Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Rechstag Building, home of the German Parliament, in Berlin. 

© 2007 Jorge Royan

(Berlin) – Germany should cooperate with like-minded countries to open negotiations on a new treaty to prohibit weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.

Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, is convening a conference on the future of arms control in Berlin on March 15, 2019. The conference will consider emerging technological threats, such as fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or killer robots. The prospect of such weapons raises a host of serious ethical, legal, technical, proliferation, and international security concerns.

“Germany should turn its statements on the need to prohibit killer robots into action by launching negotiations of a new ban treaty,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Public expectations are rising that political leaders will act decisively to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons.”

Wareham will represent the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots at the March 15 conference.

In a new survey by the market research company Ipsos of 26 countries, 61 percent of respondents opposed the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. In Germany, 72 percent of those polled opposed such weapons systems, while 14 percent supported them and 14 percent said they were not sure.

The Ipsos poll also asked those opposed to such weapons systems what concerned them the most. In Germany, more than three-quarters – 77 percent – answered that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.” More than half – 60 percent – said the weapons would be “subject to technical failures.”

At the September 2018 opening of the UN General Assembly, Germany’s foreign minister called on states “to ban fully autonomous weapons – before it is too late!” Germany often highlights the need to maintain meaningful human control over the decision to kill another human.

Rather than promoting a ban treaty, however, Germany, along with France, has proposed a non-binding political declaration to affirm the importance of human control of weapons systems.

“Germany recognized the unacceptable harm caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions when it negotiated and signed the treaties prohibiting these weapons,” Wareham said. “These treaties have been enormously effective without the signature of some major powers. A new treaty is urgently needed to stigmatize the removal of meaningful human control over  selecting and engaging targets.”

At the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in November, Germany and more than 80 other countries agreed to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots in 2019. But the talks lack a clear commitment to or timetable for negotiating a treaty.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the United States indicated at the November meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty. These nations and China are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, prompting fears of widespread proliferation and arms races. This shows that a new avenue is urgently needed to prohibit fully autonomous weapons before they become operational.

Past failures by the Convention on Conventional Weapons to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm also led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

In November, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called lethal autonomous weapons systems “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant” and urged states to prohibit them. Since 2013, 28 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. Austria, Brazil, and Chile formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Countries and other responsible entities should endorse and work for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said. In one example, in June, Google issued a set of ethical principles, including a commitment not to “design or deploy” artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Human Rights Watch is co-founder, is a rapidly growing coalition of 100 nongovernmental organizations in 54 countries working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. It will hold a public event in Berlin on March 21 to present information about the issue, followed by a global meeting of its campaigners from March 22 to 23.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will join more than 80 countries, as well as UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), for the seventh CCW meeting on lethal autonomous weapons systems at the UN in Geneva on March 25 through 29.

“Political declarations, promises of transparency, and other measures that fall short of a new ban treaty will be insufficient to deal with the multiple challenges raised by killer robots,” Wareham said. “Governments such as Germany should be helping to negotiate the ban treaty now.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Satellite-analysis of US-led coalition air strike locations in Baghuz (19 January - 20 February 2019)

© Damage analysis by Human Rights Watch; Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

(New York) – Protecting civilians should be a key priority for the US-led coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) makes its last territorial stand in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today, based on research in northern Syria and analysis of satellite imagery. Satellite-recorded video taken on the morning of February 20, 2019 shows hundreds of people walking along a small agricultural access road in the town of Baghuz near the Euphrates river.

The UN high commissioner for human rights had warned on February 19 that about 200 families remained trapped in the town and called for their safe passage out. On February 20, journalists saw some of these families evacuating the town. But the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces spokesperson said that some civilians remain in the pocket of land.

“Civilians leaving Baghuz is a relief but it should not obscure the fact that this battle appears to have been waged without sufficient consideration to their wellbeing,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism/counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Just because they may be families of ISIS members or sympathized with them does not take away their protected status.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 20 people who escaped the ISIS pocket in recent weeks. They described the Baghuz area being repeatedly shelled and subjected to air strikes, resulting in the town’s destruction. An analysis of satellite imagery revealed that the majority of buildings in Baghuz were destroyed during a one-month period between January 19 and February 20, a period during which large numbers of civilians were still present. Human Rights Watch identified over 630 major damage sites in Baghuz during this period, consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions.

