Geneva Diary: Report from
The GICHD has
been assisting the ICRC with technical information on both AT
mines and submunitions. GICHD also addresses other areas of
special concern to mine action.
by P. M. Blagden, Technical Director, GICHD
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Explosive Remnants of War
Among the many hazards en-countered by deminers
worldwide are the various unexploded munitions left on the battlefield,
in storehouses and bunkers, and even in the villages and homes of local
participants in internal conflicts. These have always been accepted as
part of the deminer’s clearance task, and most munitions can be
disposed of fairly simply. These Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) are
neither covered by the Mine Ban Treaty, nor by the Amended Protocol II
of the Inhumane Weapons Convention (known as the CCW). Explosive
remnants can pose a significant clearance burden—in the British
Clearance Sector in Kuwait, for instance, there were an estimated 16,000
tons of material that either had to be moved into proper storage areas
or disposed of. Recent unwelcome additions to the range of ERW have been
the explosive submunitions or bomblets. First used extensively in the
Vietnam War, some types are more sensitive than many other munitions and
according to ICRC figures were responsible for as many deaths and injuries
in Kosovo as were AP mines (16 percent).
In 1999, the ICRC took the initiative to examine the
feasibility of establishing a new Protocol under the CCW to cover ERW,
and this move has met with widespread international endorsement. The
GICHD has been assisting the ICRC with technical information, both on AT
mines and on submunitions. The Geneva International Center For
Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) for has special concerns in a number of
areas, all highly significant to demining groups.
The major concern is that information on all types of
munitions, including submunitions, is made available to demining groups
before they have to start the clearance operation.
|Fuel Air Munition was an uncessary
danger to the Kuwait operation.
This information was
not provided at the start of the Kuwait operation, which added an
unnecessary danger to the deminers. A number of munitions had never been
seen before by any of the teams working in the area, which added to the
hazards of their removal, such as the Fuel Air Munition shown in the
photograph. At a recent workshop, the GICHD prepared a table of deminer’s
requirements for information, which is reproduced on the previous page.
We firmly believe that the deminers have the right to know the nature of
the ERW they are called upon to clear.
Another concern is that the arming systems of all
munitions are made as simple and foolproof as possible. Self-destruct
mechanisms that fail to function leave potentially lethal submunitions
with an unknown active life, dangerous to both the deminers and the
local population. The GICHD has made some technical suggestions on
Although the safe storage of ERW is not the subject
of any protocol or treaty requirement, it is vital that national
governments that are left with stocks of unused munitions know how to
store these munitions in a safe way. Careless storage has led to major
fires and explosions in storage areas. In one case, a storage facility
burned for eight hours, flinging burnt and half-burnt material over a
five-km radius. This not only represents a major hazard to local
villages, but also presents a further clearance problem, as many of the
ejected munitions will still be live, and possibly even more sensitive
than before. The GICHD has knowledge of correct methods of ammunition
storage where required, both under regular and emergency conditions.
GICHD Activities in the Middle East
GICHD has perhaps fewer links with the Middle East
than with other parts of the demining world. That said, the IMSMA has
been installed in Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia and Lebanon, and a recent
International Standards outreach session was held for the Middle East,
which was attended by representatives from Eritrea, Lebanon, Northern
Iraq, Somalia and Sudan. GICHD also has contacts with the programs in
Afghanistan, although the dog-training program in that country is now on
hold until further notice.
Support for the Mine Ban Treaty
At the third Meeting of States Parties to the Mine
Ban Treaty in Managua in September, the GICHD was given an expanded
mandate to give greater support to the Convention and its Intersessional
Standing Committees through the formation of an Implementation Support
Unit (ISU). This Unit will increase the flexibility and efficiency of
the work done by and for the co-chairs of the Standing Committees. The
ISU will be formed at the end of this year.
The first tranche of 28 International Standards
(IMAS) has been officially endorsed by the UN Inter-Agency Coordination
Group on Mine Action on 26 September, and six IMASs have been translated
into French. Full details are at www.mineclearancestandards.org. The
final outreach session of the IMAS program took place in Cambodia in
early October. This brings the total number of country programs briefed
to 29. Nearly 300 people have received instruction on IMAS, coming
mainly from National Mine Action Authorities, Mine Action Centres and
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