ICRC statement to the Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

07-11-2006 Statement

Statement of Dr Philip Spoerri, Director for International Law and Cooperation within the Movement International Committee of the Red Cross Third Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva, 7-17 November 2006

The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is a cornerstone of international efforts to protect civilians from conventional weapons which may have indiscriminate effects and to spare combatants from excessively severe injuries which serve no justifiable military purpose. The potential of this Convention is reflected in the achievements of States Parties during the past 11 years. In this period the Convention was extended to cover non-international armed conflicts, blinding laser weapons were prohibited and new restrictions were placed on landmines, booby traps and similar devices. The Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War established new rules to minimize the death, injury and suffering caused by unexploded and abandoned ordnance.

Over the next two weeks States Parties have an opportunity to reinforce and build upon past successes. The Third Review Conference is an opportunity to examine the status and operation of the Convention and its Protocols, to evaluate the changes that have occurred in weapons technology and the nature of armed conflict and to further enhance international humanitarian law in a number of important areas. After five years of discussions it is also time for States Parties to take decisions on important humanitarian issues. The ICRC urges States Parties to adopt a new Protocol to reduce the human costs of anti-vehicle mines and to begin developing a new instrument to address the severe and long-term consequences of the use of cluster munitions.

Mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM) have been the subject of extensive discussion in the CCW's Group of Governmental Experts. The ICRC has documented the serious impact of such mines on civilia n populations and on humanitarian assistance operations. Our delegates have witnessed the tragic results of MOTAPM use when civilian vehicles encounter such weapons. They have also been the victims of MOTAPM, as recently as September when an ICRC delegate in Senegal was killed on a roadway while travelling to conduct a survey of the needs of displaced persons. In many contexts our efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance are hampered due to the presence of MOTAPM, denying civilian populations the assistance they have a right to expect under the Geneva Conventions.

A new MOTAPM Protocol could strengthen current rules by requiring such weapons to be detectable and short-lived. But to be effective it must be legally binding, represent a significant advance over the rules for MOTAPM contained in Amended Protocol II and be clear enough that it will be readily implemented so as to have an impact in solving the problem on the ground.

This Review Conference will also decide whether CCW States Parties will address the urgent issue of cluster munitions. For nearly 40 years, these weapons have been known to cause high levels of civilian death and injury both during and after armed conflicts. Yet, the civilian suffering and the burden of clearing these weapons continues to grow relentlessly. The list of States affected by these weapons increases every year or so. These include Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998, Serbia and Montenegro in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and now Lebanon.

The ICRC believes that the time has come for strong international action to end the predicable pattern of human tragedy associated with cluster munitions. In our view, the specific characteristics of these weapons, the unfortunate history of their use and their severe and long-lasting costs to civilians fully justifies strong action. The ICRC is today calling upon all States to take the following steps at national level:

  • to immediately end the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions;

  • to prohibit the targeting of cluster munitions against any military objective located in a populated area;
  • to eliminate stocks of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions and, pending their destruction, not to transfer such weapons to other countries.

The ICRC also believes that a new international instrument is needed to comprehensively and effectively address the problem of cluster munitions. In this regard, we are prepared to host an international expert meeting in early 2007 to begin identifying the elements of such an agreement. I would like to emphasize that the ICRC does not take lightly its decision to call for regulation of a specific weapon. However, in our view, the severe and disproportionate human costs associated with cluster munitions necessitate such an approach. I would add that the call for specific regulation of cluster munitions is shared by the worldwide network of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation.

Review Conferences also play a crucial role in promoting universalisation and full implementation of the CCW and in examining the health of the Convention and its Protocols. However, the First and Second Review Conferences had limited time to review the CCW's status and operation. As 25 years have passed since the Convention was adopted, it would now seem appropriate for States Parties to conduct a substantive review and to consider certain " unfinished business " from previous review conferences. The ICRC has highlighted a number of specific issues that deserve such review. These include national implementation of CCW obligations, a call by the last Review Conference for the establ ishment of national mechanisms to review the legality of new weapons and the clarification of certain issues related to Protocol IV on blinding laser weapons. The ICRC will comment on specific aspects of these matters during the appropriate sessions of the Main Committees.

In 2001 the ICRC submitted a report to the Second Review Conference highlighting our concern that the prohibition of the use of bullets which explode within the human body, derived from the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration, was in danger of being undermined by the production and proliferation of certain 12.7mm " multipurpose " bullets. The Review Conference invited States to review the ICRC report, and other relevant information, and to take appropriate action. Repeated ballistic tests confirmed that these " multi-purpose " bullets can be expected to detonate in the human body under a variety of circumstances, including at short ranges and after striking body armour. We are aware that some States do not share the ICRC's ongoing concerns and that some have sponsored ballistic tests from which they have drawn different conclusions. We are not proposing further action by the Third Review Conference on this matter. Nonetheless, the ICRC invites States, whatever their views on the performance of the " multipurpose " bullet in question, to confirm that they consider, as does the ICRC, that the anti-personnel use of bullets which explode within the human body is prohibited. We also urge States to integrate this rule in their military manuals and other training materials.

Mr. President,

In the preamble of this Convention States have affirmed the necessity of protecting civilians from the effects of hostilities and their commitment to the " progressive development " of the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict. This Review Conference has the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to these nob le objectives. The ICRC looks forward to working with all delegations towards this end.

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