The number of civilians killed in the fighting remains unknown. Many of those who escaped said that they buried people wherever they could. Satellite imagery recorded between January 26 and February 9 appeared to show ongoing mass burials on an empty plot of land next to the main road in the center of Baghuz. Human Rights Watch is not in a position to determine how many of those buried were civilians.

Journalists stationed near the Baghuz front lines told Human Rights Watch that they have observed a decrease in the number of airstrikes since February 14, but that shelling has continued to strike the pocket.

In addition to hundreds of US-led coalition airstrikes on the area, escapees described artillery attacks coming from territory controlled by the Syrian government, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and even from the Iraqi border, where Iraqi, French, and American artillery were based. French artillery is positioned at a forward operating base on the plateau of the Baghuz mountain in Iraq's western Anbar province opposite Syria's Deir Ezzor region, 10.5 kilometers east of Baghuz. The head of that unit told AFP earlier in February that his forces had fired 3,500 rounds on the Syrian front, which includes Baghuz.

“The scariest part was the shelling,” said a 42-year-old Iraqi man who managed to escape. “It came from all sides, including the Iraqi side. The field was strewn with bodies of people and we’d all stay flat on the ground, for hours on end, not moving while the shells flew from one direction to the other.” Human Rights Watch identified in satellite imagery hundreds of impact craters from heavy artillery fire within Baghuz between January 19 and February 19 consistent with this and other witness accounts.

Witnesses described harrowing conditions in the last months, with lack of food and aid forcing them to eat grass and weeds to survive, even as they moved multiple times to escape relentless attacks. As US-backed troops advanced on the area, large numbers of civilians retreated with ISIS along the Euphrates river to Baghuz, where they were encircled completely with the Baghuz mountains to the east and the river to the south.

Video

Satellite: Movement of people, fleeing heavy air strikes and artillery fire in Baghuz, Syria

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the movement of thousands of people towards the Euphrates River fleeing heavy air strikes and artillery fire in Baghuz (20 January - 19 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

Satellite imagery recorded between January 26 and February 20 shows the movement of thousands of people toward the river as US-led coalition forces hit the built-up areas of Baghuz with air strikes and artillery fire. People who later escaped the area told Human Rights Watch that many of the people with them were relatives of ISIS members, but others were people who had been displaced multiple times in Iraq and Syria and had remained in ISIS controlled areas because they had no place else to go.

Most witnesses said that it was very dangerous to try to escape ISIS-controlled areas because the group punished people who tried to flee and had mined the roads. They said that smugglers were charging up to US$400 per person, which most of them no longer had.

Families slept in open fields for days, in temperatures that got very cold at night, and dug small trenches in the ground to protect themselves from the shelling and air strikes.

Witness accounts of air and artillery strikes together with image-based analysis of air strike damage in Baghuz, raise concerns that US-led coalition forces fighting ISIS failed to take adequate precautions to minimize civilian casualties.

The coalition should choose means and methods of warfare to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects, including in their choice of weaponry in populated areas. The coalition should conduct thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations of the attacks resulting in civilian casualties, do everything feasible to prevent similar attacks, and provide compensation or condolence payments to people who suffered losses due to the coalition’s operations, Human Rights Watch said.

All parties to the conflict should facilitate access for aid groups to populations in need, and the international community should increase its efforts to assist those in need, Human Rights Watch said.

“In the air, we see the international coalition expend vast resources to defeat ISIS, but on the ground it has expended very little to protect children and other civilians caught up in its attacks,” Houry said.

Video

Satellite: Destruction of buildings from US-led coalition air strikes and artillery bombardment on the town of Baghuz

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the destruction of hundreds of buildings from US-led coalition air strikes and artillery bombardment from multiple sides on the town of Baghuz (20 January to 19 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

Perilous Escapes, Then More Hardship

As the strikes intensified in January, thousands of people decided to leave the Baghuz area and made the arduous and dangerous journey out of ISIS-held areas by walking to the top of the Baghuz mountain and into SDF-controlled territory. Those with money paid smugglers to help transport them part of the way. Between December 4 and February 19, more than 31,000 people left the area.

