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Progress towards the Ottawa Convention's aims in Central Asia

15-04-2004 Statement

Opening Statement of Professor Daniel Thürer, Member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Dushanbe Conference,15-16 April 2004

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I would like to thank Government of Tadjikistan, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining for organising this conference on a subject of great importance to the ICRC.

As many of you know, the ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent humanitarian organisation, established over 140 years ago, which works in situations of war and internal violence to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war, providing them assistance, and promoting the development of the law to protect them. The Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines reflects all aspects of our mission, which includes direct support for tens of thousands of mine victims, for whom we provide medical assistance and physical rehabilitation programmes, and work with mine-affected communities, where we raise awareness about the dangers of landmines.

The ICRC's call, in 1994, for a total ban on anti-personnel mines was based on the experience of our medical staff around the world who had witnessed a profound medical, human and social crisis in nearly all the situations where these weapons had been used. In medical terms, they had created an " epidemic " of exceptionnally severe injury, death and suffering.

Growing public abhorrence with the devastating effects of anti-personnel mines on civilians led governments to adopt, in 1997, the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines.

The ban on anti-personnel mines is based on two of the most fundamental rules governing the choice of weapons under international humanitarian law:

  • first, the rule whereby parties to an armed conflict must at all time distinguish civilians from combatants, and spare civilians from attack; and

  • second, the rule prohibiting the use of weapons of a nature to cause excessive suffering.

Anti-personnel mines are indiscriminate in their effects: they cannot " distinguish " between the soldier and the civilian. They are " victim-activated " , that is, they are designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a person, be it a soldier or civilian, man, woman or child . Anti-personnel mines continue to strike blindly long after conflicts have ceased, killing and maiming mostly civilians.

The suffering caused by anti-personnel mines is particularly horrific, and war-hardened ICRC surgeons consider them among the worse injuries they have to treat. The detonation of a buried anti-personnel mine rips off one or both legs of the victim and drives soil, grass, gravel, metal and the plastic fragments of the mine casing, pieces of the shoe, and shattered bone up into the muscles and lower parts of the body. Those who survive an anti-personnel mine blast typically require amputation, multiple operations, and prolonged physical rehabilitation. Mine survivors suffer permanent disability and the social, psychological and economic implications of being disabled. The effects of anti-personnel mines do not occur by " accident " : these weapons are specifically designed to shatter limbs and lives beyond repair.

In a 1996 study conducted on behalf of the ICRC, Anti-personnel Landmines: Friend or Foe?  A study of the military use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines , ICRC, Geneva 1996. military experts concluded that the high human cost of anti-personnel mines far outweighs their limited military value.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The adoption of the Ottawa Convention in 1997 marked the first time in history that States agreed to ban completely, on the basis of international humanitarian law, a weapon that was already in widespread use. Indeed, the Convention is more than a disarmament treaty: it is a humanitarian programme of action designed to respond to the humanitarian consequences of anti-personnel mines, by committing States to remove the threat of mines already in the ground, assist mine victims and raise awareness in the civilian population about the dangers of anti-personnel mines.

The implementation of the Ottawa Convention has been characterized by a unique degree of cooperation among governments, international agencies and non-governmental organizations. Most significantly, the Convention's requirements of mine awareness, mine clearance and victim assistance are making a real difference in the lives of affected communities. The ICRC has found that where the Convention is being fully implemented, the annual number of new mine victims has fallen by two thirds or more.

However, the landmine crisis is far from over. Millions of antipersonnel mines continue to devastate populations around the world, claiming thousands of new victims each year, and impoverishing communities. Vast tracts of valuable lands remain unusable due to the presence of a nti-personnel mines. Ridding the world or anti-personnel mines and caring for landmine victims throughout their lifetime requires the long-term commitment of all.

We are encouraged that over 2/3 of the world's States have recognized that ending the human suffering caused by anti-personnel mines can only be achieved through a total ban of these indiscriminate and inhumane weapons. But so long as States remain outside of the Convention and continue to produce new anti-personnel mines, to retain large stockpiles, and to reserve themselves the right to use them, anti-personnel landmines will remain a persistent humanitarian problem.

This goal of the eventual global elimination of anti-personnel mines was reaffirmed by consensus by States Parties to the Geneva Conventions at the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, held in Geneva in December 2003. Noting that virtually all of the world's States have subscribed to this goal, the ICRC urges all States that are not yet party to the Ottawa Convention to adhere to it at the earliest opportunity.

At the end of 2004, the Ottawa Convention's first Review Conference – referred to as the Nairobi Summit for a Mine Free World -- will take place in Nairobi, Kenya. The Nairobi Summit will have the crucial tasks of reviewing the progress made since the entry into force of the Convention in 1999, and of adopting a " plan of action " for the next five years, with a view to the Convention's 10-year mine clearance deadlines, which will start to fall as of 2009.

States that are not yet party to the Ottawa Convention should seize the opportunity of this significant year to join. Universal adherence to the Convention will spare future generations the unspeakable suffering caused by anti-personnel mines and ensure that they live free from their silent menace.

Thank you.