Engaging armed non-state actors in the effort to ban antipersonnel mines
Keynote address by Jacques Forster, Vice-President of the ICRC, First Meeting of Signatories to Geneva Call's Deed of Commitment, October 31 – November 1 2004, Geneva, Switzerland.
It is a great privilege for me to address this First Meeting of armed groups signatories to Geneva Call's " Deed of Commitment " and I wish to thank the co-organizers for giving me this opportunity. This meeting sets a notable precedent, and I commend Geneva Call, the Program for the Study of International Organisations, and the " Armed Group Project " of the University of British Columbia for undertaking this important initiative. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Geneva Call for its very valuable work in engaging armed non-state actors to respect the anti-personnel mine ban.
The Geneva Call " Deed of Commitment " represents an important means of achieving the goal of alleviating human suffering through the elimination of anti-personnel mines, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts as to how this initiative might be further developed and strengthened. The goal of the elimination of anti-personnel mines is very relevant to the objective of protecting lives and of preserving human dignity in armed conflicts, which is at the heart of the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross and of our efforts to ensure respect for international humanitarian law more generally.
In order to do its work – to ensure protection of and assistance to civilians and other victims of war – the ICRC strives to be in daily contact with all sides of a conflict, be they representatives of governmental armed forces or of non-state armed groups, whatever their allegiance. Through these contacts – including with many of you who are present today – we encourage respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict or laws of war.
The rules of humanitarian law regulate the conduct of hostilities and prevent and limit the suffering of persons affected by armed conflicts, both international and non-international. Respect for the rules of humanitarian law is vital in the mist of armed conflict: they aim at protecting civilians, internally displaced persons, sick and wounded combatants who are no longer participating in the hostilities, and persons who are detained. In addition, it is important to remember that respect for these rules can also have a preventive effect on further or future conflicts. Indeed, the way a war is waged influences the way peace is built. It is in the best interest of a society, as it hopefully moves towards the resolution of a conflict, for the parties to respect humanitarian norms.
Given that the majority of armed conflicts today are internal in nature, respect for international humanitarian law in situations of non-international armed conflict is of particular importance. While most rules of humanitarian law were developed in the context of international armed conflict, it is generally accepted today that many of these rules apply also to non-international armed conflicts. As stated in the Tadic decision of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, “what is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife”.
From our contacts in the field, the ICRC is aware of the dilemmas faced by armed groups party to non-international armed conflicts. We are aware that, unlike government soldiers, members of armed groups could face prosecution for their mere participation in the hostilities, a prospect that could leave them with little legal incentive to comply with IHL during the conflict. We are aware that many conflicts are asymmetrical in nature; that armed groups feel limited in the means they have at their disposal to wage war. We are aware that armed groups might not consider themselves bound by treaties that they did not help to draft or to which they have not formally adhered. Our constant aim being to ensure respect for IHL in all circumstances, we are committed to a continued dialogue with armed groups, to listen to their concerns and not merely to tell them what they should do.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The focus of this Conference is on ensuring respect for the ban of anti-personnel mines. Geneva Call's " Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action " represents a valuable tool for engaging non-State actors in adhering to and implementing this important humanitarian norm.
Growing public abhorrence with the devastating effects of anti-personnel mines on civilians led States to adopt in 1997 the Ottawa Convention. This marked one of the very few times in history that States agreed to ban completely, on the basis of international humanitarian law, a weapon that was alr eady in generalised use. They recognized that the very limited military utility of anti-personnel mines was far outweighed by their appalling human costs. The Convention provides a comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis caused by anti-personnel mines: not only does it ban the use of anti-personnel mines and require their destruction, it obliges States to take a range of remedial measures to respond to the effects of anti-personnel mines on civilians, such as raising awareness in the civilian population about the dangers of mines, removing the threat of mines already in the ground through mine clearance, and assisting mine victims.
In exactly four weeks from today, the Nairobi Summit on a Mine Free World, the name given to the Convention's First Review Conference, will celebrate its successes and address the remaining challenges. And the successes are quite impressive. Today, anti-personnel mines have been stigmatized and the anti-personnel mine ban norm is rapidly becoming universal. Three-quarters of the world's countries have joined the Ottawa Convention. Worldwide use, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines have sharply decreased, including by armed groups. Over 37 million antipersonnel mines have been destroyed by States party to the Convention within their deadlines. Significant mine clearance activities are taking place in mine-affected countries in all regions of the world. Most importantly, the ICRC has found that where the Convention is being fully implemented, the annual number of new mine victims has fallen dramatically, in some cases by two thirds or more.