A Syrian woman described the decision to leave:

There were strikes from all directions. It just became too dangerous. At one point, we gathered each other, we were in the hundreds, and we left Baghuz. We walked from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. We were in a group of 12 families. We slept outside. I tore my dress to cover my child’s head.

Air strikes and artillery shells fell as people escaped, other witnesses said.

“The planes were hitting people even as they escaped – we saw them one night, up on the mountain people trying to escape, women and children and then boom, boom – two rockets right on the mountain,” said an Iraqi man who was among those who escaped in January. His account was corroborated by others who were present, who also described shells falling as they walked to the top of the mountain.

Those who escaped the area faced new struggles. Upon arrival at the first SDF checkpoint, escapees were left out in the cold, in some cases for over a day, without SDF forces providing them with blankets or aid, only a little food, and without access to humanitarian agencies. The SDF then transported them from the checkpoint to al-Omar oil field, where SDF and US forces screened the people and provided them with some food, but still required them to sleep out in the open, before finally transporting them to al-Hol camp, a displacement camp six hour’s drive away that is controlled by the Kurdish-led authorities in al-Hasakeh governorate. Human Rights Watch interviewed the escapees in the camp.

Video

Satellite: The rapid expansion of al Hol camp with thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting in Baghuz

Time series animation of satellite imagery showing the rapid expansion of al Hol camp with thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting in Baghuz (29 December 2018 to 20 February 2019). Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

For weeks, transport to al-Hol was in open air trucks despite cold and rainy weather. Since December 4, at least 61 infants have died from hypothermia and malnutrition during the escape from Baghuz or shortly after arriving at the camp, according to the UN. Members of the Kurdish Red Crescent who were providing assistance to displaced civilians upon arrival confirmed that a number of infants died of hypothermia and malnutrition during the transfer.

While conditions have slightly improved since the start of the latest displacement, Human Rights Watch observed during multiday visits to al-Hol in mid-February that humanitarian needs of the displaced population remain high and that the camp administration lacks sufficient support.

Three women in the camp interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had lost their infants on the way, citing lack of medical care. Two of the children died while in al-Hol due to malnutrition and insufficient access to health care.

Local camp authorities said that the UN and aid agencies had been slow in helping them cope with the large influx and had refused to set up camps closer to the front line. They gave as an example a 15-day delay in the UN delivering tents to the camp as it reportedly awaited approval from Damascus. The UN blames local authorities for not facilitating access.

Satellite Imagery Analysis of Airstrikes and Shelling over Baghuz

Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite imagery of Baghuz identified over 600 distinct impact sites consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions between January 19 and February 19. Munitions of this size can pose an excessive risk to civilians when used in populated areas, given their large blast and fragmentation radius. The coalition should cease using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.

Obligations of US-led Coalition members

International law says that parties to a conflict are required at all times to take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimize, civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person should be considered a civilian. Where civilians are present at the site of a military objective, coalition forces should only target the military objective and determine that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property by any planned attack would be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in the attack.

If coalition forces failed to detect the presence of dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians in the vicinity of strike sites, this raises serious concerns about how coalition forces ascertain whether civilians are in the vicinity of a target and whether they took all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm. It also raises questions about how the coalition determines whether a person is a civilian or combatant, and whether coalition forces complied with the requirement to treat a person as civilian if there is doubt and with its obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

© 2018 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

As the United States Department of Defense releases a strategy on artificial intelligence (AI), questions loom about whether the US government intends to accelerate its investments in weapons systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control.

The strategy considers a range of potential, mostly benign uses of AI and makes the bold claim that AI can help “reduce the risk of civilian casualties” by enabling greater accuracy and precision. The strategy commits to consider how to handle hacking, bias, and “unexpected behavior” among other concerns.

Scientists have long warned about the potentially disastrous consequences that could arise when complex algorithms incorporated into fully autonomous weapons systems created and deployed by opposing forces meet in warfare. How would the use of such learning systems conform with current US policy, which commits to “to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force”?

