Weapons and International Humanitarian Law
Presentation by Jean-Philippe Lavoyer, head of the legal division, ICRC, Council of Delegates, Seoul, 16 - 18 November 2005
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,
Over the last decade, successive Council of Delegates resolutions have committed the Movement to addressing a range of weapons issues on the basis of international humanitarian law.
Weapons also constituted one of the four pillars of the Agenda for Humanitarian Action adopted by the 28th International Conference. In addition, many National Societies made pledges related to weapons.
The report "Weapons and International Humanitarian Law" that has been submitted to your attention summarizes the main developments that have taken place and outlines opportunities for action during the next two years.
The draft resolution to be considered by this Council of Delegates highlights key challenges on a range of weapons issues of special concern to the Movement.
I would like to briefly introduce the main challenges dealt with in the draft resolution.
First, Anti-personnel mines
Ending the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines remains a crucial objective. Where the norms of the Convention on the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines have been implemented, many lives have been saved - through the clearance of minefields, mine awareness activities and the provision of assistance to mine victims.
The Ottawa Convention's First Review Conference, held at the end of 2004 in Nairobi, repr esented an opportunity to celebrate the tremendous progress made towards ending the suffering caused by these weapons. But States Parties also took stock of the daunting challenges facing them in the coming years. They established an ambitious Plan of Action to meet these.
The Convention's first mine-clearance deadlines will begin in 2009, and it is likely that many States will have difficulty meeting their deadlines. Until clearance of mined areas is completed, it will be essential to expand mine-risk education activities in mine-affected communities.
The Movement has a vital role to play in ensuring the success of this Convention which it was so instrumental in creating. Global efforts to eradicate anti-personnel mines and eliminate the devastating consequences for civilians will require increased efforts in the coming years.
This means enhancing both our own work, as well as mobilizing States and resources to ensure that all of the Ottawa Convention's objectives are met.
Second, Explosive remnants of war
The widespread death and injury caused during and after armed conflict by explosive remnants of war is of equal concern.
The adoption in 2003 of a new Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons was an important strengthening of international humanitarian law.
But for the Protocol to achieve this objective, States must be encouraged to adhere to it and to live up to their commitments through faithful implementation of their new obligations.
The new Protocol focuses on measures to be taken after the end of active hostilities. But to ensure comprehensive protection for civilians, complementary preventive measures are necessary, in particular as regards cluster munitions and other sub-munitions.
To limit the threat that these weapons pose to civilians, the ICRC is encouraging States to prohibit their use in populated areas and to end the use of inaccurate and unreliable sub-munitions.
Until States can agree on enhanced international rules, the Movement can encourage them to adopt preventive measures at the national level.
The Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will be convened in late 2006. This will be an important opportunity for States Parties to review the Convention's status and operation.
It will also provide an opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the Convention itself and encourage adherence by States that are not yet party to it.
Let me recall here that just a few years ago, the scope of the Convention was extended to include non-international armed conflicts. This important step showed that humanitarian law is kept up to date in light of the realities of warfare. This is yet another reason for States to adhere to this Convention.
Third, Proliferation of small arms
Over the last ten years, awareness of the terrible human costs of weapons availability and misuse has grown significantly. The lack of adequate international and national regulation of the small arms and light weapons most commonly used in current armed conflicts has received particular attention.
The adoption in 2001 of a UN Programme of Action on Small Arms was a first step towards addressing this problem on the global level.
The Review Conference on the UN Programme of Action, in 2006, provides a crucial opportunity to encourage States to devise more effective solutions in this area.
The development of global controls on arms brokers and common standards for international arms transfers are needed to effectively prevent the transfer of weapons to users likely to violate humanitarian law.
More emphasis also needs to be put on promoting compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law among arms bearers, on post-conflict disarmament, violence-prevention strategies and on assisting the victims of armed violence.
National Societies can raise awareness of these issues and promote support for such measures in the lead-up to the 2006 Review Conference.
Fourth, "Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity"
The Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention will also take place in 2006. Stunning advances are currently occurring in the life sciences that have implications for this Convention and for the 1925 Geneva Protocol on which it is based.
The ICRC's Appeal on " Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity " launched in September 2002 called for effective controls to ensure that new advances in the area of biotechnology and life sciences are used only for the benefit of humanity and never for hostile purposes.
Upholding these prohibitions in the face of new scientific developments will require concerted preventive action at every level of society, including by governments, scientific and medical communities, industry and civil society.
The Review Conference should result in a reaffirmation of the Convention's importance for humanity.
National Societies can contribute to this process by engaging their governments, scientific associations and industry in dialogue.
Fifth, Legality of new weapons
Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions requires that States Parties determine the legality of new weapons under international law. Yet, only a handful of States have in fact established formal procedures to review new weapons.
Efforts must therefore be pursued to encourage more States to put such procedures in place.
National Societies can contribute by encouraging their governments to establish, if they have not yet done so, appropriate mechanisms, and to exchange information with the ICRC.
The ICRC is about to publish a Guide to Legal Reviews of New Weapons, Means and Methods of Warfare , which can be a resource for States as well as for National Societies on how to implement this provision.
Some of the Movement's activities in the field of rehabilitation of war victims are being shown here in Seoul. I would like to draw your attention in particular to a stand of the Norwegian Red Cross just outside this hall. You will meet there colleagues from Vietnam and Somalia who will be happy to speak about their daily work.
Mr. President, dear colleagues and friends,
Let me say to conclude that upholding the rules of international humanitarian law governing weapons requires constant vigilance to ensure that existing treaties are not only adopted, but also ratified and fully implemented, that the implications of new technological developments are being considered and t hat victims receive adequate assistance.
The Movement's efforts to address arms-related issues on the basis of humanitarian law is fundamental to the protection of human life and dignity, whether that of the civilian caught up in conflict or the soldier at whom the weapons may be aimed.
The ICRC is very grateful to all of you for the important work you have done in this field.
We would like you to pledge your continued commitment to these efforts through the adoption of the draft resolution that is before you.
With no less than three review conferences, the year 2006 will represent a particular challenge for the entire Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
We are convinced that putting all our efforts together will significantly contribute to reducing the effects of weapons on civilians and ensuring that the protections provided combatants are maintained.
We thank you in advance for your continued strong commitment and your active cooperation in the coming years.
I thank you for your attention.