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New international treaty on explosive remnants of war

28-11-2003 News Release 03/76

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes the adoption today of a new treaty on explosive remnants of war (ERW) – the first international agreement to require the parties to an armed conflict to clear all unexploded munitions that threaten civilians, peacekeepers and humanitarian workers once the fighting is over.

The treaty was adopted in response to an ICRC initiative launched in September 2000. Concerned about the large numbers of civilian casualties caused by unexploded artillery shells, grenades, cluster-bomb submunitions, mortars and similar ordnance, the ICRC called on the States party to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to draw up new rules in this area. While the ICRC recognized that the international community had made great progress in reducing the deaths, injuries and suffering due to anti-personnel mines, it argued that urgent action was also needed to put an end to the carnage caused by other forms of unexploded and abandoned ordnance, which in some cases inflict as many or more casualties than anti-personnel mines.

In welcoming the new agreement, ICRC Vice-President Jacques Forster pointed out that until now the lack of any obligation for combatants to clear explosive remnants of war had had horrific consequences for civilians. “The treaty is an important recognition that States are responsible for eliminating this serious threat to civilians in the aftermath of war, " he said.

The agreement adopted by the 91 States party to the CCW, including all major military powers, will be the fifth protocol additional to this convention. It requires the parties to an armed conflict to:

  • Clear ERW in areas under their control after a conflict.

  • Provide technical, material and financial assistance in areas not under their control with a view to facilitating the removal of unexploded or abandoned ordnance left over from their operations.

  • Record information on the explosive ordnance used by their armed forces and share that information with organizations engaged in the clearance of ERW.

  • Warn civilians of the ERW dangers in specific areas.

The treaty, which will enter into force after 20 States have ratified it, will apply primarily to conflicts that break out thereafter. While the ICRC believes that the treaty establishes vital new norms for future conflicts, it will continue to urge governments to give equal priority to clearing existing ERW and to reducing the volume of munitions that fail to explode on impact.

The ICRC will also continue to urge governments to address the specific problems caused by cluster-bomb and other types of submunitions, which are only partially dealt with in the treaty. It will continue to promote restrictions on the use of these weapons as an essential means of reducing the civilian casualties they inflict.

The new agreement on explosive remnants of war is the latest development in efforts to eliminate the scourge of unexploded and abandoned ordnance. The rules adopted by the States party to the CCW supplement the ongoing work to end the suffering caused by anti-personnel mines. Together, the initiatives being taken in these two areas are aimed at eradicating one of the most serious threats to civilians in the aftermath of war.

Statement delivered by ICRC Vice-President Jacques Forster to the Meeting of States Parties to the CCW on 27 November in Geneva.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Camilla Waszink, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 26 42 or ++41 76 344 80 21  

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