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Swiss take aim at “dum-dum” bullets

Delegates will discuss the use of munitions at the United Nations weapons conference in Geneva Keystone

Switzerland is to push for a ban on so-called "dum-dum" bullets at a United Nations weapons conference, which gets underway in Geneva on Tuesday.

The Swiss also intend to call for tighter controls on the use of cluster bombs, which are blamed for causing widespread civilian casualties in former battle zones.

The ten-day meeting is the second conference review of the UN Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

The treaty was signed by 88 states in 1980, and aims to restrain the behaviour of armies during conflicts and reinforce measures to protect civilians.

The conference in Geneva is aimed at extending the convention to prohibit or restrict the use of certain weapons including anti-personal landmines and anti-tank mines. It also aims to extending its parameters to cover domestic as well as cross-border conflicts.

Widespread problem

Peter Herbey, head of the mines legal union of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told swissinfo that landmines are a widespread problem, which is getting worse each time there is an armed conflict.

“We see the same results every time a major conflict happens. In Laos after the Indo-China wars, for example, there have been about 12,000 people killed and injured from explosives,” he said.

Poland has cleared tens of millions of ordnance and has lost 11,000 people since WWII and in Kosovo, the ICRC found out that 500 people were killed and injured in just 12 months, he continued.

Herbey also fears that people in Afghanistan are set to face the same problem.

“One can image that a percentage of the munitions dropped have failed to explode and this will add to the already severe problem of landmines in that country,” he explained.

Three elements

The ICRC has proposed a new international agreement, which would include three major elements.

The elements include assigning responsibility for clearing to those using unexploded munitions, providing technical information to clearance staff and prohibiting the use of cluster bombs against military targets if located in residential areas.

Herbey is convinced that the idea of a new international agreement will be generally supported, however, he is unsure about the degree of support for the three individual proposals.

“There is agreement that this is generally the right approach to follow but it will probably take a year before it is clear exactly which of the elements can be adopted by governments,” he said.

Cluster bombs

The Swiss delegation in Geneva, led by Christian Faessler, is seeking guarantees that cluster bombs be prohibited unless a 98 per cent detonation rate can be met.

He argues that this would minimise the risk to civilians from unexploded cluster bombs left on the ground. The Swiss are not pushing for a moratorium on these weapons because they are considered a legitimate part of a country’s military arsenal.

Switzerland is seeking a ban on the use of “dum-dum” bullets, which some cantonal police forces want to use.

Unlike normal ammunition, dum-dum bullets expand on impact, and so do not pass through a victim’s body. In so doing they typically inflict extensive internal injuries. They are considered effective because they stop attackers in their tracks.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR