Each year large numbers of civilians are killed and injured by "explosive remnants of war". These are the unexploded weapons such as artillery shells, mortars, grenades, bombs and rockets, left behind after an armed conflict. In 2003, the international community adopted a treaty to help reduce the human suffering caused by explosive remnants of war and bring rapid assistance to affected communities.
When an armed conflict is over, the battlefields are often littered with explosive debris. Much of this debris is still dangerous, in particular stocks of weapons left behind by combatants and explosive munitions that were fired but failed to go off as intended.
For the civilians and communities in war-affected countries the presence of these weapons represents an ongoing threat. Many innocent civilians have lost their lives and limbs by disturbing or inadvertently coming into contact with explosive remnants of war. These weapons can also hinder reconstruction and threaten economic livelihood. Houses, hospitals and schools cannot be rebuilt until such weapons are cleared. Contaminated land cannot be farmed.
Local communities often have no means of dealing with the problem themselves. Most do not have the technical capacity or the resources to clear explosive remnants of war safely and few the resources needed to deal with the psychological, medical and rehabilitative needs of victims.
Globally, there are millions of explosive remnants of war on the ground today affecting more than 80 countries. Some countries have been dealing with this problem for decades. Poland, for example, has cleared some 100 million items from the two World Wars. In Laos, where the wars in Indochina ended in 1975, tens of millions of explosive remnants of war still remain to be cleared. More recent conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan have also produced significant amounts of explosive remnants of war.
States have taken a significant steps towards reducing the human suffering caused by explosive remnants of war and bringing assistance to affected communities. The Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, adopted in November 2003 by the States Parties to the. 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is a major advance in efforts to end the suffering caused by unexploded and abandoned munitions.
The Protocol requires each party to a conflict to clear explosive remnants of war from the territory it controls once the hostilities are over. It also requires them to provide technical, material and financial assistance to clear explosive remnants of war in areas not under its control that resulted from its own operations.
As clearing a country of these weapons may take years, measures such as marking, fencing and risk education for the local population must also be taken to help protect civilians. Countries in a position to do so are also required to provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation of victims.
To facilitate these activities the Protocol requires parties to a conflict to record information on the explosives they used during a conflict and share that information with other parties and clearance organizations once the fighting has ended. Lack of information has often slowed past efforts to deal with explosive remnants of war.
The Protocol is a significant development and provides an important framework to facilitate a rapid response where explosive remnants of war remain. The protection of civilians will be greatly enhanced by adherence to the Protocol by all governments and the full implementation of its provisions.