Antivehicle Mines with Sensitive Fuzes or Antihandling Devices
Human Rights Watch Backgrounder
February 25, 2002
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Key Sections

Index Page

Part I: Introduction and Progress to Date

Part II: Sensitive Fuzes

Part III: Antihandling Devices


Treaty Background

During the Oslo treaty negotiations in 1997, the ICBL identified as "the major weakness in the treaty" the sentence in the Article 2 Paragraph 1 definition of antipersonnel mine that exempts AVM equipped with AHD: "Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped." The ICBL expressed its belief that many AVM with AHD could function as antipersonnel mines and pose similar dangers to civilians.

To address this concern, which was shared by many government delegations, negotiators changed the draft definition of an AHD (which had been identical to the one in Protocol II of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, or CCW) by adding the words "or otherwise intentionally disturb": "`Anti-handling device' means a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine." It was emphasized by Norway, which proposed the language, and others, that the word "intentionally" was needed to establish that if an AVM with an AHD explodes from an unintentional act of a person, it is to be considered an antipersonnel mine, and banned under the treaty. This language was eventually accepted by all delegations (see Attachment 3 for a diplomatic history).

The ICBL expressed concern that there had not been adequate recognition by States Parties that AVM with AHD that function like antipersonnel mines are in fact prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty, nor discussion of the practical implications of this. The ICBL has repeatedly called on States Parties to be more explicit about what types of AVM and AHD are permissible and prohibited. Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Landmine Action UK, and the German Initiative to Ban Landmines all produced lists and publications regarding AVM of concern.

ICRC Seminar

Acting upon recommendations made in Standing Committee meetings in 2000, the ICRC hosted a technical experts meeting on "antivehicle mines with sensitive fuses or with sensitive antihandling devices" on March 13-14, 2001 in Geneva. Governments that sent representatives to this seminar include: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Nicaragua, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Discussion at the seminar centered on identifying the specific technical measures that States Parties can adopt to minimize the risk to civilians posed by AVM with sensitive fuze mechanisms and AHD that might be activated by an unintentional act. The result of the seminar was the development of a number of recommended best practices regarding the design and use of sensitive fuzes and antihandling devices. Key among them were establishing a minimum pressure threshold for AVMs and discontinuing use of AVMs with tripwires, breakwires and tilt rod fuzes, because they function as antipersonnel mines.

Subsequent Developments

    This issue was further discussed at the meeting of the General Status Standing Committee in May 2001, where several delegations expressed their support for the establishment of best practices such as those identified at the ICRC seminar. The report of the Standing Committee submitted to the Third Meeting of States Parties in Managua in September 2001 recommended that States Parties review their AVM inventories in order to minimize risks to civilians, and encouraged States Parties "to consider and to adopt, as appropriate, relevant best practices of the type identified in the report of the ICRC...."

The President's Action Program that emerged from the Third Meeting of States Parties also encourages review of AVM inventories and consideration of best practices. It further states, "The [Standing Committee] Co-chairs and other interested parties will promote such best practices and encourage reporting on State practice in this regard."

In statements made at the Third Meeting of States Parties, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom expressed the view that AVM should be considered in the context of the CCW and not the Mine Ban Treaty.

    At the Second Review Conference of CCW in December 2001, states agreed to form a group of governmental experts with a broad mandate to study issues concerning AVM. This group was formed after consensus could not be reached to adopt a new AVM protocol initially submitted by the United States in December 2000 and co-sponsored by States Parties Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.

At the General Status and Operation Standing Committee meeting on February 1, 2002, states were urged by the co-chairs to come to the next meeting prepared in May 2002 prepared to discuss national positions and issues related to Article 2. The ICRC also distributed an information paper titled "Understanding the Ottawa Treaty definition of an anti-personnel mine under basic rules of treaty interpretation" at this meeting.

Statements of National Policy

During 2001, officials of a number of States Parties made policy statements on the issue of AVM with AHD in various domestic and international venues or in communications with Landmine Monitor researchers. These statements include:

  • At the Standing Committee meeting on May 11, 2001, Austria aligned itself with the view expressed by the Netherlands, that the issue should be dealt with by adopting and reporting on voluntary "best practices."

  • Legislation banning AHD, or interpreting existing law to ban AHD, has been proposed and studied in Belgium.

  • The Bolivian Defense Minister stated that Bolivia is not using and does not reserve the right to use other munitions which might function like antipersonnel mines and pose danger to civilians, such as AVM with AHD.

  • A representative from Brazil said at the February 1, 2002 Standing Committee meeting that Brazil favored a ban on AVM with AHD, repudiated the use of AHD on humanitarian grounds, and, "that the wording of Article 2 Paragraph 3 does make clear that AVMs equipped with AHDs which may be detonated by the unintentional act of a person constitute, for all practical purposes, anti-personnel mines, and are therefore banned by the Convention..

  • A statement made by Canada during the Standing Committee meeting in May 2001 noted, "Canada does not accept the argument that all antihandling devices could be activated by unintentional disturbance. Canada is currently undertaking work to better explain what we consider to be antihandling devices that would conceivably be banned by the Convention and those that we would consider not banned by the Convention."

  • The French Ambassador for Mine Action has asserted that the Mine Ban Treaty does not cover the AVM currently stockpiled by France. The National Commission for the Elimination of Antipersonnel Mines (CNEMA) in France reported on issues related to AVM in its report released late in 2001.

  • Germany holds that AVM with AHD do not fall within the scope of the Mine Ban Treaty, but Parliamentarians are considering options to ban AVM unilaterally.

  • Italy noted that its stringent national legislation banning antipersonnel landmines (Law 374/97), "adopts a wide definition of [antipersonnel mines] which does not foresee an exception for anti-vehicle mines equipped with antihandling devices." A representative from Italy reinforced this at the Standing Committee meeting on February 1, 2002 by stating that this law does not permit AVM with AHD.

  • The Netherlands at a Standing Committee meeting in May 2001 supported the call for the issue of AVM with AHD to be dealt with by "best practices" because this "has the advantage of being voluntary but allows States to deal with humanitarian concerns whilst recognizing military needs."

  • The Ministry of Defense of Norway, in an April 2001 letter to Landmine Monitor, stated that use of AVM would continue as and when necessary.

  • An official of the Ministry of Defense of Slovakia stated in a January 2001 interview, "Slovakia is not obliged to provide information on antivehicle landmines and antihandling devices, since no nation has done so, moreover there is no obligation emanating from the Ottawa Treaty that requires it or any other State to do so. However, Slovakia has interest and unreservedly supports the destruction of antivehicle landmines and antihandling devices on a world-wide basis."

  • The Foreign Ministry of Spain noted that Law 33/98 refers to mines designed to explode in the presence, proximity or contact with a person, thus AVM with AHD "will not be treated as antipersonnel landmines."

  • According to Defense officials from the United Kingdom, very sensitive anti-disturbance devices are not found among UK stocks. According to Parliamentary statements, "all UK weapons systems have been checked for compliance with the provisions of the Mine Ban Treaty. There are no weapons or munitions in the UK inventory which fall under the Ottawa definition of an antipersonnel mine."