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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

24-10-1994 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly 49th session (1994). Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

 1. The challenge facing the Review Conference of the 1980 Convention  

Mr. Chairman,

Thanks to the initiative of the government of France, we are now in the process of discussing possible amendments to the 1980 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 (Certain Conventional Weapons Convention or CCW).

The ICRC would like to express its gratitude for being able to take an active role in these discussions and for having been asked to prepare two preparatory documents for the Group of Government Experts, one on the subject of landmines and the second on other issues relevant to the review of the 1980 Convention.

The challenge that is facing the Conference is that of agreeing on amendments that will transform the Convention into a dynamic instrument. This Conference has received widespread attention from the world's media and from groups that earnestly hope for meaningful measures to rid the world of the terrible suffering caused by mines and to prevent severe problems which could be caused by other weapon developments. It is therefore essential that the amendments agreed to have tangible results. This requires not only clear and effective rules on prohibitions or restrictions on the use of these weapons, but also the application of the Convention to all conflicts, successful implementation m easures and complementary arms control measures.

 2. Mines  

The problems caused by mines around the world are growing worse at a dramatic rate. The figures contained in the recent report of the U.N. Secretary-General are impressive. He indicates that for every mine being cleared, another twenty are being laid. He estimates that it would cost about $33 billion to clear the 110 million currently buried mines around the world. However, only 100,000 mines were cleared last year, whereas approximately two million more were laid. There are enormous stocks of mines contained in various arsenals ready to join
the others already littering the globe.

These figures do not describe the human suffering that our doctors regularly see, and who attest that mine wounds are the worst that they have to deal with in practice. Neither can these figures give any idea of the profound disruption that mines cause to family, society and the long-term development of the countries affected.

A disaster on this scale cannot be dealt with by half-hearted measures. First of all, vigorous measures need to be taken to clear as quickly as possible the mines that are presently in the ground. Secondly, a lasting solution needs to be adopted. The ICRC is firmly of the opinion that the only really effective measure is to ban the use and production of anti-personnel landmines. We are also of the opinion that there should be strict controls on the use and design of anti-vehicle mines which in practice have led to casualties among both local civilians and humanitarian workers, including ICRC delegates, who need to use the roads to reach victims.

The ICRC notes with satisfaction that several States have joined the call for a ban on anti-personnel mines and earnestly hopes that others will do so before the Review Conference itself. At present the Group of Government Experts is considering a number of proposals which are less far-reaching than a total ban. Of these we believe that as a minimum all anti-personnel mines should automatically and reliably render themselves harmless within a specified period of time. However, we believe that although such a regulation should reduce the amount of
civilian victims, it will not prevent large numbers of civilian mine victims as these mines will continue to create victims during their active lives. This is particularly true as many conflicts last for years, if not decades, and therefore the continual relaying of so-called " short-lived " mines can be expected. Further, any exception
to the rule that mines are to self-destruct will have the result that so-called " dumb " mines will continue to be lawfully manufactured. They will inevitably continue getting into the hands of irresponsible users, thus perpetuating the widespread indiscriminate use that we are now witnessing.

 3. Blinding laser weapons  

The ICRC is very pleased that a large number of States have either formally or informally indicated their support for a Protocol on the subject of blinding weapons. It is essential that this Review Conference seize this last opportunity to adopt this legal regulation, as a later review conference would certainly be too late. This preventive step will save the world from the horrifying prospect of large numbers of persons being suddenly blinded for life by certain laser weapons that could soon be both inexpensive and easily available.

For the purposes of the 1980 Convention, a Protocol could be agreed on without lengthy negotiation, as it could in simple language ban blinding as a method of warfare and outlaw the use of laser weapons for this purpose. This in itself would be a major and critical step. Arms control and disarmament measures in volving a technical analysis of specific suspect systems could, if necessary, be undertaken in another context. It is to be hoped, however, that the new Protocol would in itself deter any further developments of such weapons, as the international community would have clearly indicated that it considers them unacceptable.

 4. Other weapons  

Proposals that deserve due consideration have been put forward on other weapons, namely, on naval mines and on bullets. As this is the first Review Conference that is taking place since the adoption of the Convention, it is a pity that there is a prevailing sense of lack of time during the meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts. The immense problem created by landmines has meant that States feel obliged, and rightly so, to devote most of their time to this problem. However, this ought not to be to the exclusion of discussion of other important issues. The 1980 Convention can only be a dynamic treaty if it deals with problems before they become overwhelming.

For this purpose a regular review process needs to be established which is able to address and deal with issues as they arise. For example, during an expert meeting that the ICRC held in spring this year (30 May - 1 June), it was irrefutably shown that a major problem is being caused by the very large numbers of bomblets, dispensed from cluster bombs, that do not explode when intended and which therefore remain on the ground creating a danger at least as serious as that of anti-personnel mines. The experts were unanimously of the opinion that
it would be sensible, inexpensive and simple to require that these bomblets be manufactured with self-destruct devices.

