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Stopping the Landmines Epidemic: From negotiation to action


 Since international negotiations for new restrictions on the use of landmines began in March 1994 some 56,000 persons, mainly civilians, are estimated to have been killed or maimed by these indiscriminate weapons. By the time the existing international treaty governing the use of landmines is again reviewed in the year 2001, mines may have shattered another 120,000 lives unless far more dramatic steps than those required by the law are taken by States and the international community. Before the recently adopted legal rules take full effect around 2007, the toll could exceed 200,000. Such levels of preventable death and injury are morally unconscionable and can be stopped.  

Fortunately, we may already be witnessing the beginning of the end of the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide. In face of growing public abhorrence anti-personnel mines are well on the way to being stigmatized in the public conscience, as was poison gas after World War I.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is fully committed to continuing its worldwide efforts to end the unspeakable suffering caused by landmines. These will include the promotion of national, regional and global bans on anti-personnel mines, public information on the problem, advocacy on behalf of the victims, increased care for landmine victims through surgical and rehabilitation programmes around the world, mine awareness for populations at risk and support for enhanced mine-clearance efforts in mine-infested countries.

This paper presents the ICRC's views on what has been achieve d to date in the international response to the landmine scourge and suggestions on where future efforts may be fruitful.

 I. The 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)  

The Review Conference of the CCW Convention has been the focus of considerable attention to date: on 3 May 1996, the Conference adopted a revised version of the Convention's Protocol II regulating the use of " mines, booby traps and other devices " .

 The revision contains a number of welcome improvements including:  

a) an extension of the Protocol to apply in both international and non-international armed conflicts;

b) a clear assignment of responsibility for mine clearance to those who lay the mines;

c) a requirement that the location of all mines be mapped and recorded, (d) new protection for humanitarian workers;

e) a prohibition on the transfer of non-detectable anti-personnel mines;

f) a requirement that States enact penal legislation to punish serious violations of the Protocol and;

g) annual consultations among Parties to the Protocol to review its operation.

 Unfortunately, the new limitations on the use of anti-personnel mines are weak and do not go much further than the existing general prohibition of directing mines against civilians. (  However, the nature of mines makes them impossible to direct once they have been laid  .)   

- A centerpiece of the new rules is that all anti-personnel mines used must be detectable so as to facilitate mine clearance.

- Long-lived mines , which can strike decades after they are laid, may continue to be produced, transferred and used - if placed in fenced, marked and guarded minefields. ( Such protections are difficult and costly to ensure, however, and often does not occur in practice ).

- Self-destructing mines (  equipped with mechanisms which cause them to self-destruct within 30 days and, if self-destruction fails, to de-activate within 120 days ) may be used without any specific restrictions on their placement. Since such mines can be remotely delivered over long distances and in huge quantities by artillery or aircraft, their use could lead to an increase in civilian mine casualties. When mines are remotely delivered, their accurate marking and mapping becomes virtually impossible.

- States are not required to implement these provisions until nine years after entry into force of the revised Protocol (i.e. probably the year 2007 or 2008).

- The revised Protocol places no new restrictions on the use of anti-tank or vehicle mines, which, although used on a smaller scale than anti-personnel mines, are just as indiscriminate. These mines may continue to be used even if they are not detectable; neither their placement nor maximum lifetime is subject to specific control.

Although the ICRC welcomes the improvements in the Protocol's general provisions, it is deeply disappointed in the weak restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines, the lack of specific restrictions on anti-tank mines, the excessively long " grace period " for im plementation of key provisions on use, and the absence of a mechanism to verify the fulfilment of technical requirements for self-destructing mines and to investigate possible violations of the restrictions on use. Given these weaknesses, largely due to the need to adopt the revised Protocol by consensus, the new Protocol, in and of itself, is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the level of civilian landmine casualties.  

The ICRC will encourage States to adhere to the revised Protocol II of the CCW in order to strengthen the minimum international legal norms which apply when mines are used. However, these norms do not oblige States to use mines or to invest in new types of mine.

 We will therefore also encourage States to go far beyond their minimum legal obligations and to stop the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines on the basis of:  

* their broader moral and humanitarian responsibilities,

* the indiscriminate nature of the weapon,

* the conclusions of a wide range of acting and former military commanders that the use of anti-personnel mines in accordance with law and doctrine is difficult, if not impossible, even for modern professional armies Conclusions of Anti-personnel landmines: friend or foe? , (ICRC, March 1996) endorsed by 49 commanders from 19 countries; similar conclusions were published by 15 high ranking US commanders., and

* a judgement that the limited military value of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by their human, economic and social costs. Renunciation   of these weapons is therefore a means of protecting one's own population and territory and an act of human solidarity with past, present and future victims.

In addition, the ICRC will actively promote State adherence to the new Protocol IV of the 1980 Convention prohibiting the use and transfer of blinding laser weapons, which it considers an historic achievement of the Review Conference. States should be encouraged when adhering to this new international instrument to declare their understanding that it applies " at all times " (as originally agreed by virtually all States but blocked in the final stage of negotiations) and to take national measures to ensure that such weapons are neither developed nor produced.

