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2nd Review Conference of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons - 3rd Preparatory Committee

24-09-2001 Statement

Statement by François Bugnion, Director for International Law and Communication, ICRC, Geneva, 24 September 2001

On behalf of the the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I would like to take this opportunity to commend you, Mr. President, on the way in which, together with the Friends of the Chair, you have guided preparations for the upcoming Review Conference. We also appreciate the seriousness with which all delegations have taken the humanitarian concerns raised by the ICRC. Since our Nyon seminar on explosive remnants of war just over a year ago, in-depth dialogue has been possible on the scope of application of the Convention, remnants of war and a variety of other important issues. The emerging convergence of views on many issues augurs well for the Review Conference and is a credit to your leadership.

Today we encourage delegations to resolve, at this Preparatory Committee meeting, the few remaining issues concerning the extension of the CCW's scope of application to non-international armed conflicts through the amendment of the   framework instrument. The ICRC welcomes the broad support which this proposal has achieved. We believe there is no other single step which is as important in ensuring the relevance of the Convention to the conflicts which are most prevalent today. On the issue of future protocols, we urge you to amend the Convention in such a way as to make clear the presumption that any new protocol will apply to non-international armed conflicts unless more limited provisions are specifically included in the protocol itself.

Amendment of the legal text alone may not ensure respect for the Convention's provisions at all times. But it will make clear the intention of Stat es Parties that the rules the Convention contains, based on customary norms prohibiting weapons with indiscriminate effects and those which cause unnecessary suffering, are the minimum humanitarian rules for all armed conflicts. In so doing you will greatly assist our efforts and those of States to promote adherence to and respect for these norms and prevent dreadful human suffering.

The ICRC appreciates the careful consideration given by States Parties to its proposal for a new protocol to address the grave and widespread humanitarian problem caused by explosive remnants of war . We are encouraged by the wide recognition that this is an issue which can and should be addressed within the CCW framework . We also welcome the statements by a number of States that the use of submunitions should be the subject of specific restrictions, resulting from their potentially devastating effects in civilian areas when used as well as when they remain as unexploded ordnance. The challenge this week is to convert recognition of these problems into an expert group mandate which can be adopted by the Review Conference. Such a mandate should commit States Parties to structured work, leading to the adoption of a new protocol. We believe that the draft mandate presented by Ambassador Sanders as Friend of the Chair provides a good basis for taking this matter forward.

It is important to fully grasp the urgency of this problem. As each day passes the means to deliver large quantities of munitions, often at great distances, falls into more and more hands. Inevitably, the human costs will increase. Yet, these costs are both predictable and preventable. For these reasons, we urge States to commit themselves at the Review Conference to negotiate a new protocol within a short time frame.

One important element of unfinished business from the First Review Conference is to ensure stricter regulation on the use o f anti-vehicle (AV) mines . The existing text of Protocol II as amended qualifies obligations covering these mines too often with terms like " unless circumstances do not permit " and " to the extent feasible " . The ICRC's report to the First Preparatory Committee sought to document our firsthand experience concerning the severe effects of anti-vehicle mines on civilian populations and on humanitarian assistance operations. We support, as important preventive measures, efforts to require that all anti-vehicle mines be detectable and that remotely delivered mines of this type contain self-destruct or self-neutralisation mechanisms. As hand-emplaced and long-lived anti-vehicle mines cause most of the humanitarian problems seen today, we believe that all anti-vehicle mines should contain self-destruct or self-neutralisation systems. The ICRC encourages delegations to make every effort to agree on the substance of this matter and then to integrate the results of such agreement into a legal instrument, whether under explosive remnants of war or in another format.

The ICRC has always approached the regulation of weapons under international humanitarian law from the viewpoint of the effects of weapons on human beings. Indeed, we see the protection of combatants from unnecessary suffering as one of the fundamental principles of this law. Presentations by Switzerland have highlighted the danger that the existing prohibition on expanding bullets (often called dum-dum bullets), contained in the fourth Hague Declaration of 1899 and the protections thereby afforded to combatants, could be undermined by other bullets which cause the same type of severe wounds by other means. As it is the energy deposit of bullets which causes injury, we support proposals, such as the Swiss draft protocol, to establish limits on the energy deposit of bullets within the human body . Adoption of such limits would strengthen one of the major protections provided combatants under customary international humanitarian law.

Based on these same concerns the ICRC will be submitting later this week a report on the need to ensure respect for the customary law norm contained in the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration prohibiting the use of explosive projectiles under 400 grams which explode within the human body. Our concern is based upon the availability in parallel of certain 12.7mm bullets which have repeatedly exploded in tests against human tissue simulants and of 12.7mm sniper rifles capable of firing such bullets at combatants. We are convinced that the existence and proliferation of the 12.7mm " multipurpose " bullets described in the report will over time undermine the object and purpose of the 1868 St. Petersburg Declaration. The ICRC report calls on all States to undertake a rigorous review of their arsenals to ensure that such bullets are not produced, used or transferred. It calls on any State producing such bullets to suspend their production and export until they have been adapted to eliminate any risk that the bullets will explode within the human body. We would invite the Review Conference to take note of this report in its final declaration and to urge States to review their stocks of 12.7 mm ammunition in light of its recommendations.

To conclude, although the remaining time is limited, we believe that the Second Review Conference can make an important contribution to the development of the CCW regime and to international humanitarian law in general. The Conference can make the Convention more relevant to the majority of today's armed conflicts, which are non-international. It can launch a process aimed at significantly reducing the impact of unexploded ordnance on millions of lives and thousands of communities. It can take steps to reinforce the protect ion of combatants from the worst type of injuries which modern ammunition can inflict. The work of delegations in the coming week and months will determine whether the Second Review Conference has such an impact. We look forward to joining in this important endeavour.