At first glance, a 46-year-old former mason in Afghanistan, a 16-year-old female student in Cambodia and an 11-year-old Lebanese boy may not appear to have much in common. Yet all three have been innocent victims of landmines or other explosive remnants of war. All three are suffering horrific, life-long injuries. And all three are paying the cost of conflicts in which they played no part, wounded sometimes years or even decades after the fighting ended.
Each year, large numbers of people, mostly civilians, continue to be senselessly killed or injured by landmines, cluster munitions, or other explosive remnants of war (ERW). In 2005-2006, these deadly weapons claimed new victims in 58 countries around the world, according to the Landmine Monitor. Intensifying violence in several countries resulted in increasing numbers of casualties, including in Chad, Colombia, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
This deplorable situation can – and must – be stopped. The landmark Ottawa Convention, adopted in 1997, is the first international agreement comprehensively banning the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of a weapon that was already in widespread use. The Convention was also unprecedented in requiring Parties to provide care and assistance for victims.
Without a doubt there has been impressive progress. Out of the 50 States that at one time produced anti-personnel mines, 34 are now parties to the Convention, and a total of 145 States parties do not have stockpiles. States Parties have so far destroyed almost 42 million anti-personnel mines. As of 2005, they had invested US$ 2.9 billion in mine-clearance, stockpile destruction, victim assistance and other mine action activities.
Yet major challenges remain. Forty States have yet to ratify the Convention. And all those that have ratified need to maintain the long-term promises they made to landmine victims, including by maintaining clearance efforts and allocating increased resources for healthcare and assistance programmes.
Moreover, landmines are only one part of a much larger problem. In war-torn countries around the world, millions of unexploded bombs, shells, grenades, missiles, cluster munitions and other types of unexploded ordnance – commonly known as explosive remnants of war – continue to kill and maim civilians long after the guns have fallen silent. The human costs of ERW are in fact getting worse, especially through the proliferation of cluster munitions. These weapons can deliver tens of thousands of small sub-munitions ove r large areas in a very short time, with devastating effects when used in populated areas. Notoriously inaccurate and unreliable, large numbers of submunitions fail to explode as intended. The extensive use of cluster munitions during last year's war in Lebanon and their legacy of more than two hundred civilian dead since the fighting stopped highlight their unacceptable human cost.
Reinforcing what States have done under the Ottawa Convention, a new international agreement came into force last year that requires parties to an armed conflict to take concrete steps to reduce the dangers posed by unexploded and abandoned ordnance. The Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War is an essential tool in efforts to minimize civilian deaths, injuries and suffering resulting from warfare. To date, 35 States worldwide have ratified this Protocol. All States should be encouraged to do so.
While the ERW Protocol is intended to reduce the post-conflict threat to civilians from all forms of unexploded and abandoned ordnance, including cluster munitions, it does not contain specific restrictions on the use of these particular weapons or specify measures to reduce their failure rate. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) therefore believes that the particular problem of cluster munitions must ultimately be addressed through a new international treaty.
This treaty must prohibit inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions as well as their export to anyone and require their destruction. It should also provide for their clearance and assistance to their victims. Until the treaty is adopted, other States should join Belgium, Hungary, Norway and Austria in prohibiting or suspending the use of cluster munitions at national level.
While efforts continue on the legal front, the needs of victims must not be forgotten. For its part, the ICRC helps to assist the victims of landmines and other ERW around the world by supporting emergency and hospital care, p hysical rehabilitation and preventive measures such as facilitating safe access to food, water and other necessities of life.
The tenth anniversary of the Ottawa Convention is an opportune moment to take stock of, and even celebrate, progress made in the past decade towards the eradication of anti-personnel landmines. But it should also remind States of the need to look soberly at the deadly legacy of all weapons that go on killing after conflicts, and to make a genuine commitment towards ending that legacy.