27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

THE SIrUS PROJECT AND REVIEWING THE LEGALITY OF NEW WEAPONS

Organisers : ICRC, Australian Red Cross and Danish RC

The first part of this workshop focused on the SIrUS Project and on the proposals of the ICRC to States based upon the SIrUS Project. It also included an example of how the SIrUS approach could be integrated in national review processes:

In his presentation Dr. Robin Coupland (ICRC) talked about how the SIrUS Project started from daily medical field experience on the effects of weapons on human health. By looking at the legal concept of superfluous injury and unnecessary suffering, it was felt that health data describing the measurable effects of weapons could contribute to a better understanding of this concept.

However it is necessary to differentiate clearly the data contained in the SIrUS Project and the proposals of the ICRC based on the SIrUS Project. The data has been widely published and has not been questioned by the medical community.

The second speaker, Mr. Peter Herby (ICRC), presented the ICRC's proposals to the 27th Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference which are based upon the SIrUS Project. The detailed proposals are contained in the compendium of documents (point 18) to the draft plan of action. In the coming years efforts should be made to explore, in consultation with governments, how these proposals could be used in the legal review of weapons. It was also stressed that the consideration of the military utility of a weapon would always be part of such legal evaluations.

Prof. Tim McCormack (Australian Red Cross) showed how the Australian Defence Force (ADF) intends to incorporate the SIrUS Project Findings into the Australian National Review Processes for new (or modified) weapons systems. The possible promotion of transparency of these review decisions was also discussed. While recognising the complexity of the application of the SIrUS Project, the Australian response to it is a positive one because the ICRC's proposals emerging from the study are expected to assist decision makers. The Australian Red Cross will continue to encourage the ADF in this regard and hopes that other national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies will have a similar approach. Discussion One participant informed the workshop that his government had put in place a legal review mechanism of weapons since 1977. However even though the SIrUS Project data had been considered, it is premature for use in their legal reviews. But his government would keep on working with the ICRC on the ideas contained in the SIrUS Project. He then explained in more detail the different stages and criteria which are included in their legal review processes. His government reviews are open to public scrutiny except a minority of cases which are classified. Finally his government agrees completely with the ICRC and the Danish and Australian Red Cross about the international need to do a better job in reviewing weapons.

It was suggested that the data pertaining to lethality of weapons needed further examination. In response Dr. Coupland pointed out that because of such concerns about criterion 2 , there is no direct reference to the criteria in the ICRC's proposals to the 27th Conference.

More specific questions were asked about the data in relation to lethality and certain doubts were expressed on how the use of a weapon could be separated from the design of such a weapon.

Dr. Coupland felt that by making a clear distinction between design and use of a weapon the concerns about criterion 2 could be resolved. Furthermore data from the field had shown that the quality of medical treatment would not greatly influence the lethality percentage. Having access to medical treatment is far more important.

It was also mentioned that the SIrUS Project does not address the question of illegal use of legitimate weapons.

One participant said that her government, which had an official review process in place since the 70's, was pleased to see that the content of the important article 36 of Protocol about legal reviews of weapons was again on the international agenda. Her government would be more than happy to share its review processes with other interested governments, but that information on review decisions are confidential.

The SIrUS Project and the proposals of the ICRC based upon it could be considered valuable if future analysis of their application will be seen as useful.

The second part of the workshop addressed possible measures which can be taken at international and national level to help achieve compliance of weapons with international humanitarian law:

The background document of Prof. Lars Adam Rehof's presentation was a booklet published by the Danish Red Cross on Reviewing the Legality of new Weapons.

It was highlighted that the discussion on these review mechanisms had already started during the Diplomatic Conference in 1974-77 and that in the post Cold War context it should be possible not only to continue these discussions but also to arrive at concrete results.

The booklet proposes three possible models to the international community with regard to review mechanisms: a permanent agency like the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons a clearing house which would be more technically oriented a forum to deposit weapon reviews on a voluntary basis These proposals reflect more or less ambitious approaches to dealing with international review mechanisms and should contribute to the discussion in a stimulating way.

Discussion One participant felt that before starting the discussion on the three possible models every State should implement article 36 at a national level. It was also recognised that the workshop was a good starting point for more transparency and co-operation between States and the ICRC in the field of legal review of weapons. However discussions on this issue should also enable the drafting of a proper protocol for adequate medical treatment of wounds.

Finally it was proposed that the ICRC might communicate directly with States about the findings contained in the SIrUS Project and about the possibility to promote the establishment and the transparency of legal review mechanisms. It might also enquire which States do implement article 36. Rapporteur: D. Loye (ICRC)

 

 

 

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Workshops

The International Criminal Court

Volunteering 2000

People On War

Widowhood and armed conflict

Working in partnership

The humanitarian challenge of small arms proliferation

Fight against AIDS in developing countries

Ensuring respect for International Humanitarian Law

The SIrUS Project and reviewing the legality of new weapons

Use and development of SPHERE standards

Health and first aid training