Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects
Statement by Jean-Philippe Lavoyer, head of the legal division, International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 6 December 2002
The Group of Governmental Experts has made significant progress over the past year in clearly identifying measures to reduce the human costs of explosive remnants of war and anti-vehicle mines. These measures could save thousands of lives and limbs each and every year and dramatically improve the process of reconstruction of war-torn societies. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been pleased to participate in the Group's work and would like to express its thanks to Ambassador Sood, Mr. Peter Kolarov and yourself for your efforts on these issues.
The Group's meetings have been substantial and informative. The presentations by a wide variety of agencies working in diverse contexts have clearly demonstrated the widespread threat explosive remnants of war and anti-vehicle mines pose to civilian populations. Importantly, the meetings have also provided clear indications of the kinds of measures necessary to greatly reduce the death, injury and suffering caused by these weapons. The types of measures identified are both realistic and technically feasible. If steps are not taken urgently it is predictable that the scale of the problem will increase as the capacity to deliver huge volumes of munitions over long distances spreads to additional actors.
The ICRC believes that the time has now come to move forward on explosive remnants of war. In our view, the " two track " approach outlined in the draft mandate is a good framework within which to proceed on this issue. After two years of discussions, it has become clear that further progress will only come if States are considering specific proposals in a negotiating framework.
It is the view of the ICRC that negotiations on explosive remnants of war must focus on a legally binding instrument. This is the means foreseen in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons for its development and reinforcement in response to new problems. Anything less may not be considered obligatory even by States that eventually adhere to such texts, and could lead to inconsistent and contradictory practice. The ICRC strongly believes that legally binding rules are required in order to effectively protect civilians from explosive remnants of war.
Within the context of explosive remnants of war, the ICRC and others have regularly voiced concern about the specific effects of submunitions – both during and after conflicts. We welcome the elements of the mandate that will ensure that these issues continue to be addressed, in particular the consideration of preventive measures to improve the design of these munitions. We believe, however, that there also needs to be further work on measures that can be taken during conflict to reduce the impact of these weapons on civilians. The ICRC would like to see point 2 of the mandate broadened to include consideration of how existing international humanitarian law rules are implemented so as to ensure the best possible protection of civilians from submunitions. Minimizing the civilian casualties consistently associated with submunitions will only be accomplished if all aspects of the problem, both preventative and remedial, are dealt with.
The ICRC also attaches great importance to addressing the problems caused by anti-vehicle mines. Examining ways of reducing the death, injury and indirect suffering caused by these weapons has been an important task of the Group of Governmental Experts. We support the draft mandate proposed by the Coordinator and view it as a good basis to begin negotiations. As the ICRC highlighted to in its July report to this Group on the effects of anti-vehicle mines on humanitarian assistance and civilian populations, the human and social costs of current anti-vehicle mine use are severe and widespread. They include death and injury among civilians who detonate these weapons, the denial of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations, severe disruption of post-conflict reconstruction, hunger, disease and poverty.
Limiting the human costs of these weapons will entail consideration of a variety of measures, including requirements that all anti-vehicle mines be detectable and contain self-destruct or self-neutralisation systems, and precautions to reduce the risk that civilians will detonate such mines. We very much welcome the Irish paper introduced this morning which is an important step towards addressing this problem in a comprehensive manner.
The progress that has been made on explosive remnants of war and anti-vehicle mines is commendable. Separate discussions on these issues have been a useful framework within which to move forward. It is now time to move from discussion to negotiations. A failure to do so, following two years of preparatory work, would weaken the credibility of the Convention, severely damage efforts to universalize it and undermine the results that have been achieved thus far.
The work of the Group of Governmental Experts has shown the potential of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to limit the suffering resulting from armed conflict. The discussions have been an important vehicle through which to promote adherence to the Convention and its Protocols. We have been pleased to note the participation of a number of States not party to the Convention in the Group’s work and hope that these States will adhere to the Conv ention as soon as possible. Their participation is a strong reminder that this process must concretely address the realities of modern warfare if universal adherence is to be achieved and our common goal to reduce suffering in armed conflict is to be realized.
In closing, we congratulate Australia, Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom for having ratified the amendment of Article 1 extending the Convention to non-international armed conflicts. We also urge all States Parties to ratify the amendment and to adhere to all four Protocols if they have not already done so.