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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 23, February 1998

Blinding Laser Weapons Protocol: ICRC Press Release

'Ban on Blinding Laser Weapons to Become Binding International Law,' International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Press Release 98/05, 2 February 1998

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"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) wholeheartedly welcomes the 20th ratification on Friday 30 January 1998 of Protocol IV (Blinding Laser Weapons) to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons. This 20th ratification, by the government of Hungary, means that this landmark international humanitarian law agreement will enter into force in six months' time. 'The Protocol highlights the role of international humanitarian law in preventing a horrific new form of suffering for soldiers and civilians alike. By prohibiting both the use and the transfer of blinding laser weapons in armed conflict, the Protocol may also prevent their falling into the hands of those who might use them for terrorist or criminal purposes', said Louise Doswald-Beck, Deputy Head of ICRC's Legal Division.

Blinding laser weapons, which can be as small as an ordinary rifle and were on the verge of large-scale production before the adoption of the new Protocol, emit a laser beam which can cause immediate and irreversible blindness over distances of up to several kilometres. The Protocol prohibits the use and transfer of laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness. It also requires States to take all feasible precautions, including the training of their armed forces, to avoid permanent blinding through the legitimate use of other laser systems, such as range finders and targeting devices. This is only the second time in history that a particularly heinous means of warfare has been prohibited before it has been used on the battlefield (exploding bullets were banned soon after their development in 1868).

'The Protocol on blinding laser weapons clearly demonstrates that blinding is a totally unacceptable form of warfare', added Louise Doswald-Beck. The ICRC reiterates its call to all States which have not yet done so to adhere to the Protocol as soon as possible and to adopt national measures to prevent the production, transfer, use and proliferation of blinding laser weapons.

The 20 States which have notified the depositary, the UN Secretary-General, of their ratification of the Protocol are: Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Cape Verde, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, Sweden, and Uzbekistan."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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