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2nd Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

11-12-2001 Statement

Statement by Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 11 December 2001.

The Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is an important opportunity for the international community to strengthen international humanitarian law and to reinforce the protections this law provides to civilians and combatants in situations of armed conflict. Since the Convention was adopted 21 years ago, there have been significant developments both in weapons technology and in the nature and conduct of armed conflict. Over the next 10 days, States Parties can reinforce the Convention so as to ensure  that it continues to fulfil its objective of preventing death, injury and suffering which serves no military purpose.

Through its work in war affected areas, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has witnessed first hand the effects of modern armed conflict. Today, a large proportion of conflicts take place among parties within the borders of States. All too often civilian populations pay a terrible price. The ICRC urges States Parties to give high priority at this Conference to extending the scope of application of the Convention and its Protocols to non-international armed conflict. It is most encouraging that there has been wide recognition throughout the preparatory process of the need for an extension of scope and  for an amendment of the framework Convention to achieve this. The ICRC urges States Parties to amend the Convention in such a way that all current and future protocols will apply to non-international armed conflicts unless otherwise specified in the Protocol itself. Such a development would be a strong affirmation that the rules of the Convention are fundamental norms which need to be applied in all situ ations of armed conflict. It would also be an important signal to States which are not a party to this instrument and to armed opposition groups that these are minimum standards of behaviour for all armed forces in all armed conflicts. This action would in no way affect the legal status of parties to a conflict.

The ICRC's work also brings us face-to-face with the severe and long-term consequences of explosive remnants of war. Nearly every major armed conflict in modern times has left behind enormous amounts of unexploded artillery shells, mortars, hand grenades, landmines, submunitions and other ordnance. All too often it is civilians who lose their lives or limbs by coming into contact with these devices. In one striking example, ICRC casualty data from the post-conflict period in Kosovo showed that cluster bomb submunitions claimed five times as many victims among children under age fourteen as did anti-personnel landmines.

As has been described in the preparatory meetings, the problem of explosive remnants of war is a global and long standing one. Countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Kuwait, Laos, Libya, Mozambique, Iraq, Poland and many others have been dealing with this problem for years and sometimes for decades. In some contexts thousands of people have been killed or injured and tens of millions of dollars spent on the clearance of unexploded ordnance. As weapon systems capable of delivering huge amounts of ordnance over greater distances proliferate, so too will the human, social and financial costs. In the view of the ICRC, it is unacceptable that those who have endured the horrors of war must subsequently risk becoming war victims during times of peace. Unlike many other humanitarian problems, this one is predictable and can largely be prevented.

The ICRC believes that this Review Conference is the moment for States to commit themselves to preventing and reducing the consequences of explosive remnants of war. Through amended Protocol II of this Convention, States Parties have already adopted rules which clearly establish the responsibility of users of mines, booby traps and similar devices to take steps to ensure that these weapons are removed or destroyed and to facilitate the work of mine clearance and mine awareness organisations. In our view, similar measures should be adopted for all forms of unexploded ordnance. In light of the well documented problems associated with the design and use of cluster bombs and other submunitions, we have also proposed a prohibition on the use of these weapons against any military objective located in a concentration of civilians. This would reinforce existing rules in Article 51 of 1977 Additional Protocol I regarding indiscriminate attacks.

The ICRC greatly appreciates the careful consideration that States Parties have given to its proposal on explosive remnants of war. The ICRC now urges this Conference to begin a focused and credible process leading to the development of a new legal instrument. Given the seriousness of this problem we encourage States to begin work urgently and to conclude negotiations at the earliest possible time.

At the Third Meeting of the Preparatory Committee in September 2001, the ICRC highlighted the need to ensure respect for the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration. The ICRC is deeply concerned about the proliferation of 12.7 mm " multi-purpose " bullets which, through repeated testing, have been shown to frequently explode within internationally recognised human tissue simulants. The ICRC believes that the proliferation of these bullets will undermine the St. Petersburg Declaration as well as the prohibition of the use of weapons which cause unnecessary suffering - a norm which is at the very heart of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. The ICRC r eport submitted to the September Preparatory Committee requests States to ensure that such bullets are not produced, used or transferred. In view of the importance of this issue, the ICRC asks that the Final Declaration of this Review Conference take note of the ICRC report and encourage States to review their stocks of explosive 12.7 mm ammunition in light of its contents and recommendations. The ICRC believes that such steps will prevent the weakening of fundamental norms of international humanitarian law.

In addition to the issues highlighted here, the ICRC looks forward to working with delegations on other proposals submitted to the Conference. The ICRC supports efforts to strengthen the rules on anti-vehicle mines, to establish a compliance mechanism for the Convention and its Protocols and to consider limits on the energy deposit of small calibre ammunition. Later this week the ICRC will circulate suggestions for the Final Declaration on the issue of blinding laser weapons . In the Final Declaration of the First Review Conference States Parties recognised the need for the total prohibition of these weapons, the use and transfer of which were prohibited in Protocol IV, and to monitor related scientific and technological developments. The ICRC believes that such concerns remain valid today and should again be acknowledged by the Review Conference.

The UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is viewed by the ICRC as an important pillar of international humanitarian law. It is the principal instrument regulating conventional weapons and builds upon long established customary rules. The ICRC calls on all States which have not yet done so to adhere to this instrument and to all four of its Protocols. As illustrated by the adoption of Protocol IV banning blinding laser weapons in 1995 and the strengthening of Protocol II in 1996, the Convention is intended to be dynamic and to respond both to realities on the ground and to technological developments. This Review Conference has an important opportunity and responsibility to ensure that the Convention addresses the realities of modern warfare and to further our common goal of preventing needless suffering in armed conflict. I wish you well in your efforts.