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Towards a Total Ban on Anti-personnel Mines, International Strategy Conference, Ottawa, 3-5 October 1996

04-10-1996 Statement

Statement by Cornelio Sommaruga, President, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva.

I would like to pay tribute at the outset to the Canadian government and in particular to Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy for undertaking this important initiative to bring the international community together, for the first time, in pursuit of the total prohibition and elimination of anti-personnel landmines. This conference is invested with the aspirations of many tens of thousands of potential civilian victims who simply wish to live their lives without fear that the land which feeds them will kill or maim them, that the rains and streams upon which they depend will carry the seeds of unspeakable suffering, that a step too far will be the last. This is not too much for a human being to hope for; this is why this conference can and must succeed.

Every single day our doctors and nurses 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 coherent answer. Neither, so far, has the international community.

Given its mandate to care for and protect the victims of war the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would have been negligent if it did not act. In our field work we have 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 cooperated with local and national medical personnel to assist many times that number. We are currently running mine awareness programs for civilian populations in six countries on four continents.

In addition to its specific operational mandate as an impartial humanitarian organization in situations of armed conflict the ICRC is charged with the promotion and development of international humanitarian law. Based on our field experience we began consultations in 1992 with military commanders, diplomats, and legal and medical experts to develop a view of what could be done on the legal level. By early 1994 we were convinced that anti-personnel mines were too cheap, too small and too difficult to use according to the complex rules of the 1980 UN Convention. At that point we publicly stated our view that these mines are an indiscriminate weapon and that the only effective solution would be an absolute prohibition on their production, transfer and use. My first high level political contact on this issue was here in Ottawa with the Honourable Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, in May 1994.

Anti-personnel mines must not only be outlawed, but their use must also be stigmatized, so that whatever their understanding of the law combatants will choose not to use them because they are considered abhorrent to the societies in which they operate. Towards this end the ICRC, along with the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement launched in 1995, for the first time in its history, an international media campaign seeking to stigmatize AP mines and call for their elimination. Global efforts to reach the public on this issue have been effective. A recent survey by the Gallup organization of public opinion in 21 countries, from both north and south, shows support for a total ban by 60 to 92 percent of these populations, including - I am glad to say - 73% of Canadians.

Since 1994 the ICRC has had the privilege, in keeping with its mandate as guardian of the Geneva Conventions, to participate and contribute background documentation to the preparatory process and meeting s of the Review Conference of the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The ICRC warmly welcomed a number of improvements in the landmines Protocol including its extension to apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts, clear assignment of responsibility for mine clearance, requirements that the location of all mines be recorded, new protections for ICRC and other humanitarian workers and a requirement that States enact penal sanctions to punish serious violations of its provisions.

Unfortunately, the new limitations on the use of anti-personnel mines, covering detectability and self-destruction of certain mines, are weak and overly complex. There is a danger that these provisions will not be implemented in the type of conflicts in which most recent use has occurred. Poorly trained or equipped forces may be unwilling or unable to abide by a complex set of rules or pay an increased price for self-destructing mines. It is indeed appalling that parties are not required to implement even these minimal restrictions on use until 9 years after entry-into-force of the revised Protocol, which means around 2007. By this time we expect that mines will have claimed well over 200,000 new victims - unless States do far more than is required by the law.

We are therefore greatly encouraged that more than forty States have come to Ottawa ready to do more; determined to go beyond what could be achieved by the lowest common denominator in a process of consensus and explore what must be done in the name of humanity, compassion and enlightened self-interest.

It is our belief that the Ottawa plan of action towards the elimination of anti-personnel mines can build upon four conclusions which many States have accepted, explicitly or implicitly, in supporting a total ban:

1. that States have a moral and humanitarian responsibility to protect their own po pulations and territories from the proven effects of anti-personnel mines;

2. that these weapons are inherently indiscriminate;

3. that, as agreed by a wide range of acting and former military commanders, the use of anti-personnel mines in accordance with law and doctrine is difficult, if not impossible, even for modern professional armies, and

4. that the limited military utility of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by their human, economic and social costs.

In accepting these conclusions one is compelled to move beyond negotiation to independent action. The end of the landmines crisis can not await a globally negotiated consensus. Indeed, few, if any, emergencies of this scale have been resolved by consensus. The ICRC is convinced that leadership by like-minded governments, non-governmental bodies and the concerned public is now indispensable in ending the landmines crisis. Let me indicate the kind of steps we have in mind:

 1 . National and Regional Initiatives - National governments and regional or sub-regional organizations can decide to eliminate anti-personnel mines from their own territories and thus contribute to a global solution. The twenty-five States which have renounced the use of anti-personnel mines and the eleven which are destroying their stockpiles have begun the process of changing State practice. 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 changes.