Fully autonomous weapons raise so many ethical, legal, technical, proliferation, and international security concerns that Human Rights Watch and other groups co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in early 2013 to push for a preemptive ban. At the end of that year, governments launched diplomatic talks on what they called lethal autonomous weapons systems. Yet progress towards addressing concerns has been hampered by the refusal of the US, Russia, and a handful of other states to work towards a concrete outcome.

Despite diplomatic setbacks, it’s clear that the notion of removing human control from weapons systems and the use of force is becoming increasingly unpopular or stigmatized. The United Nations secretary-general is urging states to prohibit such weapons before they are introduced, calling them “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.” A new poll of 26 countries shows public opposition to fully autonomous weapons is rising rapidly and with it the expectation that governments will act to prevent the development of such weapons systems.

Yet the US remains steadfast in its refusal to consider any move to negotiate a new treaty to prevent the development of fully autonomous weapons. There are fears that an already meek 2012 Pentagon policy directive on autonomy in weapons systems could be overridden or replaced by a much weaker policy.

The AI strategy pledges that the Defense Department will only develop and use artificial intelligence in an “ethical” and “lawful” manner for “upholding and promoting our Nation’s values.” Yet such promises ring hollow at a time when the US continues to steadfastly resist efforts to regulate fully autonomous weapons through new legal measures. Without regulation in the form of a new treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons, policy pledges of self-restraint are unlikely to last long.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In the United States and around the world, public concern is rising at the prospect of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

© 2018 Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

(Washington, DC) – More than three in every five people responding to a new poll in 26 countries oppose the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without human intervention, Human Rights Watch said today.

The survey by the market research company Ipsos was commissioned by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which Human Rights Watch coordinates, and conducted in December 2018. Sixty one percent of respondents said they oppose the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, also known as fully autonomous weapons, while 22 percent support such use and 17 percent said they were not sure. In a near-identical survey in 23 countries by the same company in January 2017, 56 percent were opposed, 24 percent not opposed, and 19 percent unsure.

“Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “Bold political leadership is needed for a new treaty to preemptively ban these weapons systems.”

The annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva decided in November 2018 to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots with no clear objective or timetable for negotiating a treaty, showing why a new avenue is urgently needed to prohibit these weapons before they become operational, Human Rights Watch said. In November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called lethal autonomous weapons systems “politically unacceptable and morally repugnant” and urged states to prohibit them.

The 2018 Ipsos survey used respondent pools of 500 – 1,000 people in each country. The strongest opposition was in Turkey (78%), South Korea (74%), and Hungary (74%).

Opposition was strong for both women (62%) and men (60%) although men are more likely to favor these weapons (26%) compared to women (18%). Opposition increased with age: those most opposed were ages 50 to 64 (68%).

The 2018 Ipsos poll also asked those opposed to killer robots what concerned them the most. Two-thirds (66%) answered that lethal autonomous weapons systems would “cross a moral line because machines should not be allowed to kill.” More than half (54%) said the weapons would be “unaccountable.”

At the November meeting, governments agreed to continue diplomatic talks on lethal autonomous weapons systems in 2019. But the decision did not reflect the view of the majority of nations at the meeting that countries should begin formal negotiations of a legally binding treaty. The meeting rules, which permit a single country to thwart any action by the majority of countries, allowed Russia to block the start of negotiations and to reduce the amount of time devoted to the talks this year.

Russia, Israel, South Korea, and the United States indicated at the meeting that they would not support negotiations for a new treaty. These nations and China are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, prompting fears of widespread proliferation and arms races.

Since 2013, 28 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons. El Salvador and Morocco added their names to the list during the November meeting. Austria, Brazil, and Chile formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Past failures by the Convention on Conventional Weapons to stem human suffering caused by antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions resulted in external diplomatic processes that delivered life-saving treaties to ban the weapons. Those treaties were the result of partnerships between like-minded countries, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and dedicated coalitions of nongovernmental organizations. The lack of agreement among nuclear weapons states to disarm led other countries to create the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons via the UN General Assembly.

