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Second Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons
Human Rights Watch Statement

Geneva Switzerland, December 21, 2001


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Human Rights Watch Fact Sheet
(PDF Version - 2 pages), December 2001

President, distinguished delegates, colleagues,

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to make some remarks at the closing of this Review Conference. Human Rights Watch is pleased that agreement has been reached to expand the scope of three CCW protocols to internal as well as international conflict. This is an advance in promotion of effective international humanitarian law and we urge governments to give their consent to be bound by this new provision as soon as possible.

We congratulate the conference for adopting a mandate to conduct work on the issue of the explosive remnants of war (ERW), and we express our appreciation to the International Committee of the Red Cross for its initiative on this issue. ERW constitute an acute humanitarian problem that deserves immediate action by the international community. We view the formation of a Group of Governmental Experts as a positive step in addressing all aspects of the problems associated with ERW.

We look forward to working with you over the course of the next year. Numerous non-governmental organizations possess a wealth of experience in dealing with the consequences of ERW. It is crucial that the Group of Experts consider their views not as outsiders, but as partners and practitioners.

Human Rights Watch's interest in ERW has grown in part out of its leadership role in the movement to ban antipersonnel mines, but also from its extensive research and field work on the impact of the use of cluster munitions, particularly in the Gulf War and in Kosovo. We were the first group, in December 1999, to call for a global moratorium on use of cluster munitions until humanitarian concerns could be adequately addressed. More recently, we called for a halt to use of cluster bombs in Afghanistan. It has been demonstrated that use of cluster munitions leads to unacceptable civilian casualties both during and after conflict. During conflict, the wide dispersal pattern and the inability to target cluster munitions accurately makes them especially dangerous when used near civilian areas. After conflict, the high initial failure rate and the large numbers typically used result in numerous explosive duds that pose the same post-conflict problem as antipersonnel mines.

Because of the humanitarian imperative, the Group of Experts' work on ERW should be concluded within one year and should pave the way for immediate negotiations aimed at a new protocol to be concluded in a similar timeframe. We are pleased that the ERW mandate is broad, and allows for examination of the factors and types of munitions that could cause humanitarian problems, and for examination of international humanitarian law concerns. There are clearly many factors to consider, from the question of the reliability of weapons technologies themselves, to selection of certain weapons in warfare, to their use in areas where civilians live or work, to the adequacy of wartime records and post-war clean-up, among others.

We believe that the Group of Experts should focus on problems caused by cluster bombs and other submunitions, because of the well-documented dangers. As we are seeing once again in Afghanistan, the answer to the question of which types of munitions cause the most severe humanitarian problems, is primarily mines and submunitions. These weapons are particularly pernicious because they are both hidden killers, highly volatile to human contact, generally appearing in large numbers, with indiscriminate effects. In Afghanistan, mines and submunitions have caused casualties to civilians and to coalition military personnel. Once again, it is clear that the proliferation of submunitions increases civilian dangers.

We also believe that if the cluster munition problem is to be adequately addressed, the Group of Experts must consider not just technical factors, but also those related to use and targeting. Dangers to civilians during conflict are as important as dangers to civilians after conflict.

It is also clear that a possible technical "fix" on future submunitions of the major militaries will not effect the existing problem of remnants of war on the ground, nor will it address problems associated with the huge existing stockpiles of submunitions, which may number in the billions. Human Rights Watch takes the ERW mandate as one to address the past, the current and the future problem.

Parallel to the efforts of the Group of Experts, states should, with a sense of urgency, take unilateral steps toward our common goals. In the next year, states should adopt and publicize their national "best practices" and other measures to reduce the problems caused by cluster munitions and ERW. Such an approach would facilitate the work of the Group of Experts. At a minimum, governments should declare that air-delivered submunitions should not be used in or near concentrations of civilians. Another step states can take is to ban the sale and transfer of submunitions. Such an action would have immediate impact on reducing the proliferation of the weapons themselves, but also of production technologies that perpetuate the problem. Many other positive measures can be adopted at the national level.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that we look forward to working with you in the coming months and years in the effort to address our common goal of alleviating the human suffering caused by cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war.

Thank you.