The Inhumane Weapons Convention Takes Another look at Anti-Vehicle Mines

Before the Mine Ban Treaty, there was the Inhumane Weapons Convention (IWC) also known as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) or by its full name, the 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.  The Mine Ban Treaty is, in fact, the result of the IWC’s failure to adequately address the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel landmines in the IWC’s Amended Protocol II, “Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices As Amended on 3 May 1996.”  Unlike the Mine Ban Treaty, however, the United States, Russia and China are all parties to the IWC and all of its five protocols covering weapons whose fragments are undetectable by X-rays (and therefore difficult, if not impossible to remove surgically), landmines and booby traps, incendiary weapons, blinding lasers, and explosive remnants of war generally.  For activists and campaigners, the IWC has never been strong enough to adequately restrict the behavior of states, hence the Mine Ban Treaty and the later Convention on Cluster Munitions which was a response to inadequacies perceived in IWC’s Protocol V covering explosive remnants of war.

However, the Inhumane Weapons Convention remains an important treaty and in 2011, the Fourth Review Conference of High Contracting Parties called for renewed discussion about restrictions on anti-vehicle mines or “mines other than anti-personnel mines” (MOTAPM) which are covered (in theory) by Protocols II and V.  Anti-vehicle mines were deliberately not covered by the Mine Ban Treaty because consensus at the time held that the military utility of anti-vehicle mines, specifically anti-tank mines, outweighed the potential humanitarian impacts, whilst the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel mines was accepted to be greater than their military utility.  After Protocol V was negotiated in 2002 and 2003, anti-vehicle mines were subject to discussion by the parties to the IWC, but those discussions were suspended in 2006 when it was clear no consensus could be reached by the parties.  The Fourth Review Conference re-started the discussions by calling for a group of experts to discuss the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines and ways to minimize that impact.

The position on anti-vehicle mines appears to be changing.  With fewer states having access to anti-personnel mines through export bans by producers and outright bans by parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, anti-vehicle mines are being used by states and non-state actors and the humanitarian impact of AVMs is becoming clearer.  Put another way, when anti-personnel mines are banned, armies and armed groups will use anti-vehicle mines for the same purposes with devastating impact.  In 2011 and 2012, anti-vehicle mines have been used in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan to close roads and affect trade. 


Background Materials

The meeting of experts opened with a review of international humanitarian law by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Anti-vehicle mines are victim-activated and “most AV mines cannot distinguish if the vehicle is of a civilian or military character.”  Anti-vehicle mines lead to the “long-term denial of assistance to vulnerable populations of food, water and medical assistance due to blocked transport routes. In many contexts today, AV mines obstruct the efforts of aid agencies to bring relief to war-affected communities.”  These impacts do not serve any immediate military utility.  Also, options to reduce the humanitarian impact of anti-vehicle mines, for example, self-deactivation or neutralization functions, are often not used; this is especially the case with air-delivered anti-vehicle mines whose usage is prohibited “to the extent feasible” without such precautions by Protocol II of the IWC.  The ICRC also encouraged the meeting to considerable steps to increase the detectability of anti-vehicle mines to facilitate their clearance after the conclusion of hostilities (United Nations, pdf).

The United Nations Mine Action Team (UNMAT) in their opening statement, focused on the humanitarian impact on anti-vehicle mines.  Pointing out the anti-vehicle mine “cannot distinguish between a tank or a school bus,” UNMAT also noted that unlike victims of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions or explosive remnants of war, the rights of victims of anti-vehicle mines are not protected by any treaties and there is no international mandate to address their needs.  UNMAT called on the experts “to address the ongoing concerns at the humanitarian suffering caused by MOTAPM and to prevent the indiscriminate effects on civilians, including by limiting the active life of these mines, making them detectable through commonly available metal detectors, banning the use of anti-handling devices or sensitive fuses, and by ensuring that the needs and rights of all victims are adequately addressed” (United Nations, pdf).

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) prepared an issue brief on anti-vehicle mines as a background document for the meeting’s participants.  GICHD noted that in 2010, there were at least 375 casualties attributable to anti-vehicle mines (compared to 1,275 from anti-personnel mines).  Also, because anti-vehicle mines are larger and contain significantly more explosive force than anti-personnel mines (APMs), “AVMs are likely to cause multiple deaths and injuries in one incident. Data… indicates a clear tendency of higher casualty ratio among demining personnel resulting from AVM accidents than from APM accidents. The average number of victims per AVM incident is more than twice the average number of victims per APM incident. The maximum number per incident has reached more than ten casualties in the case of AVM detonation.”  In addition to immediate impacts of anti-vehicle mine accidents, the presence (or even just the rumor) of anti-vehicle mines impacts post conflict reconstruction and recovery. “AVMs can trap populations in destitution, denying them the opportunity to develop. AVMs can also block the return of refugees and IDPs to their places of origin. AVMs raise the cost of implementing humanitarian projects” (United Nations, pdf).