Countries and other responsible entities should not hesitate to endorse and work for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, Human Rights Watch said. For example, in June, Google issued a set of ethical principles, including a commitment not to “design or deploy” artificial intelligence for use in weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, of which Human Rights Watch is co-founder, is a rapidly growing coalition of 88 nongovernmental organizations in 50 countries coordinated by Human Rights Watch that is working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons. The campaign has opened a new website to replace the one used since its inception in 2013.

“The Ipsos poll shows that public expectations are rising for governments to take the threat of fully autonomous weapons seriously and be willing to take strong action to retain human control over the use of force,” Wareham said. “The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots.”

 

Further Analysis of the Ipsos Surveys on Killer Robots

 

Overall Opposition to Killer Robots in 2018

The 2018 Ipsos poll was conducted in 26 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and United States. The 2017 Ipsos poll was conducted in 23 of these countries, but not in Colombia, Israel, or the Netherlands.

The 2018 poll slightly revises the question from the previous poll and states:

The United Nations is reviewing the strategic, legal and moral implications of lethal autonomous weapons systems. These weapons systems would be capable of independently selecting targets and attacking those targets without human intervention. They are thus different than current day “drones” where humans select and attack targets. How do you feel about the use of such lethal autonomous weapons systems in war?

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, while 22 percent were not opposed, and 17 percent were unsure or undecided.

Of those who expressed a view, nearly three times as many respondents said they opposed killer robots as those who were not opposed.

A majority of respondents in 20 countries opposed killer robots. In 15 of those countries, 60 percent or more were opposed: Turkey (78% opposed), South Korea (74%), Hungary (74%); Colombia (73%); Germany (72%); Sweden (71%), Netherlands (68%), Spain (65%), Peru (65%), Argentina (64%), Mexico (64%), Belgium (63%), Poland (62%), Canada (60%), and China (60%).

Notably, a majority also opposed killer robots in Russia (59%); the UK (54%); and the US (52%). These nations are often identified as most in favor of fully autonomous weapons and have worked against a prohibition on such weapons.

The only countries where a majority of respondents did not oppose killer robots were India (37%), Israel (41%), Brazil (46%); and Japan (48%).

 

Changes in Opposition to Killer Robots from January 2017 to December 2018

In the 26 countries surveyed in 2018, 61 percent of the respondents opposed killer robots, compared with 56 percent of 23 of the same countries in 2017.

Of the 23 countries surveyed in both 2017 and 2018, opposition to killer robots increased in 14, though some of the increases are within the margin of error.

The biggest increases in opposition were in: China (up 24 percentage points); Turkey (up 21 percentage points), France, Poland, Hungary (all up 13 percentage points), and South Korea (up 12 percentage points).

Increases also occurred in Sweden (up 9%); US (up 7%); Germany (up 7%); India, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Belgium all also saw increases, though the increases were within the margin of error.

Of the nine countries where opposition decreased, the change was just 1 percent or 2 percent in five of the countries. The only substantial decreases in opposition were in Russia (10%) and Brazil (6%). South Africa and Japan had decreases that were within the margin of error.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, in a photograph taken on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

(Beirut) – The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group engaged in a conflict in Yemen which have turned the country's humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.

Since the armed conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments. The United Nations has warned that without a dramatic change in the situation, nearly half of Yemen’s population will be at risk of starvation.

“The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have indiscriminately attacked, forcibly disappeared, and blocked food and medicine to Yemeni civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the globe can either do nothing while millions sink closer toward famine or use the leverage at their disposal to press the warring parties to end their abuses and impose sanctions on those obstructing aid.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

Yemen’s armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the population. Fighting has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.

The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.

The coalition has failed to conduct credible investigations into abuses, and coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks. The Houthi armed group also has not punished its commanders responsible for war crimes. Senior officials implicated in abuses remain in positions of authority across the country.

One cost of Yemen’s war has been the closing space for civil society groups. Warring parties have arrested, harassed, threatened, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders. Women activists, who have played a prominent role documenting abuses and advocating for their end, have been threatened, subjected to smear campaigns, beaten, and detained. Humanitarian aid workers have also been killed, wounded and detained.

