Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Expert Meeting on the Convention for the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines

12-02-1997 Statement

Expert Meeting on the Convention for the Prohibition of Anti-personnel Mines, 12-14 February 1997, Vienna, Austria. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Sixteen months ago tomorrow the Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) ended its first session in Vienna, after nearly two years of preparation. At that time States were unable to agree upon provisions to mitigate the indiscriminate effects of anti-personnel mines. By the time agreement on a set of modest measures was reached last May nearly half of the States Parties to the CCW had concluded that only a total ban on anti-personnel mines would effectively end the immense human suffering they have caused. Two months ago the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution A51/45S, overwhelmingly reached a similar conclusion, namely, that a new treaty prohibiting the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines must be urgently negotiated and concluded " as soon as possible " .

These sixteen months have been a period of intense diplomatic efforts and encouraging developments on the national and regional levels. Twenty-seven States have ended the use of anti-personnel mines, the Ottawa Group was established and Central America is on the way to becoming the first region to free itself of the scourge of these weapons. But for those living in mined areas sixteen months is a very long time. According to information available to the ICRC the level of casualties has not decreased; indeed indications are that our previous estimates were too low. At least 13,000 people are thought to have been killed by mines during these months; more than 20,000 have suffered unspeakable injuries. Only a fraction of these will ever receive adequate care.

The ICRC commends the government of Austria for hosting these consultations and for the new Austrian law totally prohibiting anti-personnel mines which took effect at the beginning of this year. The discussions you have convened in Vienna today are a sign of hope, the fruit of a new political environment and a reflection of what can be accomplished through political leadership. For the first time, governments from every region of the world have come together to discuss the contents of a treaty totally prohibiting anti-personnel mines. We are grateful to be associated with this process.

We welcome the Austrian draft convention on the prohibition of anti-personnel mines which will help focus discussions on the specific treaty arrangements which will be required. We look forward to discussing this text in detail in the coming days. However at the outset we would like to address some of what the ICRC considers to be key issues related to a future treaty.


In the course of negotiations in the CCW context a dangerous ambiguity was introduced into the definition of an anti-personnel mine. By defining this weapon as a mine which is " primarily designed " to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person the entire regime came to rely upon a subjective interpretation as to what the " primary design " of the munition in question is. The ICRC warned of this ambiguity as it was introduced in Vienna in 1995 and as negotiations were pursued in 1996. By the end of the CCW review process it was difficult to determine the origin or the precise purpose of this phrase and yet some considered it too late to reconsider definitions in the draft of an amended Protocol II.

As stated by President Sommaruga to the closing session of the CCW Review Conference, the ICRC considers the definition of an anti-personnel mine to be of fundamental importance. We would consider the inclusion of an amb iguous definition in a treaty attempting to outlaw anti-personnel mines to constitute a major weakness. The uncertainties engendered by such ambiguity could threaten the long-term viability of a future treaty.

The ICRC considers that any munition which is " designed " to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person must be considered an anti-personnel mine, regardless of what its " primary design " is said to be. This type of unambiguous definition is consistent with national legislation now in force in Austria, Belgium and the United States. We would be glad to make the relevant legislation available to delegations.

In order to spell out the implications of an ambiguous definition the ICRC will be distributing a conference room paper with an indicative list of mine technologies which could be said to have another " primary " purpose, even though they are in fact designed to explode upon contact with a person and are designed to kill or injure persons. These include (i) mines designed with both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle or anti-helicopter capabilities, (ii) anti-handling mechanisms on anti-tank mines and (iii) " runway denial " submunitions. We have noted several examples where mines once advertised as anti-personnel mines have recently been re-named " anti-vehicle " or " anti-armour " mines even though the technology is exactly the same.

Of particular concern to us are remotely delivered anti-tank mines equipped with anti-handling devices. These can be delivered on a massive scale, by the tens of thousands per hour, and over huge areas. Unlike anti-handling mechanisms attached to buried mines, which are unlikely to be disturbed by a footstep, these mines will explode and kill the person who treads on it. This technology is becoming smaller and less costly each a nd every year. Use of these weapons has the potential to recreate many of the humanitarian problems associated with traditional anti-personnel mines, with the exception that all victims will probably be killed.

Today we can identify some of the technologies which could undermine a regime based on an imprecise definition. Use of an ambiguous definition will only invite the design of new technologies to bypass a prohibition on anti-personnel mines and lead to a proliferation of such technologies. Such a result could quickly render ineffective a new treaty intended to end the suffering caused by these weapons.


To be effective in ending the current crisis, a new treaty must comprehensively prohibit the production, stockpiling, transfer and use of anti-personnel mines and require their destruction. All of these activities are linked. Some have suggested an initial agreement by which only one of the above activities would be prohibited but others would continue (e.g. prohibit transfer or production but not use). However civilians die each day not from the production, transfer or stockpiling of anti-personnel mines but from their use. It might prove difficult to describe the underlying principle of a treaty which would prohibit the production or transfer of a weapon the use of which is nonetheless permitted.

The ICRC recognizes that practical constraints may require the phased implementation of particular aspects of a comprehensive agreement, such as the destruction of stockpiles and the clearance of existing minefields. But we are firmly convinced that the first step in ending this crisis is the prohibition of use. Other approaches defy historical experience of how weapons prohibitions in international humanitarian law and in arms control have developed.

Efforts to prohibit the product ion, stockpiling and transfer of chemical and biological weapons, in the Conference on Disarmament and its predecessor bodies, were successful because they were underpinned for most of this century by well established prohibitions on use contained in the 1925 Geneva Protocol. A political norm against use and public abhorrence have been important factors in the negotiation of nuclear arms control agreements, the end to nuclear testing and the 1977 prohibition on the use of environmental modification techniques as a method of warfare.

