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Eighth Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention

20-10-2003 Statement

ICRC statement to the 8th Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the CWC The Hague, 20-25 October 2003

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) attaches great importance to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), the ultimate goal of which is to rid mankind of an abhorrent weapon that causes excessive suffering and has indiscriminate effects.

The ICRC is an independent, neutral and impartial humanitarian organisation mandated under the 1949 Geneva Conventions to protect and assist victims of armed conflict, as well as to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law, also known as the " law of war " .  International humanitarian law includes detailed rules aimed at regulating the conduct of hostilities, in particular restricting the belligerents'choice of weapons, means and methods of warfare, with a view to reducing the suffering caused by war.  In relation to chemical weapons, it is worth recalling that in 1921, the 10th International Conference of the Red Cross unanimously endorsed the ICRC's call for " the absolute prohibition of the use asphyxiating gases, which are cruel and barbaric means that inflict terrible suffering on their victims. "   This provided an impetus to the adoption in 1925 of the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use in war of asphyxiating, poison and other gases -- the precursor of the CWC.

As is recalled in the Action Plan for the universality of the CWC being considered by this Conference, universalization is one of the key challenges to achieving the total elimination of chemical weapons.  In promoting the ratification and implementation of international humanitarian law treaties, the ICRC continuously urges States to adhere to the CWC and, for States that have not yet done so, to accede to the 1925 Geneva Protoco l.  The ICRC considers that efforts to achieve the universality of the CWC are greatly enhanced when States are reminded of the Convention's deep roots in international humanitarian law, in particular in the universal prohibition of the deliberate spread of poison and disease.  This age-old prohibition is found in ancient codes of war and more recently in the 1925 Geneva Protocol.  Since its entry into force five and a half years ago, the CWC has played a crucial role in reinforcing this fundamental prohibition.

The ICRC also welcomes the work being done in this meeting on the Action Plan on Article VII.  The ICRC has considerable experience in supporting and advising governments on the development of implementing legislation for international humanitarian law norms.  Through its Advisory Service on International Humanitarian Law, which consists of a worldwide network of regional legal advisers, the ICRC is available to provide technical assistance to States, in cooperation with the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), for the development of their penal legislation under Article VII of the CWC.  In this regard, the ICRC participated as observer in the Regional Conference of the African National Authorities of States Parties, which took place in August 2003 in Khartoum, Sudan, where it presented its role in the promotion and implementation of the CWC.  The ICRC is committed to pursuing such efforts in cooperation with States Parties and the Technical Secretariat.

As the ICRC emphasised in its statement to the First Review Conference in April, the Convention's integrity is fundamentally dependent on vigilance regarding new technologies that could undermine its object and purpose.  In this regard the ICRC expressed its alarm at the increasing inte rest among police, security and armed forces in the use of incapacitating chemicals, and at the lack of attention to the implications of these developments for the CWC and international humanitarian law in general.  In our statement, we also urged States Parties to begin a process aimed at clarifying the meaning of the Convention's law enforcement provisions in Article 1.  We would be pleased to discuss with delegations the concerns raised in our April statement and again encourage this Conference to begin work to address these important issues.