 II. Towards elimination  


The ICRC and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a whole, will continue efforts to inform the public, military circles and decision-makers about the human tragedy caused by landmines and to achieve the stigmatization of anti-personnel mines in the public conscience. The goal will be to ensure that, even before a legal ban is in place, combatants will choose not to use anti-personnel mines because of the abhorrence of their effects within their own societies, and that producing countries will choose neither to produce nor to transfer these pernicious weapons.

 National and regional initiatives  

The end of the landmine crisis need not await a global, negotiated consensus. Governments and regional or sub-regional organizations can decide to end the crisis in their own territories and thus contribute to a global solution. The 25 States which have renounced the use of anti-personnel mines by th eir own forces and the 11 which are destroying their stockpiles have begun the process of freeing the world from the menace of these arms. When a critical mass of States have taken such steps a de facto ban will have been achieved; a legal ban may follow as State practice regarding mines changes.

The most effective and permanent national measures are laws, such as that adopted by Belgium and under consideration in other countries, prohibiting the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines. In other States unilateral measures have taken the form of moratoria, national policy declarations and administrative orders under existing laws.

 At the regional level, political measures can be adopted calling for an end to the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines by States and encouraging national laws and decisions to this effect:  

The Organization of American States in June 1996 called for the establishment of an " Anti-personnel Mine Free Zone " in the Americas. An initiative of the Central American Parliament , in which national renunciation of anti-personnel mines is combined with enhanced mine clearance efforts and assistance to victims could make Central America the first mine-infested region to free itself from this scourge. In February 1996 the Council of Ministers of the Organization of African Unity urged sub-regional organizations on the continent to launch initiatives for the prohibition of anti-personnel mines, in support of the OAU's previous commitment to a total ban. Although this type of initiative has not yet reached governmental level in Europe, the European Parliament    on 13 May appealed to all Member States to unilaterally ban the production and use of anti-personnel mines and to destroy existing stocks.

 International initiatives  

Canada will host an international conference in Ottawa in autumn 1996, bringing together the more than 40 States which support a global ban on anti-personnel mines, to consider short- and medium-term steps to this end. As the first international meeting of pro-ban States, the ICRC and other Movement representatives and selected non-governmental organizations, the meeting could significantly increase momentum towards a global ban and promote the types of national and regional measures mentioned above. It should also integrate, at the political level, efforts towards a ban with measures to stop transfers and assistance in mine clearance. It is expected that this meeting will issue a strong political declaration committing participating States to an action plan and to a regular programme of meetings in the coming years.

In its autumn 1996 session the UN General Assembly will be considering, for the first time, a strongly worded resolution calling for the total elimination of anti-personnel mines, in addition to its now routine resolutions on export moratoria and the CCW. The resolution should declare the intention of its supporters to work for the elimination of these arms through national and regional initiatives and put forward a target date for the achievement of a total ban.

Proposals have been made to begin at an early date n egotiations for a ban on anti-personnel mines either in the 60-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva or in a specially convened diplomatic conference of pro-ban States. Given that recent negotiations by consensus on new legal restraints have produced only minima l results, the ICRC is concerned that new negotiations, particularly if conducted on the basis of consensus, may be premature. They might be more successful once political efforts, such as that being launched with the Ot tawa Conference, have matured.  


 Increased assistance to mine victims  

Currently only a small proportion (estimated at 15%) of mine victims have access to rehabilitation programmes. Greatly expanded resources to provide both emergency medical treatment and lifetime care to victims will be needed, even if mine use were stopped immediately. National and international agencies can support these efforts through ICRC and National Society surgical and prosthetic/orthotic projects, through direct bilateral assistance and through the efforts of other humanitarian agencies.

 Enhanced mine-clearance efforts  

In 1995 the United Nations requested $75 million for mine-clearance funding, but received only $20 million; this compared to an estimated $33 billion required to clear all currently emplaced mines. A massive and long-term international effort is needed if future generations are to be spared paying the price for today's landmine legacy.

 Prevention through mine-awareness programmes  

Mine-awareness programmes for civilian populations are now being run by the ICRC in five countries and by a variety of national agencies and humanitarian organizations in many more. Such efforts need to be rapidly expanded so that populations at risk from mines can better protect themselves.

 III. What can be done next?  

 Following the public outcry over the use of poison gas in World War I, it took seven years to achieve adoption of the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing the use of chemical weapons and nearly another 70 to ban their possession. In comparison, efforts to stigmatize and end the use of anti-personnel mines have achieved an impressive degree of success since the early 1990s.  

The renunciation by State after State of the use of these weapons has begun creating a new international norm against their use. Success on a global level will require a sustained long-term commitment by individuals, public organizations, the media, military circles, parliaments and governments.

 Whether you work at the local, national or international level, you can ensure that the next generation of children in war-torn lands are not terrorized by the threat of mines - by taking crucial steps such as these:  

* increasing awareness of the humanitarian crisis and helping to stigmatize the use of anti-personnel mines;

* promoting the renunciation and prohibition of these weapons at the national, regional and international levels;

* raising funds for the treatment and rehabilitation of mine victims, through the ICRC, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies or other humanitarian organizations;

* supporting generous government funding for mine clearance through nation-to-nation programmes and the UN's Voluntary Fund for Mine Clearance.

International Committee of the Red Cross

July 1996

[ref.:DP(1996)97b ]