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close this bookBanning Anti-Personnel Mines - The Ottawa Treaty Explained (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1998, 24 p.)
close this folder2. The Ottawa treaty
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.1 What is an anti-personnel mine?
Open this folder and view contents2.2 The elements of a comprehensive ban treaty
Open this folder and view contents2.3 Addressing the problem: mine clearance and assistance to victims
View the document2.4 Entry into force
Open this folder and view contents2.5 Ensuring compliance with the treaty
View the document2.6 Reservations
View the document2.7 Withdrawal

2.1 What is an anti-personnel mine?

The Ottawa treaty only prohibits anti-personnel mines. A distinction is therefore made in the treaty between mines designed to kill or injure people - anti-personnel mines - and those designed to destroy tanks or vehicles - anti-vehicle mines, also commonly referred to as anti-tank mines. Anti-personnel mines are generally small devices, containing between 10 g and 250 g of explosive substance, that will detonate under 0.5 kg to 50 kg of pressure. Anti-vehicle mines, on the other hand, are larger than antipersonnel mines, containing between 2 kg and 9 kg of explosive, and are normally activated by 100-300 kg of pressure. Generally, the large amount of pressure needed to activate anti-vehicle mines, combined with the fact that they are used in smaller numbers and are easier to locate, has made them less of a threat to the civilian population. However, in many areas anti-vehicle mines placed on roadways used by civilians still pose a serious threat to the civilian population.

The definition of an anti-personnel mine laid down in the Ottawa treaty (see Art. 2, paras 1 and 2) covers all “person”-activated mines irrespective of whether they are placed in the ground in marked minefields or remotely delivered over large areas. It also includes so-called “smart” anti-personnel mines - mines which have the capacity to self-destruct or self-deactivate (i.e. mines that are programmed to automatically explode or become inert after a set period of time).

However, owing to recent developments in landmine technology, the traditional distinction between antipersonnel mines and anti-vehicle mines is becoming blurred. Several types of mines have been developed which can be considered to have a “dual purpose”.

That is, they are designed to be detonated by both people and vehicles. The treaty prohibits any dual-purpose mine or any anti-vehicle mine if one of its functions is to be detonated by a person. The sole exception to this is an anti-vehicle mine equipped with an anti-handling device. An anti-handling device is a mechanism attached to the mine which causes the mine to explode when a person attempts to remove, disturb or tamper with it.4 These mechanisms are increasingly being fitted to anti-vehicle mines to prevent their removal or clearance and are a particular danger to soldiers and deminers.

4 Art. 2, para. 3, of the Ottawa treaty defines an anti-handling device as “a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine”.

The definition of an anti-personnel mine contained in the Ottawa treaty is significantly stronger than the formulation found in amended Protocol II to the CCW. The Protocol defines an anti-personnel mine as “a mine primarily designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons” (emphasis added). The use here of the word “primarily” is one of the Protocol’s significant weaknesses. It creates a major ambiguity in the definition, which could thus be interpreted as excluding “dual-purpose” munitions even if one of the purposes is to serve as an anti-personnel mine. The absence of the word “primarily” in the Ottawa treaty definition removes this undesirable ambiguity. The new definition is indeed an important accomplishment of the Ottawa process: a clear definition of the weapon being prohibited is the foundation of a comprehensive ban treaty.

Although not within the ambit of the Ottawa treaty, all anti-vehicle mines capable of detonation only by vehicles or tanks are nonetheless covered by the rules established by customary law and Protocol II to the 1980 CCW. Governments must ensure that such mines, especially when remotely delivered and equipped with anti-handling devices, are used responsibly in accordance with international humanitarian law and established military doctrine.