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Weapons: ICRC statement to the United Nations

19-10-1998 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 19 October 1998.

 Implementation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction  

 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  

 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction  

Mr. Chairman,

1998 has witnessed several important landmarks in the development of international humanitarian law (IHL) governing specific weapons.

On July 30th, Protocol IV of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) prohibiting both the use and transfer of blinding laser weapons came into force. 30 States are now party to this new instrument, and their number is steadily increasing. For the first time since 1868, an abhorrent weapon has been prohibited before it being used on the battlefield. It is also the first time that the transfer of a weapon is prohibited together with its use. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urges States which have not yet done so to ratify or accede to this important instrument and to ensure that blinding laser weapons are neither produced nor made available. We also encourage States to declare, upon ratification, their understanding that the provisions of this Protocol s hall apply in all circumstances.

December 3rd will mark the entry into force of Protocol II of the CCW, as amended. This instrument strengthens restrictions on the use of landmines, booby-traps and similar devices. These restrictions equally apply to parties to non-international armed conflicts. The ICRC considers these new norms to be the absolute minimum rules to be observed by those States which consider the continued use of anti-personnel mines to be indispensable. The Protocol's rules regarding the use of anti-vehicle mines, the indiscriminate use of which recently cost the life of a doctor working with the ICRC and injured three other staff in Kosovo, should also be strictly observed and, in due course, strengthened. We urge the States which negotiated this new instrument and have still not ratified it to do so urgently, in order to join the 25 States already party as full participants in next year's first Conference of High Contracting Parties.

The achievement of the forty ratifications required for entry into force of the Ottawa Treaty on 16 September, less than ten months after its signature, was an extraordinary accomplishment. To our knowledge this is the earliest that any arms-related treaty has achieved so large a number of ratifications. This accomplishment reflects the high priority and sense of urgency with which most States have responded to the global scourge of anti-personnel mines. The Ottawa Treaty contains not only the absolute prohibition of anti-personnel mines, but active obligations to eliminate this weapon and assist its victims. The ICRC therefore considers this instrument to be the comprehensive solution to the immense suffering cause by this weapon. Because this treaty is a direct response to an ongoing humanitarian crisis we call first and foremost on the 86 governments which have signed, but not yet ratified it, to give high priority to becoming party to it before it s entry into force on 1 March 1999.

As States begin to adjust their arsenals to ensure compliance with these new international instruments we would like to highlight the need to ensure that anti-vehicle mines be designed to not detonate upon the innocent passage of a person or inadvertent contact with the mine. This concern relates both to the design of anti-handling mechanisms and trigger mechanisms for anti-vehicle mines. The ICRC plans to address these subjects in detail at the 1999 meetings of States Parties to the Ottawa Treaty and Protocol II.

While the Ottawa Treaty is a prescription for ending the landmine crisis, its implementation is the cure. The application in the field of the disposition of this instrument must figure among the highest humanitarian priorities for the coming years. This will require a tremendous long-term mobilization of resources and considerable organization. The ICRC stands ready to advise States on ways to adapt national legislation for its implementation and to provide examples of existing legislation. To this end ICRC " ratification kits " in all UN languages, for both Protocol II and the Ottawa Treaty, are available.

We welcome the efforts of the UN Mine Action Service to promote a coordinated international approach. However, we are increasingly concerned with the number of efforts at international coordination and data collection which have not yet resulted in new activities in mine-affected communities. This year, a variety of existing and credible mine clearance agencies have experienced funding problems which urgently need to be addressed. The ICRC is grateful for the generous response to its 1998 Appeal for victim assistance. Together with our partners in the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent we will be developing a long-term strategy on landmines, with an emphasis on victim assistance, to be adopted next year.

Mr. Chairman,

In their work for war victims, ICRC delegates are witness to the increasingly devastating effects on civilian populations of the proliferation of weapons, particularly small military-style arms. The combination of inadequate controls on the transfer of such arms and their frequent use in violation of the basic norms of IHL threatens to undermine international legal norms relative to the protection of civilians from suffering and abuse in combat situations.

Civilian populations have paid an appalling price for the widespread availability of arms and ammunition in recent conflicts. Disease, starvation and abuse increase when humanitarian organizations are directly attacked and must suspend operations, or even leave a country. Civilian casualties greatly outnumber those of combatants in most, if not all, internal and ethnic conflicts. Suffering may continue for years after the end of a conflict, as the availability of arms engenders a " culture of violence " which undermines the rule of law and threatens efforts at reconciliation.

The ICRC is gravely concerned that efforts to protect and assist war victims are being undermined by the flow of weapons. While we recognize that the primary responsibility for compliance with IHL falls upon users of arms, States engaged in their production and export bear some responsibility to the international community for the use made of their weapons and ammunition. We encourage States urgently to consider the elaboration of rules, based on humanitarian law and other criteria, governing the transfer of military style arms and ammunition and to find the means to bring the flows of such weapons, within specific countries and regions, under effective control.  

As requested in 1995 by the 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the ICRC expe cts to publish, in early 1999, a study on the extent to which the availability of weapons contributes to violations of IHL and the deterioration of the situation of civilians. This study will be on the agenda of the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 1999.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC considers the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration, prohibiting the use of exploding bullets, to be a cornerstone of efforts to protect soldiers from superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering. It is disturbing to learn that some armed forces are considering the use of bullets which will explode on impact with soft-targets. The ICRC calls on all States rigorously to review, in accordance with Article 36 of 1977 Additional Protocol I, their procurement policies.

Biological and chemical weapons should rapidly become a relic of the past - thanks to the 1972 and 1993 Conventions which totally prohibit these horrific means of warfare. However, vigilance and determination will be required to ensure that these evil genies remain in their bottle. Rapid developments in the fields of microbiology, genetic engineering and biotechnology demonstrate the need for transparency and strict national and international oversight to ensure that developments which could benefit humanity are not turned against it. We urge the conclusion, in 1999, of negotiations on a monitoring regime for the Biological Weapons Convention. We also call upon States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure that the verification practices developed within the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as well as interpretations of obligations developed, fully reflect the far-reaching commitments to openness and cooperation which are contained in this important Convention.

Since the beginning of the year three new instruments of IHL have achieved the thresholds needed to trigger their entry into force - evidence of the dynamic nature and relevance of the laws of war. The task now at hand is to ensure that these norms are rapidly universalized and faithfully implemented. The relief and prevention of enormous human suffering depends on these next steps.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

Ref. LG 1998-076-ENG