Why Red Cross Opposes a Partial Ban on Land Mines

NONGOVERNMENTAL activists, diplomats, and military experts on land mines say the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been indispensible in spotlighting the technical and legal issues at the core of the land-mine debate.

Last year, the president of the ICRC, Cornelio Sommaruga, publicly and unequivocally called for a comprehensive international ban on the production, transfer, stockpiling, and use of antipersonnel land mines.

In an exclusive Monitor interview, Dr. Sommaruga talked about his stand on the issue of a total, rather than a partial, ban:

Why did the ICRC decide to support a total ban on antipersonnel mines?

We were pushed by our delegates in the field. I have medical delegates who are operating, again and again and again on victims of these antipersonnel mines.

In our 10 war-surgery hospitals, in many other hospitals where we have surgical teams which are going and helping, what do we see? Children, women, elderly people who are not combatants who are hurt by these antipersonnel mines.

Some argue that if you try to ban antipersonnel mines across the board, countries will still produce them and armed groups will want to use them. How do you make mines that will be used anyway, safer?

An answer has to take into account the logic of those who say that it is possible to manufacture antipersonnel mines that would be detectable, antipersonnel mines that would be auto-destroying themselves. These are two of the proposals that are made in order to say, let us only allow the use of ''intelligent'' antipersonnel mines.

I am very against such a line of action. If we have only a partial ban, a ban of those antipersonnel mines that cannot be detected ... you will then limit the possibility of using antipersonnel mines only for countries that have the skill to produce such sophisticated mines, such intelligent mines.

This means that you immediately are making a difference between developed countries and less-developed countries.

This means also that the convention will probably not be ratified by those who would be excluded from being able to produce what they can produce in order to defend themselves.

It will also make all sort of controls much more difficult because the relation between a mine that is detectable and not will be very difficult to define.

How do you explain to an Army officer in Finland, where land mines are used for defense, that by banning land mines in his country he's going to help a farmer in, say, Mozambique return to his fields?

I think that there are other solutions of defense than such antipersonnel mines. You may very well find other type of mines that are not really antipersonnel: antitank, antivehicle mines that could be used there. But I think if you wish to have the approach to a solution of a problem, you have to be ambitious. And this we are, in humanitarian terms, in the ICRC.

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