Info Service on Health Issues (November 06/14)
Unexploded weapons: The silent killers in the world’s war zones
new UN agreement which requires member states to clean up unexploded
ordnance goes into force. These deadly remnants of war continue to kill
and maim people long after hostilities have ended.
include landmines, booby traps and cluster bombs which kill and injure
civilians especially women and children. The report below outlines various
responses to the new Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War.
is reproduced with the permission of South-North Development Monitor
(SUNS) # 6141, 15 November 2006.
United Nations: The silent
killers in the world's war zones
By Thalif Deen, IPS, New York, 13 November 2006
When mortars and rockets
fall silent in the world's battle zones, the killings do not necessarily
end with ceasefires and peace talks.
The reason? Myriads of unexploded ordnance - including deadly cluster
bombs, booby traps and anti-personnel landmines - left behind by warring
According to the United Nations, up to one million pieces of unexploded
ordnance are "leftovers" from the war in southern Lebanon
last August. And, so far, more than 58,000 cluster bomblets have been
cleared and destroyed.
The death toll from cluster munitions - more than three months after
the conflict - is 22, six of them children, while 134 injuries have
been reported from all types of unexploded ordnance.
"Wars do not always end with the last gunshot or the signing of
a peace agreement," says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Long after hostilities cease, he points out, the human consequences
continue because people continue to be killed or injured by abandoned
"These remnants of war, some of which can remain in place for decades,
are a threat to civilians and military personnel alike, and impede humanitarian
assistance, peacekeeping, post-conflict reconstruction and development,"
said Annan, as he welcomed the entry into force of a new international
agreement on unexploded ordnance.
The new agreement, titled Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, requires
member states "to take remedial measures to clear, remove or destroy
unexploded ordnance or abandoned explosive ordnance as early as possible
after the end of hostilities."
An integral part of the 1980 UN Convention on Conventional Weapons,
the new agreement entered into force on Sunday.
But Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch,
is sceptical. He said the protocol - which is really an amendment to
the existing Convention - should reinforce the urgent need to clean
up the deadly leftovers of war.
"But because the text is so weak, the success of the protocol will
depend on aggressive and thorough implementation by governments,"
The protocol was adopted in November 2003, but became part of international
law only on Sunday after it received the necessary ratifications by
Annan said the entry into force of a legal instrument is not an end
in itself, but rather the beginning of a long series of actions. "I
urge those states that have not yet done so to adhere to this instrument,"
he said, pointing out that "this is a matter of survival for millions
According to Annan, one of the most "horrendous consequences"
of armed conflict is the legacy left behind by "silent killers":
landmines, booby traps, cluster bombs and other improvised explosive
Both during and after hostilities, he said, they kill indiscriminately
and maim vulnerable civilians, especially women and children.
Max Gaylard, director of the UN Mine Action Service, said the protocol
calls on states parties and parties to armed conflicts to provide information
on the location of explosive remnants of war to humanitarian missions
and organisations. "This is welcomed by all of us at the United
Nations," he added.
Last month, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan
Egeland denounced Israel's use of cluster bombs during its conflict
with Lebanon last July-August.
Describing the use of these weapons as "immoral", Egeland
said that UN teams had identified some 359 separate cluster bomb strike
locations that are contaminated with as many as 100,000 unexploded bomblets
dropped by Israeli forces inside Lebanon.
"What's shocking and I would say completely immoral is that 90%
of the cluster bomb strikes occurred in the last 72 hours of the conflict,
when we knew there would be a (Security Council) resolution, when we
knew there would be an end (to the conflict)," he said.
Every day, he said, people are maimed, wounded and are killed by these
"As a matter of urgency, I call on all states to implement an immediate
freeze on the use of cluster munitions. The freeze is essential until
the international community puts in place effective legal instruments
to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use," Egeland
In a statement released last week, Human Rights Watch said the protocol
- in addition to making a state responsible for clearing all explosive
remnants of war in territory under its control - calls on states to
provide warnings, risk education and other measures to protect the civilian
Moreover, a state that uses weapons that leave behind explosive remnants
must provide assistance for clearance even if the territory is not under
Amnesty International, which is calling for a moratorium on the use
of cluster bombs, has accused both British and US military forces of
using these deadly weapons in Iraq.
The London-based human rights organisation said the use of cluster bombs
on civilian targets is a "grave violation of international humanitarian
The United Nations said last week that engineers of the UN Interim Force
in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have conducted 58 "controlled demolition(s)
of pieces of unexploded ordnance".
At the same time, UN de-mining officials have expressed concern over
nearly one million pieces of such ordnance left behind in southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the UN children's agency UNICEF has warned that children
in Lebanon face "a terrible situation" because of the presence
of a large number of unexploded ordnance in fields from across schools.
According to Human Rights Watch, states parties now gathered in Geneva
for the Third Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons
(CCW) are debating the possibility of regulating cluster munitions.
The meeting began on November 7 and will conclude on November 17.
At a meeting last month, six CCW state parties (Austria, Holy See, Ireland,
Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden) asked that member states give consideration
to a legally binding instrument that addresses the humanitarian concerns
posed by cluster munitions.
The proposal was endorsed by 12 additional states (Argentina, Costa
Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Portugal,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland), "and many others are
signaling their intention to do so," Human Rights Watch said.
"We have reached a tipping point on cluster munitions", said
"It's no longer a small group of isolated states calling for a
new treaty. Many countries realising that negotiations not only should
happen, but will happen, want to be on board from the start."
TO MAIN | ONLINE
BOOKSTORE | HOW TO ORDER