We welcome the resolution adopted in June 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 to launch initiatives for the prohibition of AP mines in support of the OAU's previous commitment to a total ban.

Although such action 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.

2. At the global level the Ottawa conference must clearly signal the beginning of the end of anti-personnel mines. It can only do so by committing States present to a specific plan of concrete actions which they will take independently and encourage others to take. Renunciation of the use of anti-personnel mines by a specific early date and a permanent end to their production and transfer should be the hallmarks of the Ottawa Group and an example for others to follow. Indeed many of the States present have already undertaken such commitments. In taking on such political commitments States of the Ottawa group will be in a stronger position to promote consideration of similar steps in resolutions of the UN General Assembly and regional fora.

The Ottawa Group can also commit themselves to specific forms of political cooperation and material assistance among themselves, for instance in the destruction of existing mines and mine clearance activities. We hope this Group will launch a process of regular meetings which will review progress in implementing the Ottawa declaration and consider new means to promote a global ban.

3. Although it is essential to continue building support for a future global legal ban on anti-personnel mines it is o ur view that it would be premature to begin new global negotiations for a ban before regional and political efforts, such as that being launched here, have a chance to mature. Given that recent negotiations by consensus on legal restraints produced only modest results the ICRC is concerned that new negotiations, particularly if conducted on the basis of consensus, would lead to further disillusionment with the negotiating process and could divert attention from national and regional decisions on how to achieve progress in particular geographic areas. In addition, there is a real danger that negotiations conducted exclusively in a disarmament context, as is now being considered, would quickly lose sight of the humanitarian purpose and humanitarian law basis of this exercise.

4. Progress in international humanitarian law is the result of an ongoing dialogue between military imperatives and humanitarian concerns. The ICRC sought to launch an in-depth dialogue on the military utility of anti-personnel mines through the publication, in March 1996, of a study by military commanders on the actual use and effectiveness of these weapons in 26 conflicts. The ICRC will seek in 1997 to broaden and deepen our dialogue on this issue with military officers and research institutes and would encourage efforts of others in the same direction.

5. Currently only a small proportion of mine victims have access to rehabilitation programs. Greatly expanded resources for emergency medical treatment and lifetime prosthetics care to victims are needed. National and international agencies must be encouraged to increase support for these essential efforts both through bilateral arrangements and through humanitarian agencies.

6. In 1995 pledges announced for mine clearance amounted to around $100 million of the estimated $33 billion required to clear all currently emplaced mines. A massive and long-term international effort is needed if future genera tions are to be spared paying the price for today's landmine legacy. Clearance efforts also need to be integrated into comprehensive national and regional efforts to ensure that new mines are not laid and that the needs of affected populations are addressed.

In closing I would like to return to the human face of the landmines crisis.

Much of the emphasis in efforts to ban anti-personnel mines has been on the fact, also stressed by the ICRC, that they injure combatants and civilians alike without discrimination. This focus on non-combatants is of great importance. However, it has stolen attention from another group of potential victims of war who are provided protection by international humanitarian law, namely, soldiers.

Article 35 of Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 re-states a long-standing customary rule of humanitarian law: " It is prohibited to employ weapons....of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering " . This rule is intended to protect combatants. It is understood to prohibit the infliction, by design, of more injury than is needed to take a soldier out of combat.

If a person steps on a buried anti-personnel mine, his or her foot or leg is blown off. The force of the blast drives earth, grass, the vaporized mine case and portions of the victim's shoe and foot upwards into the tissues of the other leg, buttocks, genitals, arms and sometimes the eyes. With those mines which have a larger volume of explosive, including some fragmentation mines, death may be inevitable. If the wounded person gets to a hospital with the necessary facilities and expertise (both of which are rare in mine affected countries) he or she will require several operations, will stay in hospital four weeks at least and will require a safe blood transfusion. Awaiting the survivor is permanent and severe disability with all the social, psychological and econo mic implications of being an amputee. Mines are designed to produce these effects.

Would not most people, including soldiers, describe the effects of mines just mentioned as superfluous and excessive to the military need?

The international response to the landmines crisis, the recent prohibition of blinding laser weapons, the well established bans on chemical and biological arms, and indeed the whole history of humanitarian law are proof that humanity is not impotent in the face of its worst tendencies or the destructive uses of modern technology. Collectively the governments and organisations gathered here have the ability to ensure that anti-personnel landmines disappear from large parts of the world; that children in war torn lands no longer have to fear the ground they tread upon. In the name of the victims we insist that Ottawa must mark a watershed in eradicating forever the plague of anti-personnel mines.

Ref. EXSO 96.10.04-ENG