If there is to be a phased approach it would logically begin with an immediate prohibition on new deployments, production and transfers. A second phase, which should be as short as practical constraints permit, could provide for the phased destruction of existing stockpiles and the clearance and destruction of mines already deployed.

Prolonging the use of anti-personnel mines will only aggravate the current crisis, multiply the human suffering and add to the estimated 1,100 years and 33 billion US dollars it will cost to clear the 120 million mines already in the ground. It would also be inconsistent with UN General Assembly resolution A/51/45S which calls for a comprehensive agreement to prohibit production, transfer, stockpiling "and" (rather than " or " ) the use of anti-personnel mines.


Compliance monitoring will be an important element of a regime to end the use of anti-personnel mines. The best method would be for an independent mechanism to investigate credible reports of the use of this weapon following the entry into force of a new treaty.

It should be noted, however, that those most directly affected in most of the recent conflicts in which AP mines have been used are civilia ns. Verification of mine use in a given area has often occurred when civilians are injured or in the course of the routine work of humanitarian agencies. Therefore it is unlikely that any large scale use of AP mines would go unnoticed or unreported.

While the ICRC supports the maximum possible verification of a future treaty we encourage States not to permit verification to stand in the way of an absolute prohibition on the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of this weapon. Indeed all of the humanitarian law norms prohibiting the use of specific weapons have been established without verification and yet they have been almost universally respected. Verification, together with prohibitions on production, stockpiling and transfer can reinforce such a norm but should not be allowed to override the importance of the norm itself.


Recently there has been great deal of discussion on the extent to which a future treaty must be universally adhered to at the outset. Universality is an important objective and the ICRC, in keeping with its mandate under international humanitarian law, has devoted a great deal of resources to its promotion in relation to existing agreements, including most recently the CCW and its new and amended Protocols.

None of the major instruments of humanitarian law has attracted universal adherence from the outset. Indeed in the case of Dum-Dum bullets two of the major powers of the day voted against a prohibition. And yet the vast majority of States have respected the norms created by these agreements.

The essential ingredients in achieving near universal adherence have been public abhorrence of the use of a weapon and the exercise of consistent political will to ensure that norms are adhered to and respected. These will be required regardless of the weapon and regardle ss of the forum in which an agreement is negotiated.


The ICRC is convinced that the " public conscience " of people throughout the world is revolted both by the indiscriminate nature of anti-personnel mines and by the horrific suffering they have caused. The question now before us is whether there is sufficient political will to establish an absolute prohibition on these weapons and to ensure respect for such a norm.

We look forward to working vigorously throughout this year with States committed to the achievement of a total ban on anti-personnel mines and to the signing of an historic treaty in December. The ICRC will do its utmost to ensure that the largest possible number of States adhere to this new international norm, both in December 1997 and in the years to come.

Sixteen months has been a long time for those living in mined areas. Ten more is long enough. But there is nothing inevitable about the loss of two thousand limbs and lives each and every month. Crucial decisions which your governments will make this year can stop this carnage.


 Informal Information Paper on Dual-Use Munitions  

 1. Mines which may be said to be "primarily" designed for use either against vehicles or persons  

* The DNG Giant Shotgun is said to have a considerable potential as an anti-personnel or anti-vehicle mine " , according to Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 170).

* The Valsella VS-DAFM 1 Directional Mine is said to be a fixed directional fragmentation anti-personnel mine in Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 207) and a fixed directional anti-vehicle  mine in Trends in Land Mine Warfare (Jane's Special Report, August 1995, p. 152). The mine can be coupled to two independent firing systems through two priming wells. The actuating load is said to be between 3-6 kg.

* The Valsella VS-DAFM 6 and VS-DAFM 7 Directional Anti-material Mines are said to be fixed directional fragmentation anti-material (anti-personnel and anti-armour) mines used primarily for the defence of tactically important areas such as airfields and landing zones in Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 207). In Jane's Trends in Land Mine Warfare (Jane's Special Report, August 1995, p. 153) they are fixed directional fragmentation anti-vehicle and anti-armour mines! The actuating load is also said to be between 3-6 kg.

* The Ambush Mine described in Trends in Land Mine Warfare (Jane's Special Report, August 1995, p. 154) and in Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 221) is said to be an anti-vehicle or anti-personnel mine and to also have a potential role against low-flying helicopters. This mine is ready to be fired either by remote control or by a tripwire or similar static system.

 2. Anti-handling devices on small scatterable A/T mines which equip them with A/P functions  

* According to Trends in Land Mine Warfare (August 1995, p. 95) and to Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 182) the PGMDM Scatte rable Anti-tank Mine is operated by a single pressure or an accumulation of slight pressures, for example handling , and is electrically activated. The weight of the liquid explosive is between 1.4 kg and 2 kg .

* In Trends in Land Mine Warfare (August 1995, p. 108) and Jane's Military Vehicles and Logistics (1994-1995, p. 208) the Valsella VS-1.6 Anti-tank Scatter Mine and the BPD SB-81 Scatterable Anti-tank Mine are said to be available including an electronic model with anti-lift device. The weight of the main charge is between 1.85 kg and 2.0 kg .

 3. Runway Denial Submunitions (HB876)  

In conjunction with bomblets, which make holes in the runways, submunitions are used to impede the work of repair vehicles and personnel. These submunitions have a shape-charge and are fitted with an anti-tilt fuze . The weight of the main charge is between 1,5 - 2.0 kg and the casing is pre-fragmented.


International Committee of the Red Cross, 12 February 1997

 Ref. LG 1997-026-ENG  

Related sections