instincts can control its worst instincts and growing destructive capacities. This will be one of the greatest challenges of the coming millennium. In fact, it may even be the decisive challenge for the future.

The outpou ring of public concern on the landmines issue in recent years, as well as the dramatic response of many governments, are reasons for hope. So also is the prohibition of blinding laser weapons, which represents only the second time in history that a weapon has been prohibited before its horrors were witnessed on the battlefield.

We also draw encouragement from the historic effort in which so many of you have been personally engaged: the achievement of global agreements outlawing biological and chemical weapons and ongoing efforts to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle.

These successes, and the whole history of humanitarian law, are proof that humanity is not impotent in the face of its worst instincts or the destructive uses of modern technology. Those of you involved in arms control negotiations, and in positions of public responsibility concerning the use of mines and other weapons, are not just doing a job. You are handling matters of life and death for countless millions of voiceless people in every corner of the globe. You are at the cutting edge of humanity's struggle for survival.

In the name of all those voiceless ones and potential victims I thank you for your commitment and offer you support for your efforts.

Ref. Exp(2 Jul.96)