“Rather than risk complicity in the next airstrike on a wedding or on a bus filled with children, the US, UK, and France should tell Saudi Arabia that weapons sales won’t continue until war crimes stop and those responsible are prosecuted,” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A member of Argentine National Gendarmerie aims his gun to demonstrators during a protest against government-proposed pension reforms as protesters march to Argentine National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 14, 2017.

© 2017 Mariano Sanchez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
(Washington, D.C.) – A new government resolution in Argentina to regulate the use of firearms by security agents runs counter to basic human rights standards and could encourage shootings in unjustifiable circumstances, Human Rights Watch said today.

On December 3, 2018, the Argentine Security Ministry approved a resolution regarding the use of firearms by members of federal security forces. The resolution cites the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide authoritative guidance concerning use of force by security officers. However, the Argentine resolution contains loopholes and ambiguities that could allow security officers to employ firearms in an unacceptably broad set of circumstances.

“The resolution cites to the UN principles on the use of force, but in fact it fails to adhere to them,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The Argentine government should promptly review this resolution to ensure that it puts more appropriate limits on the use of firearms and clearly requires any deliberate lethal use of firearms to be strictly unavoidable to protect life.”

The government claimed that, under previous norms, federal agents could not use firearms to “detain delinquents or stop them from fleeing, even if they had killed or tried to kill someone,” nor to stop the commission of grave crimes because agents “had to wait until the aggressor shot first.”

The resolution establishes that federal security forces have an obligation to respect human dignity and human rights, and that they will only be able to use firearms when such use is strictly necessary and proportionate to “fulfil their duties.” It adds that security forces “will use” firearms in self-defense, or to protect someone else from an imminent risk to life or serious injury, to prevent a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting authority, or to prevent their escape.

However, the new provisions are inconsistent with human rights standards that strictly limit the use of firearms.

The resolution fails to distinguish between the use of firearms and the deliberately lethal use of firearms – that is, the distinction between shooting and shooting with intent to kill. This is another key distinction because, even in those limited cases where the use of firearms is justifiable, officers should generally not shoot to kill. Under the UN Basic Principles, the intentional lethal use of firearms is permissible only “when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

Moreover, the provisions allow federal security officials to use firearms when “non-violent means are ineffective,” without specifying that there are other means to use force that should be employed before using firearms.

Under the UN Basic Principles, security officers should only employ firearms when “less extreme means,” including violent ones, are insufficient. This is a key provision because it recognizes that firearms are more likely to cause death or injury than other uses of force. For that reason, security forces should use firearms not just where non-violent means are ineffective, but where other, less lethal modes of force are also impracticable. The resolution fails to maintain that principle, and for that reason seems to countenance shootings in a wide variety of unjustifiable scenarios.

The UN principles also lay out standards aimed at minimizing the use of force across the board, which are not explicitly included in Argentina’s new regulations. Specifically, law enforcement officials should “exercise restraint,” “minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life.”

Moreover, the resolution includes vaguely worded examples of what would be considered an “imminent danger,” granting federal security forces broad discretion to use firearms. These include when a person is part of a group of two or more people and someone else holds a firearm or has injured a third party; when someone is running away after causing – or trying to cause – death or injuries to someone else; or when the “unforeseen nature of the attack” makes it impossible  for security officers to “carry out their duties.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

The exceptional cruelty and ongoing use of incendiary weapons demand a global response.

Over the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented thirty new attacks with incendiary weapons across six governorates of Syria. While the use of such weapons is not new to that conflict, the number of attacks in 2018 is almost double the annual average for the previous five years.  

One attack in eastern Ghouta in March 2018 exemplifies the extent of harm that incendiary weapons can cause. According to Syria Civil Defense, this strike killed at least 61 people and injured more than 200. 

In light of these developments, Human Rights Watch welcomes the productive discussions of Protocol III that have taken place this week. Many states have expressed their outrage at the recent use of incendiary weapons and supported continuing discussions next year. In some cases, they have called for strengthening existing law. High Contracting Parties should act on these statements in order better to protect civilians.

