United Nations International Meeting on Mine Clearance

Over the past ten years medical teams of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have treated more than 140 thousand war-wounded. One in five was a mine victim. Each and every year more than twenty thousand men, women and children are injured or killed by anti-personnel mines.

The use of these pernicious weapons has resulted in an acute human tragedy. Apart from the appalling number of casualties they cause, anti-personnel mines inflict the most horrific wounds regularly treated by war surgeons, strike blindly at all human beings alike and continue to spread terror for decades after hostilities have ended.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been charged by the international community with providing protection and assistance to the victims of armed conflict.   Not only have landmines created victims on a massive scale but these weapons have also hindered the ICRC and other humanitarian agencies in providing vital aid to victims or even locked such efforts entirely. In many cases mines force food and medical supplies to be sent by air instead of overland, increasing our costs by as much as twenty-five times. In some cases the massive presence of mines has prevented us even from assessing the needs of civilian populations in war zones.

The ICRC medical teams hear the cries of pain of those who have lost limbs and of those who have lost loved ones to these instruments of blind terror. During 1992 a quarter of those treated by the ICRC were mine casualties - most of whom were non-combatants. Mine-injured patients require far more hospital time, blood, surgery and nursing care than do victim s of other war injuries.

The ICRC's twenty-seven rehabilitation centres for war disabled, spread across thirteen countries, have fitted some eighty thousand artificial limbs over the past ten years, the vast majority on mine victims. In these centres we see the courage of people struggling to relearn skills and rebuild lives. But we also know the desperation of those who cannot go on, of those who feel they have lost their dignity, who know they can no longer support their families and whose families and communities are too poor to support them.

We also know of the toll which landmines take on war-torn lands for decades after hostilities have ceased, of the roads which are impassable, wells which are unusable, fields which are unplanted. The results are poverty, hunger and death.

This mindless carnage is an affront to humanitarian values. In many regions it constitutes a threat to economic and social development, to stability and to peace. It must be ended.

The only effective long-term solution to the threat of anti-personnel landmines is a total ban on their production, stockpiling, transfer and use. The limited military advantage of such mines is far outweighed by their horrific consequences.

The ICRC welcomes the recent establishment of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Clearance and would like to encourage States to ensure that this and other mine-clearance programmes receive resources commensurate with the needs arising from the use of mines worldwide. We pay tribute to the commitment, courage and perseverance of United Nations personnel and those of other agencies who each day save lives through mine clearance.

But much more is needed. It is essential that the forthcoming Vienna Review Conference of the 1980 U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons reaches the goal, endorsed by the 49th U.N. General As sembly, of the elimination of antipersonnel mines.

The ICRC is concerned that the set of partial measures short of a total ban which are to be considered by the Review Conference may, if adopted, fall far short of the goal of protecting civilians from the indiscriminate effects of mines and are likely to result in continued civilian casualties on a large scale for many years to come.

An essential element of mine clearance is detectability. In addition to prohibiting anti-personnel mines the Review Conference should require that anti-vehicle mines be made detectable and should prohibit anti-detection devices, which cause a mine to explode when detected and constitute a death sentence to mine-clearance personnel. In practice detectability means specifying a minimum metallic content in a recognisable shape. This can be achieved for anti-vehicle mines at very low cost.

While legal efforts to reduce the suffering caused by mines could take years to become effective, the immediate needs of mine victims and other casualties must not be overlooked. For this reason the ICRC has asked that measures be adopted at the Review Conference which would ensure the clearance of a path through minefields or designation of a safe alternative route when its access to victims is blocked. This is the minimum necessary to ensure the access which States have undertaken, in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, to provide.

This meeting is a hopeful sign that the international community has begun to take seriously the moral, political and financial responsibility for the damage which landmines have already incurred. But the depth of that commitment and the true value of the undertakings made here will not be known until Vienna. Bold action is needed.

At the current rate we are adding, each year, two or more decades to the eleven hundred years which the clearance of currently emplaced mines will require. If this continues unabated, the value of this important meeting will be greatly diminished. We would simply be running up a fast-moving down escalator. The lives of many tens of thousands of potential victims depend on the resolve of governments to confront the mine problem head on. The most effective and least costly way to do that is to ban anti-personnel mines for ever.

Our legacy to our children must not be a mine-infested world.

 Ref. UN(1993)13b