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17. Land-mines and blinding laser weapons: the Inhumane Weapons Convention Review Conference




A Review Conference of the 1981 Convention on Prohibitions
or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be
Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW
Convention), often referred to as the 'Inhumane Weapons' Convention, was
held in Vienna in 1995, with two additional sessions in 1996. The CCW Convention
entered into force in 1983. It is an 'umbrella treaty' to which specific
agreements can be added as protocols. Protocol I prohibits the use of any
weapon whose primary effect is to injure by fragments which cannot be detected
in the body by the use of X-rays. Protocol II restricts the use of mines,
booby-traps and other devices, and aims to prevent or reduce civilian casualties
caused by these devices during and after hostilities. Protocol III restricts
the use of incendiary devices.

The CCW Convention has attracted relatively few adherents;
by 31 December 1995, 57 states had ratified it. Paradoxically, a number
of African and Asian states (e.g., Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Mozambique
and Somalia) that have suffered greatly from the effects of inhumane conventional
weapons, mainly land-mines, are not yet parties to the Convention. Some
of these states participated as observers at the Review Conference together
with other non-parties. Representatives of nearly 70 NGOs followed the proceedings
and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) submitted reports
and working papers and organized symposia and working groups prior to the
Review Conference. The NGOs and the ICRC launched international media campaigns
to ban anti-personnel mines.

The main tasks of the Review Conference were: to strengthen
the provisions of Protocol II on the use of land-mines, booby-traps and
other devices; and to consider the proposal for an additional protocol to
restrict the use of certain laser weapons. Only the second task was completed,
and an additional protocol was adopted - the Protocol on Blinding Laser
Weapons to the CCW Convention, or Protocol IV. It prohibits the use
of laser weapons that are specifically designed to cause permanent blindness
to unenhanced vision and the transfer of blinding laser weapons to any recipient.
Blinding as an incidental or collateral effect of military use of other
laser systems, including lasers used against optical equipment, is exempt
from the prohibition and the production of blinding laser weapons has not
been outlawed.

Although the military utility of blinding laser weapons
is limited, the adoption of Protocol IV was an important achievement. Blinding
is a particularly abhorrent way of wounding the enemy and is more debilitating
than most battlefield injuries because sight provides 80-90% of a person's
sensory stimulation. Protection against the threat of blinding laser weapons
is virtually impossible. This is the first time that both the use and the
transfer of a specific weapon have been banned by the international humanitarian
law of armed conflict.

The concluding session, held in May
1996, ended with the
adoption of a revised text of Protocol II. The new text prohibits the
use—in both international and non-international armed conflicts—of
land-mines which cannot be detected with the generally available
equipment. The use of non-detectable mines will still be allowed during
the so-called 'grace period' which may exceed a decade. The revised
Protocol II
encourages the production and employment of mines equipped with
and self-deactivating mechanisms. However, modifications in the
of mines, which may be delayed for many years, cannot significantly
the number of casualties caused by these weapons. Over 30 governments,
the US Government, have expressed themselves in favour of a total,
verified ban on anti-personnel land-mines. It remains to be seen
and, if so, when and where they will engage in negotiations for such a


Appendix 17A. Protocol IV to the Inhumane Weapons Convention