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U.S. Seeks to Strengthen Convention on Conventional Weapons

U.S. Seeks to Strengthen Convention on Conventional Weapons

Opening Statement, Press Briefing by Edward Cummings, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Second Preparatory Committee of the 2001 Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), April 3, 2001. (Changes could expand protection of civilians, peacekeepers). Source: Washington File (EUR207), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., April 3, 2001.

Geneva -- The United States has put forward a set of proposals to improve the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), the treaty that governs the use of weapons such as mines and booby traps that the international community has deemed to be excessively injurious, especially to civilian populations.

Delegates from the 84 states parties to the treaty are meeting in Geneva April 2-6 to prepare for the 2001 CCW review conference that will be held in December.

Edward Cummings, the head of the U.S. Delegation to the Preparatory Committee, said the United States believes its new proposals would, if adopted, "significantly improve the protection of civilians, peacekeepers and friendly armed forces."

The CCW serves as a kind of umbrella treaty for a series of protocols on specific categories of weapons. These protocols include the important Amended Mines Protocol, the only international agreement to cover all types of landmines.

Cummings told an April 3 press briefing that the U.S. proposals to enhance the Amended Mines Protocol include:

  • A requirement that all anti-vehicle mines be constructed so as to be detectable by commonly available means.
  • A new requirement that all remotely delivered anti-vehicle mines be equipped with self-destruction capabilities with back-up self-deactivation features.
  • Improvements to the existing requirements for the self-destruction and self-deactivation features of landmines to further reduce the risk to civilians and friendly military forces.
  • A compliance mechanism to deal with legitimate complaints related to the misuse of mines, booby-traps, and other devices.

In addition, the United States has put forward a proposal to expand the scope of the CCW treaty itself, so that its rules and restrictions apply in civil wars and internal conflicts as well as in international ones.

"The fact is that the distinction between types of conflicts matters little to the victims of war itself," Cummings said in an address to the Preparatory Committee April 3.

Cummings said the U.S. believes extending the scope of the CCW should be "one of the highest priorities" of the CCW review conference, which will be held in Geneva next December 11-21. He noted growing support for extending the treaty to cover internal conflicts, and welcomed statements supporting the principle at the current meeting by Russia, India, the European Union, and Brazil.

Cummings noted, in response to questions from reporters, that many other participants have put forward ideas, including an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) proposal that CCW states parties should begin to look at what might be done about the problem of unexploded ordinance. "This is a genuine issue, whether it is artillery, whether it is cluster bombs, or submunitions [grenades, mines or bomblets]...and I think that everyone agrees that we should address those issues and see what we can do in the CCW context," he said.

Following are texts of Cummings's opening statement at the press briefing and of his remarks to the Preparatory Committee: (begin text of press briefing statement)

Opening Statement, Press Briefing by Edward Cummings, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Second Preparatory Committee of the 2001 Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), April 3, 2001.

The United States delegation has introduced a set of proposals to improve the Convention on Conventional Weapons designed to enhance the protection of civilians, peacekeepers and friendly military forces.

Briefly, we are proposing the following:

First, a requirement that all anti-vehicle mines, these are mines which are not subject to the Ottawa Treaty, be constructed or modified so as to be detectable by commonly available means.

Second, we are proposing a requirement that all remotely-delivered anti-vehicle mines be equipped with self-destruction capabilities with back-up self-deactivation features.

Third, we propose to enhance the technical specifications of self-destruction and self-deactivation features to reduce further the risk to civilians and friendly military forces caused by the use of all remotely-delivered landmines.

Fourth, the United States is proposing a compliance mechanism to deal with legitimate complaints related to the misuse of mines, booby-traps and other devices.

Fifth, we have a proposal to expand the scope of the Convention so its rules and restrictions apply in non-international armed conflict, civil wars, as well as international conflicts.

Let me touch on each of these in turn and give you some additional details.

First, detectability. We are proposing a requirement that all landmines be constructed or modified so as to be detectable by commonly available means. The Protocol requires a metallic signature equivalent to that of 8 grams or more of iron for anti-personnel mines; our proposal adopts the same standard for detectability of mines other than anti-personnel landmines.

Why make such mines detectable? We believe that detectability of anti-vehicle mines would have a significant military value, decreasing casualties among peacekeepers and friendly military forces. Detectability of anti-vehicle mines would have little if any impact on the anti-tank mines' utility in blocking, turning or channeling enemy mechanized forces.

From a humanitarian perspective, we believe such a requirement would greatly facilitate the detection and clearance of anti-vehicle mines on roads used by civilian traffic. The ICRC reported in September of this year, at a meeting in Nyon, that although the number of civilian casualties associated with anti-vehicle mines is less than AP mines, there are major effects in terms of denial of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations, as a result of anti-vehicle mining. The ICRC pointed out also that disruption of normal food distribution can persist long after a conflict has ended as a result of anti-vehicle mining. According to the report that the ICRC is releasing this week, "A survey of ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society operations reveals a total of 20 incidents involving anti-vehicle mines in 11 countries during the 1990s. Each of these incidents resulted in the cancellation of relief operations for already vulnerable populations. A total of 16 staff were killed and 63 injured in these incidents. When relief had to be delivered by air due to mined roadways the financial costs to the ICRC increased between 10 and 20 times."