 5. Non-international armed conflicts  

Mr. Chairman,

It is all too well known that the majority of armed conflicts are non-international ones and that they are primarily responsible for the immense suffering caused by the indiscriminate use of weapons. It is therefore essential that the 1980 Convention, in order to be effective in practice, apply equally to non-international armed conflicts. In this regard we would like to stress the importance of extending the Convention to all non-international armed conflicts and not only to those which have reached a certain threshold. This is because it is difficult in practice to be certain that a given threshold has been reached, whereas it is important that there is no doubt as to the applicable law. Further, as the purpose of restrictions or prohibitions on the use of certain weapons is to prevent excessive suffering and destruction, it would be inappropriate to use particularly damaging weapons in less serious situations when they are prohibited in more intensive conflicts.

 6. Implementation  

It is generally agreed that a major weakness of the 1980 Convention is its lack of implementation mechanisms and that this problem must be rectified during this Review Conference. Given the importance of this issue, it is worthwhile to consider carefully which mechanisms would in practice be the most effective for this Convention.

The expert meeting that the ICRC held in spring this year analyzed the experiences of different types of implementation mechanisms that have been created in various branches of international law, in order to assess which systems have proved the most effective. The experts were unanimous in their conclusion that a variety of measures that encourage implementation are the most successful and, conversely, that the least effective system is one which relies exclusively on an inter-State allegation of a breach. This is particularly so in relation to treaties that regulat e individual behavior and that do not involve critical issues of State security. With regard to this type of treaty they also stressed the fundamental importance of supervision by independent impartial bodies and the use of information from all credible sources.

The ICRC sincerely hopes that these experiences will be taken into account when choosing the means for implementing the 1980 Convention. In particular, it is important that any procedure involving investigation into allegations of breaches be undertaken by means that are seen to be free of any political influence. Finally, although the ICRC sympathizes with the desire to avoid a system that is costly and complex, we would like to underline the importance of measures that are genuinely cost-effective. When one considers the figures cited in the Secretary General's report on the horrific price that the indiscriminate use of mines is in fact costing, it is worthwhile, even from a purely financial point of view, to ensure that the most effective implementation measures are adopted. We would hope, however, that the suffering caused by the violations of the law will also be an important motivating factor.

 7. Arms control and disarmament measures  

The enormous scale of the problems caused by mines has largely arisen because of the cheapness and easy availability of these weapons. The experience of the ICRC is that the majority of suffering in armed conflicts, especially non-international ones, is caused by the massive and indiscriminate use of small arms. Arms control and disarmament law has so far largely concentrated on containing the threat caused by the existence of nuclear weapons and, for the last two decades, on biological and chemical weapons. The fact that these have been little used or not used at all attests to the success of these efforts which clearly need to continue unabated. However, the global problems caused by the largely unregulated manufacture and trade in conventional weapons also need seriously addressing. We are pleased to see that a first step has been taken in the form of the optional register on the transfer of certain conventional weapons. The ICRC hopes that more attention will be given to the problem of the massive trade in small arms in order to introduce some workable limitations on their manufacture and trade. Until this is done, we will unfortunately continue to witness the carnage they are causing on a massive scale
around the world.

Weapons which are indiscriminate in their effects or cause excessively cruel suffering should not only have prohibitions on their use but also on their manufacture. In this respect, we are of the opinion that there should be a much greater complementarity between international humanitarian law, on the one hand, and disarmament law on the other. The need for this has been particularly seen in the case of chemical weapons, the use of which was prohibited in 1925 on the basis of their excessively cruel effect, but which nevertheless needed to be further regulated in disarmament law. It is unfortunately the case that once weapons are manufactured, they will inevitably get into the hands of irresponsible users, and this is particularly the case with small arms. It is in the light of this consideration that the ICRC is taking so seriously the potential problem of blinding laser rifles.

The ICRC hopes that these factors will be taken into account both in the context of the 1980 Convention and in other fora.

 8. Conclusion  

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC hopes that the Review Conference on the 1980 Convention will do much to render the Convention a dynamic and meaningful means of limiting the suffering and destruction caused by the use of certain conventional weapons in the conflicts that are all too prevalent in today's world.

It is critical that all States speedily ratify this Convention and actively take part in its review so that its impact is universal. We earnestly hope that more States will attend the final meeting of the Group of Government Experts that will take place in January next year, as well as the Review Conference itself. We also consider it of utmost importance that the Convention is subject to frequent and regular review in order to maintain its relevance and credibility in the face of developments.

Ref. UN(1994)21b