Second Round Table of Experts on Battlefield Laser Weapons (Geneva, 9–11 April 1991): Address by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross
I should like to welcome you all to this important meeting which will consider the implications of the possible use in the future of a new type of weapon, and of a new method of warfare.The International Committee of the Red Cross has the tasks, inter alia, of working for the faithful application of humanitarian law and preparing for its development. Its aim is, and has always been, to attempt to reduce the suffering caused by war as far as possible in relation both to the methods of warfare and to the protection and assistance to be given to victims. Its concern as to the effects of weapons is an old one. I am referring in particular here to the efforts which the ICRC undertook formally to outlaw the use of chemical weapons. We published in February 1918 an appeal that strongly protested against the use of poison gas, referring in particular to the terrible suffering it inflicted on soldiers. The ICRC appealed to the sentiment of humanity of the governments of the time and subsequently sent letters to the League of Nations and to governments urging them to conclude an agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons. This eventually led to the signature of the 1925 Protocol. Since that time the ICRC hosted two expert meetings in the 1970s which studied a number of modern weapons. The direct outcome of those meetings was the Convention adopted in 1980 by the United Nations, commonly referred to as the Inhumane Weapons Convention. However, discussions begun during those expert meetings were not completed; in particular it was agreed that further research was necessary on the effects of certain new weapons, and that information on other weapons, including laser weapons, was so scanty and undeveloped at that time as to preclude any real analysis. The present range of the 1980 treaty is thus very limited and does not fully meet the concerns of experts as to the suffering that some weapons may unnecessarily cause.