Statements made by the United States

The United States delegation, in their opening statement, described a “humanitarian threat created by the presence of persistent and non-detectable anti-vehicle mines, in particular in Africa, where the use of MOTAPM has prevented access to land and infrastructure.”  The US acknowledged “room for specific restrictions on the use of MOTAPM” and declared itself willing “to find a way to move forward in addressing the humanitarian problem caused by the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of MOTAPM” (United Nations, pdf).

In a second statement, the United States delegation reaffirmed the position that “AVM have a clear military utility” and described that utility and how the US military uses anti-vehicle mines for force multiplication and area denial.  But the US also acknowledged the “humanitarian problem caused by the indiscriminate use of persistent landmines” (emphasis mine).  The US delegation declared that the “US has removed all persistent anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines from the active inventory;” that the US has “removed non-detectable, plastic anti-vehicle mines from its active inventory;” and that “the United States has destroyed 1.7 M of 2.6M persistent anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. The remaining [persistent] mines will be destroyed through our normal conventional ammunition demilitarization process.” 

If there is an anti-vehicle mine protocol developed under the IWC, I would expect it to conform to the requirements described for the US active mine inventory.  According to the US delegation, all “mines remaining in the active inventory have a highly reliable, self-destruct mechanism with a self-deactivation back-up that prevent the munitions from becoming persistent hazards;” and the “United States will not transfer any AVM that does not have a self-destruct or self-deactivation device.”  This means that the mines exported by the US will not necessarily meet the same standard for mines used by the US military which must have both the self-destruct and self-deactivation features.  For the mines that do remain in the US inventory, all “self destruct mines are detectable with a commonly-available mine detector” (United Nations, pdf).   



Unfortunately, the advance report available does not describe the actual outcomes of the meeting.  The completed text of the report on the meeting’s outcomes is as follows:

“In its final session on ‘The Way Forward’ delegations discussed the potential for future work on mines other than anti-personnel mines.”

The formal outcomes will be submitted as a report to the 2012 Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the IWC which will meet in November in Geneva (United Nations, pdf).  Again, my assumption would be that any protocol would match the US’s requirements for its own inventory which are:

  • Mines must have a reliable self-destruct mechanism; and
  • Mines must be detectable by a commonly-available mine detector.

I’m not sure the needs and rights of victims of anti-vehicle mines would be addressed to any greater degree than they are in Protocol V which declares in Article 8.2:

“Each High Contracting Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of victims of explosive remnants of war. Such assistance may be provided inter alia through the United Nations system, relevant international, regional or national organizations or institutions, the International Committee of the Red Cross, national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and their International Federation, non-governmental organizations, or on a bilateral basis” (Inhumane Weapons Convention, Protocol V, pdf).

This is a lower standard for protection and assistance than was negotiated in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), but is almost verbatim to what is in the Mine Ban Treaty.  At the minimum, the language from Protocol V should be in any new protocol, but better language would be that from Article 5, “Victim Assistance,” from the CCM which is as follows:

1. Each State Party with respect to cluster munition victims in areas under its jurisdiction or control shall, in accordance with applicable international humanitarian and human rights law, adequately provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion. Each State Party shall make every effort to collect reliable relevant data with respect to cluster munition victims.

2. In fulfilling its obligations under paragraph 1 of this Article each State Party shall:

a.      Assess the needs of cluster munition victims;

b.      Develop, implement and enforce any necessary national laws and policies;

c.       Develop a national plan and budget, including timeframes to carry out these activities, with a view to incorporating them within the existing national disability, development and human rights frameworks and mechanisms, while respecting the specific role and contribution of relevant actors;

d.      Take steps to mobilise national and international resources;

e.       Not discriminate against or among cluster munition victims, or between cluster munition victims and those who have suffered injuries or disabilities from other causes; differences in treatment should be based only on medical, rehabilitative, psychological or socio-economic needs;

f.        Closely consult with and actively involve cluster munition victims and their representative organisations;

g.      Designate a focal point within the government for coordination of matters relating to the implementation of this Article; and

h.      Strive to incorporate relevant guidelines and good practices including in the areas of medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as social and economic inclusion (Convention on Cluster Munitions, pdf).

So, keep an eye on negotiations and hopefully a fully, more detailed report of the outcomes of this meeting of experts will be available before the November meeting in Geneva.

Michael P. Moore, April 13, 2012