Second, self-destruction. We are proposing a requirement that all remotely-delivered anti-vehicle mines be equipped with self-destruction capabilities with back-up self-deactivation features. Long-lived remotely-delivered anti-vehicle mines pose serious risks to the civilian population, since they could remain active and unmarked on roads used by civilians long after they had served the military purpose for which they were laid. Once again, the use of self-destruction and self-deactivation features makes sense from a military point of view as well, in that it minimizes civilian casualties without compromising legitimate military uses and reduces risks to one's own forces.

Third, reliability of self-destruction. The Protocol currently requires that all remotely-delivered anti-personnel mines be equipped with a self-destruction device that operates within 30 days with a dependability of 90 percent and with self-deactivation features ensuring, within 120 days at a dependability of 99.9 percent, that the mine is no longer capable of functioning as a mine. These features are designed to reduce the risk to civilians and friendly military forces caused by the use of long-lived mines that remain a threat long after the military purpose for which they were laid has been served. We believe that these specifications can be improved. We also believe they can be applied to all remotely-delivered landmines without degrading legitimate military requirements and that they are technically realistic and practical.

Fourth, compliance. The United States is proposing a compliance mechanism to deal with legitimate complaints related to the misuse of mines, booby-traps and other devices. Our proposal is limited, non-intrusive, and includes procedural protections to accommodate national security and constitutional concerns and to counter abuse.

Finally, scope of application. There are still significant differences in the rules on use of weapons in armed conflict depending on whether the armed conflict is "international" or "internal". We don't think that makes sense.

We agree with the view on this issue expressed by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It wrote: "...elementary considerations of humanity and common sense make it preposterous that the use by States of weapons prohibited in armed conflicts between themselves be allowed when States try to put down rebellion by their own nationals on their own territory. What is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife." Our proposal calls for applying the rules of the Convention, including its protocols, in all armed conflicts, regardless of whether they are international or internal.

These are our proposals. And we believe, again, that, if adopted, they would significantly improve the protection of civilians, peacekeepers and friendly armed forces.

We have a web site with the proposals themselves, as well as background information, at: www.itu.int/us/missions/ccw

(end text of press briefing statement)

(begin text of Preparatory Committee remarks)

Statement of Edward Cummings, Head of U.S. Delegation, to the Second Preparatory Committee of the 2001 Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, April 3, 2001.

Scope of Application of the CCW

Mr. Chairman, thank you once again for the opportunity to address this Preparatory Conference. Today, we are pleased to discuss what we and many other delegations believe to be one of the highest priorities before us.

The difficulty of preserving humanitarian values in time of war is apparent in all armed conflicts, international and internal. The fact is that the distinction between the types of conflicts matters little to the victims of war itself. We believe that the extension to internal conflicts of more of the principles and rules for the protection of the civilian population from the effects of hostilities would offer a significant advance without unduly restricting legitimate security requirements of a State to combat rebellion within its territory. As the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has forcefully written:

"...elementary considerations of humanity and common sense make it preposterous that the use by States of weapons prohibited in armed conflicts between themselves be allowed when States try to put down rebellion by their own nationals on their own territory. What is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife."

Indeed, as was clarified yesterday during the round table held on this issue, the trend in treaty making just in the last 10 years bears this view out. Most of the more recent treaties concerned with both weaponry and the conduct of war -- the Amended Mines Protocol of 1996, the Rome Statute of 1998 and the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention Protecting Cultural Property in armed conflict concluded just last year -- have clear-cut applicability in internal armed conflict. This conference is now in the position to reinforce and extend this important development.

We sense growing support for doing so and welcome the statements yesterday in support of this principle by many states, including, for example the delegations of Russia, India, and Brazil as well as the EU. We also share the sense of urgency about this issue expressed by the ICRC yesterday.

Our proposal on scope is straightforward, rooted in both customary international law and the precedent of the Amended Mines Protocol. In fact, the language of our proposal is substantively identical to the language of paragraphs two through six of Article 1 of the Amended Mines Protocol. It is, in part, also similar to the language of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

There are a number of options for expanding the scope of the Convention. We believe, along with the ICRC and other states that it would be simplest, most direct and most effective, as well as consistent with Article 8 of the Convention, to amend Article I of the Convention itself. First, Article 8 of the Convention envisions that new protocols will address "categories of conventional weapons not covered by the existing annexed Protocols." Expanding the scope of the Convention does not fall neatly within this framework. Second, by amending the Convention itself, all Parties would be bound by the same substantive rule, once they accede to an amended Convention. This will be particularly important in the case of new parties to the Convention. New Parties would be presumed to ratify an amended Convention, making automatic the application of the Protocols to which they accede in internal armed conflict. Amending the convention also avoids the problem of a multiplicity of instruments related the same purpose. Rather than having separate agreements for each protocol, expanding the scope on a protocol-by-protocol basis, amending the Convention will accomplish our shared goal in the most efficient way. Also, it is in the tradition of the law of treaties, that fundamental provisions such as scope of application, would be addressed in the framework convention itself. Finally, we should take into account the symbolic importance of amending the Convention as compared to other options. It does matter that the most important convention on conventional weapons, will, in the Convention itself, have a clear provision on scope, i.e., extension to non-international armed conflicts, which of course is the critical issue in international humanitarian law today.

(end text of Preparatory Committee remarks)

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
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