Weapons: the humanitarian perspective
Two aspects of the weapons issue are of particular concern from a
humanitarian point of view. First, are they indiscriminate and therefore more
likely to cause civilian death and injury? And second, do they inflict more
suffering than required for a given military purpose? The first is an argument
for limitation, the second for prohibition. These norms were the basis on which
a large part of the international community has banned landmines.
In addition, there is strong evidence to suggest that the widespread
availability of military-style weapons is having a detrimental impact on respect
for humanitarian rules, on the people whom those rules seek to protect and on
the safe conduct of relief operations.
Landmines: maintaining the momentum
The campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines reached its peak in
Ottawa in December 1997 with the signing of the Convention on the Prohibition of
the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and
on their Destruction (more commonly known as the "Ottawa treaty"), which
entered into force on 1 March 1999. The overwhelming public response to the
campaign, in which the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement played a decisive part,
and the fact that to date 133 States have signed the treaty itself unthinkable
three years ago is a lasting testament to the power of humanity.
The first step to end the carnage caused by landmines has been taken, but the
road is yet long. Governments that are hesitant or unwilling to sign the new
treaty must be persuaded to do so. Those that have signed, need to translate
their commitment into national legislation and enforcement measures. Moreover,
each State has certain obligations to fulfil under the treaty, including mine
clearance, stockpile destruction, support for mine victims and mine-awareness
The ICRC and the Movement as a whole can play a key role in the
implementation process alongside their more traditional activities to address
the devastating consequences of anti-personnel mines. It is expected that a
long-term Movement strategy on landmines will be adopted by the Council of
Delegates shortly before the Conference.
SIrUS Project: drawing the line
Even in military circles, certain types of warfare are considered abhorrent
and inhuman. Designing weapons with specific intent to burn, blind, poison or
cause infectious disease or inevitable death is one of them, and various steps
have been taken over the years to ban the use of such weapons on the
battlefield. Yet ever more sophisticated technologies are constantly under
development, and each time a particularly nasty weapon comes along the whole
process of finding new arguments to prohibit it has to begin once again.
The SIrUS Project was the fruit of a symposium held in Montreux, Switzerland,
in 1996 on "The medical profession and the effects of weapons". Its purpose was
to develop a baseline for determining which weapons, by their design, cause
"Superfluous Injury or Unnecessary Suffering" (hence SIrUS). The Project does
not aim to impede the achievement of legitimate military objectives. Rather, it
is a tool for reinforcing a part of international law that is specifically
designed to protect the soldier on the battlefield.
Drawing on data from the records of army medical services and the ICRC's
surgical database, which documents the cases of 28,000 war-wounded patients in
its hospitals, a group of medical, legal and weapons experts looked at ways of
measuring the foreseeable effects of new weapons against the known effects of
weapons commonly used in conflicts over the last 50 years.
The SIrUS Project's approach to arms, based on their effect on health, has
been endorsed by a large part of the medical profession. It is hoped that States
attending the Conference will agree to use the baseline as a reference framework
for evaluating both existing weapons and future designs.
| top | this section for printing
| print all sections
© 1999 | French (homepage) |