Explosive Remnants Of War: An Overview

Posted on October 11, 2012 in History

By Abhishek Yadav:

Each year large numbers of civilians are killed and injured by explosive remnants of war. These are the unexploded weapons such as artillery shells, mortars, grenades, bombs and rockets, left behind after an armed conflict. When an armed conflict is over, the battlefields are often littered with explosive debris. Much of this debris is still dangerous, in particular stocks of weapons left behind by combatants and explosive munitions that were fired but failed to go off as intended.

Explosive remnants of war mean unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive ordnance. (source)

The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons which came into force in 1983 seeks the prohibition of use of conventional weapons which are excessively injurious and whose effects are indiscriminate.

The UNCCW or the convention mainly has 5 protocols, they are:
1.  Restricts weapons with non-detectable fragments.
2. Restricts landmines and booby traps.
3. Restricts incendiary weapons.
4. Restricts blinding laser weapons
5. Sets out obligation and best practice for the clearance of explosive remnants of war.

Basically explosive remnants of war include all those arms and explosive weapons that have failed to explode when being fired. To understand the concept of this phrase we need to understand the protocol V of UNCCW which was adopted on 28 November and reads “sets out obligation and best practices for the clearance of explosive remnants of war.”

The discussion that led to the adoption of this protocol was prompted mainly by the appearance of cluster bombs and all those weapons which consisting of single bomb that releases large number of small radiations. Such type of weapons are used in various types of operations they are known to leave small devices unexploded. Several countries agreed on measures to clear all areas of unexploded devices and of explosive remnants of war that are dangerous to civilian populations, and these measures were incorporated in this new protocol which was adopted in Geneva convention on November 28, 2003.

The rules of the protocol V only apply to conflicts that occur after its entry into force. The states that are affected by the explosive remnants of war become party and are accorded the right to seek and receive assistance from other states. The state parties that are in position to provide assistance reduces threats posed by the weapons and provide assistance for the making and clearance of explosive remnants of war, for risk education and for the care, rehabilitation and social and economic reintegration of the victims.

The main factors affecting the explosive remnants of war are: (source)

1) Type of conflict
2) The number of forces involved in the conflict.
3) The types of weapons that were used in the conflict.
4) Time period of the conflict or the duration of the conflict.
5) The geographic location or the terrain.
6) Population density

Apart from these, there are many other factors that are responsible for this, such as failure in arms and ammunition. The arms and the weapons that generally cause threat to explosive remnants of war are
1) Grenades
2) Anti tank missiles
3) Air craft bombs
4) UAV(unmanned air vehicles)

The main problem which arises with these ordnances is because of the following reasons:

1) Location of conflict: eg. if there is a soft ground then there are more chances of failure.

2) Poor strike angles: eg. arms which are dropped from low altitudes

3) Storage problem: Ordnances need to be stored in a place where there is least chance of damage to their parts.

4) Rough handling

5) Production faults

Ottawa treaty

The Ottawa treaty or the mine ban treaty which was earlier known as convention on the prohibition of the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti personnel missiles on their destruction, bans all anti personnel landmines. In October 1996, an issue challenged by Canada was responded and on December 1997, 122 countries intended to implement the treaty. To become international law 40 ratifications were required. On January 1999, it became binding among the ratified states.

As of January 2011, 156 countries have signed and ratified the treaty. There are some countries which have signed the treaty but did not ratify it like Poland. There are still 37 countries who have not signed this treaty like China, India, and Russia.


The main reason of tension in India is its issue with Pakistan for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The explosive remnants of war threat in India is in this state. Landmines and other such types of ordnances are planted in that land which is either cultivated or uncultivated near defence areas.

Another factor which contributes the problem of explosive remnants of war is the use of weapons by major security agency like NSA (national security agency). According to sources there has been general downward trend in the amount of ordnances by Indian security forces . (source)

There is very little data available on the impact of explosive remnants of war in India. The Indian armed forces are directly responsible for mines clearance activities throughout the country. India is one of the major countries which have played a major role in the UNCCW process and has ratified all protocols except for the protocol V on explosive remnants of war. India is one of the countries which have not signed the Ottawa treaty.

Other least developed countries which have been affected by this and which are trying to get rid of this matter and has made certain legislation or laws regarding the explosive remnants of war like Iran, Palestine etc According to assessment made available to landmines action it is unexploded ground and air delivered ordnances which are particularly threats to most of the countries. There are threats of explosive remnants of war originating from counter revolutionary groups fought against the central government.

There are lots of efforts made by the government of different countries to address these problems like the establishment of several committees at national level like National Committee of Demining in Iraq, which serves as the national mine action regulatory body and is also responsible for regulating, planning, and coordinating all mines action activities throughout the country.

Where people are living among ordnances contamination, the deliberate engagement in dangerous practices by children can also lead to adult engagement with ordnance. Sometimes people don’t not wait for official clearance teams to come in and take matters into their hands, attempting to burn them. Sometimes the local population may feel it is better to address the problem than to leave the items lying around where children can engage with them.


There is no objective of casualties and fatalities caused by explosive remnants of war. The data available is not sufficient enough to draw meaningful conclusion about the weapon system. It is evident from the causality statistics that the highest rate of causalities is in the period immediately after the return to normal life.