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Weapons: ICRC statement to the United Nations

17-10-2001 Statement

United Nations General Assembly, 56th session, First Committee, Items 74, 78 and 81 of the agenda. Statement by Georges Paclisanu, Head of Delegation, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 17 October 2001

 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, distinguished delegates,

This is the first time we address the 56th GA and we could not call ourselves a humanitarian organization if, before delivering our statement, we did not pause briefly to think about the thousands of people who have been killed on September 11th, and the many more thousands who survive in pain.

Mr. Chairman,

In the next eight weeks two important review conferences of global arms treaties will be held in Geneva, relating to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. These are of fundamental importance in assuring that the customary rules of international humanitarian law governing the choice of weapons are faithfully applied to specific weapons likely to have indiscriminate effects, to cause suffering beyond military necessity, or which are simply abhorrent.

The Second Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) will convene in Geneva on 11 December. The Conference provides a unique opportunity to extend the Convention's protection for both civilians and combatants in non-international armed conflicts and to launch a process aimed at addressing the grave humanitarian problems caused by explosive remnants of war. By extending the scope of application of the Convention to non-international armed conflicts, States Parties will make clear that the rules of the Convention should be the minimum standards for all armed conflicts - including those of an internal nature which are most prevalent today.

Over the past two years the ICRC has sought to document and raise awareness of the global humanitarian problem caused by explosive remnants of war . Virtually all armed conflicts in modern times have left explosive remnants of war in their wake. Unexploded submunitions, artillery shells, bombs, landmines, booby traps and even missiles often remain after the end of hostilities for national authorities and local civilian populations to deal with. In many instances these munitions remain for decades and inflict severe human costs.

Military experts recognize that munitions which fail to explode on impact are of no military use and in fact impede operations. According to them, the scale of the humanitarian problems caused by explosive remnants of war is likely to grow dramatically in the future, with the increased ability to rapidly deliver large amounts of ordnance over greater distances. This means that even conflicts lasting only a few days can leave huge numbers of unexploded munitions; protracted conflicts will have even greater effects.

Examples of the problem abound:

  • Between 1945 and 1981, 88 million pieces of unexploded ordnance were cleared in Poland while some 13,000 people were killed or injured from such ordnance;

  • In Laos, since 1973 more than 11,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance, roughly half from cluster bombs. An estimated 9 million pieces of ordnance remain and are being cleared at a rate of only some 50,000 per year;

  • In the year following the conflict in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cluster bomb submunitions and other unexploded munitions were responsible for 64% of the nearly 500 casualties from explosive ordnance in Kosovo, as compared to 36% from anti-personnel mines;

  • Most conflicts in recent decades have also left large quantities of explosive debris. Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Mozambique, the Russian Federation (Chechnya) and Vietnam are just a few examples of conflict areas which today are dealing with large amounts of unexploded ordnance.

The ICRC therefore urges States Parties to agree, at the upcoming Review Conference, on a mandate for a group of governmental experts to begin negotiations toward a new protocol on explosive remnants of war. The latter would be completed within a time frame which reflects the urgency of the situation. Such a protocol should address a variety of issues based on principles already contained in the CCW and its protocols including:

  • the responsibility for clearing, or providing assistance for clearance of, unexploded munitions,

  • provision of technical information to facilitate clearance,

  • provision of warnings to civilian populations, and

  • in the case of submunitions, a prohibition of their use against any military objective located within a concentration of civilians.

The Committee also takes this opportunity to encourage States which are not yet party to the 1980 Convention to adhere to this important instrument in the near future and to participate in the Review Conference.

The ICRC also invites Parties to the CCW to take note of a report it has submitted on the production and proliferation of 12.7 mm "multipurpose" bullets . The document highlights the Committee's concern that the proliferation of such bullets, which can explode in the human body, will undermine respect for the 1868 St.Petersburg Declaration.

This instrument of customary international law prohibits explosive bullets so as to protect combatants from inevitable death or extreme suffering which serves no military purpose. States are therefore encouraged to review their ammunition procurement policies in this light.

Mr. Chairman,

The Fifth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) should strongly reaffirm the long-standing public abhorrence of the use of any form of biological weapon by any party to a conflict for any purpose whatsoever. It should also reaffirm the international community's total rejection of this form of warfare, contained in both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the BWC. State Parties are urged, at the upcoming Review Conference, to spare no effort to strengthen the BWC. This is particularly urgent to ensure that rapid advances in the fields of microbiology, genetic engineering and biotechnology are used to benefit humanity and are not turned against it.

Mr. Chairman,

The September meeting in Managua of States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of Antipersonnel Mines was an important occasion to take stock of the process of universalization and implementation of this unique treaty, and to encourage efforts to create a zone free of antipersonnel mines in Central America. The ICRC welcomes the steady increase in adherence to this instrument which now stands at 122 States Parties. The Committee encourages all States which have not yet done so to adhere to this instrument which represents the only effective solution to the global epidemic of landmine injuries. It is greatly encouraged by the fact that in countries where the Convention's comprehensive programme of mine action is being pursued the annual number of new mine victims has fallen dramatically.

Largely as a result largely of resources mobilized through this Convention the ICRC has, since 1997, been able to triple the number of mine awareness programmes and to double the number of patients receiving orthopaedic appliances to some 28,000 last year. Ongoing ICRC medical or surgical assistance for war-wounded currently extends to some 150 hospitals, some of which are in 20 mine-affected countries.

The July United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects was an important step in drawing attention to the enormous human costs of the unregulated availability of small arms and light weapons. It is important that the Conference acknowledged that this trade "undermines respect for humanitarian law, impedes the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of armed conflict and fuels crime and terrorism"  and that States underto ok to put in place a wide range of national measures to combat this trade. The ICRC now calls upon States to urgently enact the agreed upon measures. States are likewise invited to review their laws and policies governing the transfer of arms and ammunition, with a view to preventing access by those who are likely to violate international humanitarian law.

Lastly, Mr. Chairman, we would like to reaffirm that the ICRC, the 177 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their International Federation are committed to long-term work to raise awareness of the humanitarian implications of unregulated arms availability while at the same time continuing efforts to end the scourge of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.