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Engaging armed non-state actors in the effort to ban antipersonnel mines

01-11-2004 Statement

Keynote address by Jacques Forster, Vice-President of the ICRC, First Meeting of Signatories to Geneva Call's Deed of Commitment, October 31 – November 1 2004, Geneva, Switzerland.

It is a great privilege for me to address this First Meeting of armed groups signatories to Geneva Call's " Deed of Commitment " and I wish to thank the co-organizers for giving me this opportunity. This meeting sets a notable precedent, and I commend Geneva Call, the Program for the Study of International Organisations, and the " Armed Group Project " of the University of British Columbia for undertaking this important initiative. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Geneva Call for its very valuable work in engaging armed non-state actors to respect the anti-personnel mine ban.

The Geneva Call " Deed of Commitment " represents an important means of achieving the goal of alleviating human suffering through the elimination of anti-personnel mines, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts as to how this initiative might be further developed and strengthened. The goal of the elimination of anti-personnel mines is very relevant to the objective of protecting lives and of preserving human dignity in armed conflicts, which is at the heart of the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of our efforts to ensure respect for international humanitarian law more generally.

 
In order to ensure protection (..) and assistance to victims of war, the ICRC strives to be in daily contact with all sides of a conflict, be they representatives of governmental armed forces or of non-state armed groups..." 
Many of you know the International Committee of the Red Cross from interacting with us in the field. The mission of t he ICRC is to work for the faithful application of International humanitarian law and, therefore, to endeavour to ensure the protection of and assistance to all those affected by armed conflict and internal violence. In over 80 countries worldwide, the ICRC strives on the ground to fulfil this mission – by being close to those affected by the situation, by monitoring respect for international humanitarian law and by being in close dialogue with the warring parties.

In order to do its work – to ensure protection of and assistance to civilians and other victims of war – the ICRC strives to be in daily contact with all sides of a conflict, be they representatives of governmental armed forces or of non-state armed groups, whatever their allegiance. Through these contacts – including with many of you who are present today – we encourage respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict or laws of war. 

The rules of humanitarian law regulate the conduct of hostilities and prevent and limit the suffering of persons affected by armed conflicts, both international and non-international. Respect for the rules of humanitarian law is vital in the mist of armed conflict: they aim at protecting civilians, internally displaced persons, sick and wounded combatants who are no longer participating in the hostilities, and persons who are detained. In addition, it is important to remember that respect for these rules can also have a preventive effect on further or future conflicts. Indeed, the way a war is waged influences the way peace is built. It is in the best interest of a society, as it hopefully moves towards the resolution of a conflict, for the parties to respect humanitarian norms.

 
"...the problem of lack of respect for the law is not related to the adequacy of the rules themselves; the challenge is to increase the political will on the part of the parties to a conflict to respect the rules..." 
Although all parties to an armed conflict – State and armed non-state actors – are bound to respect international humanitarian law, its provisions are all too often disregarded. Where international humanitarian law is not respected, human suffering becomes all the more severe and the consequences all the more difficult to overcome. Yet the problem of lack of respect for the law is not related to the adequacy of the rules themselves; the challenge is to increase the political will on the part of the parties to a conflict to respect the rules – to improve both adherence and implementation.

Given that the majority of armed conflicts today are internal in nature, respect for international humanitarian law in situations of non-international armed conflict is of particular importance. While most rules of humanitarian law were developed in the context of international armed conflict, it is generally accepted today that many of these rules apply also to non-international armed conflicts. As stated in the Tadic decision of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, “what is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife”.

From our contacts in the field, the ICRC is aware of the dilemmas faced by armed groups party to non-international armed conflicts. We are aware that, unlike government soldiers, members of armed groups could face prosecution for their mere participation in the hostilities, a prospect that could leave them with little legal incentive to comply with IHL during the conflict. We are aware that many conflicts are asymmetrical in nature; that armed groups feel limited in the means they have at their disposal to wage war. We are aware that armed groups might not consider themselves bound by treaties that they did not help to draft or to which they have not formally adhered. Our constant aim being to ensure respect for IHL in all circumstances, we are committed to a continued dialogue with armed groups, to listen to their concerns and not merely to tell them what they should do.

 
" Through the use of declarations of intention, we encourage armed groups to make an express commitment to adhere to IHL.." 
The ICRC remains indeed dedicated to maintaining its role as a neutral and independent intermediary, engaging in dialogue with all actors involved in or affecting the way the war is waged. As I am sure you are aware, we conduct a range of activities – with both State and non-state armed actors around the world – aimed at making known the rules of IHL, including through the training of armed forces. In addition, through the contacts with all parties to a conflict, the ICRC negotiates for access to civilians, in order to provide them with assistance, if needed, and to monitor respect for IHL by all sides. We work with both State and non-State armed forces to assist in the development of internal codes of conduct or disciplinary measures for those who violate the law. Through the use of declarations of intention, we encourage armed groups to make an express commitment to adhere to international humanitarian law. Such express commitments may also be made through a special agreement signed by both the State and armed groups party to a conflict. Where possible, the ICRC helps to facilitate dialogue on humanitarian issues between the parties to a conflict, thus helping to establish or restore a minimum degree of trust.  

"Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action" 
 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The focus of this Conference is on ensuring respect for the ban of anti-personnel mines. Geneva Call's " Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action " represents a valuable tool for engaging non-State actors in adhering to and implementing this important humanitarian norm.

 
" In medical terms, landmines have created an "epidemic" of exceptionally severe injury, death and suffering. Epidemics are not stopped by treating their victims, but by eliminating their source. " 
As you know, anti-personnel mines have dreadful consequences for the civilian population. ICRC's surgeons/medical teams and delegates around the world are witnessing a profound medical, human and social crisis caused by anti-personnel mines in nearly every conflict situation in which these weapons had been or are still being used. In medical terms, they have created an " epidemic " of exceptionally severe injury, death and suffering. Epidemics are not stopped by treating their victims, but by eliminating their source. The ICRC therefore made a public appeal in 1994 for a complete ban of anti-personnel mines, adding its voice to that of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Growing public abhorrence with the devastating effects of anti-personnel mines on civilians led States to adopt in 1997 the Ottawa Convention. This marked one of the very few times in history that States agreed to ban completely, on the basis of international humanitarian law, a weapon that was alr eady in generalised use. They recognized that the very limited military utility of anti-personnel mines was far outweighed by their appalling human costs. The Convention provides a comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis caused by anti-personnel mines: not only does it ban the use of anti-personnel mines and require their destruction, it obliges States to take a range of remedial measures to respond to the effects of anti-personnel mines on civilians, such as raising awareness in the civilian population about the dangers of mines, removing the threat of mines already in the ground through mine clearance, and assisting mine victims.

In exactly four weeks from today, the Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World, the name given to the Convention's First Review Conference, will celebrate its successes and address the remaining challenges. And the successes are quite impressive. Today, anti-personnel mines have been stigmatized and the anti-personnel mine ban norm is rapidly becoming universal. Three-quarters of the world's countries have joined the Ottawa Convention. Worldwide use, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines have sharply decreased, including by armed groups. Over 37 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed by States party to the Convention within their deadlines. Significant mine clearance activities are taking place in mine-affected countries in all regions of the world. Most importantly, the ICRC has found that where the Convention is being fully implemented, the annual number of new mine victims has fallen dramatically, in some cases by two thirds or more.

 
" As with all rules of international humanitarian law, in order to be truly effective, the anti-personnel mine ban norm must be respected by all parties to an armed conflict, State and non-State actors alike. " 
But the scourge of landmines is far from over. Mi llions of anti-personnel mines continue to litter fields, pastures, footpaths and playgrounds around the world. This deadly legacy of armed conflicts continues to claim thousands of victims each year, and hinders post-conflict reconstruction. Vast tracts of valuable lands remain unusable due to the presence of anti-personnel mines, impoverishing communities. Too many landmine survivors are not receiving the long-term care and rehabilitation that they desperately need. As with all rules of international humanitarian law, in order to be truly effective, the anti-personnel mine ban norm must be respected by all parties to an armed conflict, State and non-State actors alike. As long as some States remain outside of the Convention, as long as stockpiles of anti-personnel mines continue to exist and parties to conflicts continue to use anti-personnel landmines, these insidious weapons will be a persistent problem. The International Committee of the Red Cross remains absolutely committed to the Ottawa Convention's humanitarian objectives and to bringing about a world free of anti-personnel mines. In this we actively encourage the States that have ratified the Ottawa Convention to engage significantly in implementing their mine clearance and victim assistance obligations under the Convention, and we actively encourage those States that have not yet joined the Convention to do so at the earliest opportunity. We also call on all armed non-State actors, whatever their allegiance, to respect the anti-personnel mine ban, with a view to protecting civilians from the effects of these indiscriminate weapons.  
" In order to demonstrate their commitment to this norm, armed groups should consider signing the Geneva Call's "Deed of Commitment". 
In order to demonstrate their commitment to this norm, armed groups should consider signing the Geneva Call's " Deed of Comm itment " . We congratulate the groups, including those represented here at this conference, that have already signed the Deed of Commitment. We encourage other armed groups to consider doing so at the earliest opportunity, and to fully implement its provisions. Universal adherence to and implementation of the mine ban norm will spare future generations the unspeakable suffering caused by anti-personnel mines and ensure that they live free from their silent menace.

Thank you.