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Weapons: ICRC statement to the United Nations

22-10-1997 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly 52nd session. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 22 October 1997.

Mr. Chairman,

At the outset, I would like to state that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies fully shares the views expressed in this statement.

 Anti-personnel mines  

Seldom, if ever, has a resolution of the General Assembly been implemented as rapidly or in such a deter mined manner as that of 10 December 1996 (A/RES/51/45S) calling for a new international agreement to ban anti-personnel mines. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes and fully endorses the new international treaty adopted by the Oslo Diplomatic Conference on 18 September 1997. Less than one year after this Assembly called for its elaboration, States will be invited to sign a legally binding instrument outlawing anti-personnel mines in Ottawa on 3 and 4 December. This extraordinary accomplishment by States, civil society and international institutions shows that the international community can take decisive action for the sake of humanity.

In this connection, we would like to warmly congratulate the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its Coordinator, Jody Williams, on being awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

The adoption of a new international norm prohibiting anti-personnel mines is a milestone event, not only for the speed with which it was elaborated but also because this is the first time that a weapon in widespread use by armed forces throughout the world is being prohibited and withdrawn be cause of its appalling humanitarian effects.

The ICRC particularly welcomes the absolute and unambiguous character of the new treaty banning the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. We are fully committed to ensuring that this norm is universally adhered to and implemented in the shortest possible time. We are convinced that the clear norm contained in the Ottawa treaty is the basis of its moral and political credibility and will facilitate its universalization, even if some may have difficulty accepting this norm immediately.

As with other instruments of international humanitarian law, and of arms control law, universality will be the result of a historical process. The essential elements are public abhorrence of the use of a particular weapon and the consistent exercise by States of the political will to ensure that the norm is adhered to and respected.

The ICRC appeals to all States to sign the Ottawa treaty in December and make ratification of this instrument one of their top humanitarian priorities for 1998 and beyond. We encourage Governments when signing to announce that, consistent with Article 18, they will provisionally apply the basic commitments contained in Article 1 even before the treaty enters into force. We hope that even those States unable to sign this Treaty in December will undertake the military and policy adjustments with a view to their signing and/or adherence at an early date.

The signing of the treaty in Ottawa will only mark the beginning of the end of the global humanitarian crisis caused by anti-personnel mines. The human and social legacy of the landmine scourge has only barely begun to be addressed. Being maimed by an illegal weapon will bring little solace to future victims of uncleared mines. Today's child amputee, often with no hope of an artificial limb, will find sca nt comfort in a total ban. Therefore, we urge all governments to mobilize the resources needed for long-term programs of mine awareness, mine clearance and for the care and rehabilitation of landmine victims. In this context, it is worth mentioning the work already undertaken by the ICRC and many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to provide emergency care, and medical and rehabilitative assistance to victims of mines.

As we move towards the elimination of anti-personnel mines the ICRC encourages States to ensure that the minimum rules relating to this weapon are also strengthened through the early entry into force of Protocol II of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), as amended on 3 May 1996. Even for States which will adhere to the Ottawa Treaty, being additionally a Party to the CCW's Protocol II will provide significant advantages:

 First , the rules and humanitarian protections in Protocol II regarding booby traps, anti-vehicle mines and " other devices " will apply both in internal armed conflicts and in those between States Parties;

 Secondly , if a State Party to the Ottawa Treaty is engaged in an armed conflict with a State bound only by the CCW's amended Protocol II, the latter will be obliged to implement minimum norms and humanitarian protections. Specifically, it will bear clear legal responsibility for the removal of mines, booby traps and other devices at the end of hostilities; and

 Thirdly , Parties to the CCW's Protocol II will have the right to participate in annual meetings of States Parties and future Review Conferences where further development of the Convention will be considered.

While adhering to amended Protocol II of the CCW States should also adhere to Protocol IV on the prohibition of the use and transfer of blinding laser weapons, so that this important norm of international humanitarian law enters into force at the earliest possible date. Non-Parties should adhere to all four Protocols.

 Chemical and Biological Weapons  

The ICRC also welcomes the historic entry into force this year of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the establishment in The Hague of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to oversee its implementation. We commend all those governments whose tireless work over more than twenty years of negotiations have constructed this bulwark against a return to the horrors of chemical arms on the battlefield. This Convention represents a major reinforcement of the long standing norm of international humanitarian law against the use of poison as a means of warfare. We urge those States which have not yet done so to adhere to the CWC. This should also be the occasion for those which have maintained reservations to the 1925 Geneva Protocol to withdraw them.

No less urgent is the need for equipping the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 with its own compliance monitoring system. We hope that ongoing efforts to develop such a regime will be pursued with far more vigour than has been evident to date and that a Special Conference of States Parties will be held well before the next Review Conference to adopt the required measures. In keeping with basic obligations undertaken in the BWC we call on all governments to exercise strict oversight in the fields of microbiology, genetic engineering and biotechnology to ensure that the rapid developments currently being witnessed will be used for humanity and will not be turned against it.

 Future Weapons  

Th is year we have witnessed important successes as a mechanism to permanently eliminate chemical warfare has come into full force. We are also seeing a weapon which has inflicted untold suffering on civilian populations on the verge of being outlawed and purged from the arsenals of nations. However, in the coming decades, the potential for development of particularly heinous and indiscriminate arms will continue to outpace the ability of mankind to respond. It is for this reason that States bear a particular obligation, in Article 36 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to determine whether weapons under development would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by the rules of international humanitarian law.

We believe that a great deal of the suffering we have witnessed from the use of currently prohibited arms, and the costs associated with their elimination, could have been avoided if the norms of international humanitarian law were more scrupulously taken into account before weapons were developed and deployed. We suggest that in an era of rapid technological advances the obligation to examine the humanitarian law implications of all new weapons, including those assumed to be " non-lethal " , must be taken with the utmost seriousness. This means that potential weapons must be examined not only in the light of treaty law relating to specific named weapons, but also in the light of the basic rules of international humanitarian law that prohibit the use of weapons that are inherently indiscriminate or are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. The ICRC, for its part, will continue to carefully follow such developments in keeping with its mandate for the promotion and development of international humanitarian law.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Ref. LG 1997-107-ENG