Incendiary weapons inflict excruciating burns and require agonizing treatments. They cause respiratory damage and organ failure. People who survive initial injury often endure psychological trauma and severe disfigurement that can lead to being shunned by society.

Protocol III provides some protection from these effects, but as a number of states have mentioned, the protocol has two major loopholes that weaken its impact. First, its definition excludes multipurpose munitions, such as white phosphorus, that operate in the same manner and cause comparable harm as the incendiary weapons covered by the protocol. Second, the protocol’s regulations create an arbitrary and outdated distinction between the use of air- and ground-launched incendiary weapons.

Strengthening this law is a humanitarian imperative. It is also legally straightforward.

Small changes to the protocol’s text would close its loopholes. Article 1 should adopt an effects- rather than design-based definition of incendiary weapons in order to encompass multipurpose munitions with significant incendiary effects. Article 2 should prohibit the use of all incendiary weapons, regardless of their delivery system, in concentrations of civilians.

These simple changes could save lives by imposing stricter legal obligations and building the stigma against incendiary weapons, which can in turn influence the actions of parties outside the CCW. 

States parties often refer to the CCW as a flexible, dynamic, and living document. Since 1980, states parties have amended one protocol, adopted two new ones, and expanded the scope of the framework convention. But they have yet to properly review Protocol III and to assess its adequacy for dealing with the concerns of contemporary armed conflict.   

Momentum for addressing the problems caused by incendiary weapons has grown steadily, particularly since Protocol III was added to the agenda of the Meeting of High Contracting Parties last year. States should seize this opportunity to deepen discussions and move toward more concrete action.  

We call on states to continue to condemn recent use of incendiary weapons. We urge them to dedicate additional time for discussion in 2019 to examine in more depth the adequacy of Protocol III and ways to address its shortcomings. They should then agree to a negotiating mandate with the goal of strengthening the protocol the following year.

For more information, please see our new report, “Myths and Realities about Incendiary Weapons,” and our overview of new developments over the past year.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

I am speaking on behalf of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the international coalition of 87 non-governmental organizations in 49 countries formed six years ago to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons, known here as lethal autonomous weapons systems.

This year’s meetings of the Convention on Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts covered significant ground, resulting in the report delivered yesterday. We are grateful to the chair for his work to achieve this substantive outcome.

The principles contained in that report affirm that “human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapon systems must be retained.” For us, this was the most significant take-away as it confirms what we have heard here over and over again since 2013.

The work this year demonstrated to us that states here at the Convention on Conventional Weapons are able to rise to the challenge and negotiate on substantive matters and reach agreement. Yet the end result was a report and not the legally-binding instrument that we demand.

We remind you that public expectations are rising rapidly that states will take serious action to respond to the multiple, serious challenges posed by killer robots. We commend the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for his strong appeal made at the Paris Peace Forum marking 100 years since the end of World War I, where he said, “I call upon States to ban these weapons, which are politically unacceptable and morally repugnant.”

Today and yesterday more than 80 country statements have referred to the need to continue deliberations here at the Convention on Conventional Weapons next year on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Not a single state has opposed continuing this work.

Many states have proposed moving to prohibit fully autonomous weapons and we warmly welcome Morocco’s call today. We support Austria, Brazil, and Chile’s recommendation “to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

Convention on Conventional Weapons high contracting parties should not simply roll over the current mandate and consider options. Most states here have expressed their strong preference to meet for 10 days next year. We believe you should set aside at least four weeks of time for your deliberations next year. The objective should be to adopt a new Protocol VI no later than 2020.

It’s abundantly clear there is an urgent need for bold leadership to address this imminent challenge before it is too late. It’s time to launch negotiations. We ask: if not now, then when? If not here, then where? If the Convention on Conventional Weapons is really the “appropriate forum” then let’s get started.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Saudi-led coalition aircraft struck three apartment buildings in Faj Attan, a densely populated neighborhood in Sanaa, on August 25, 2017. Two of the buildings were completely destroyed and the third suffered extensive damage.

© 2017 Mohammed al-Mekhlafi

(Paris) – President Emmanuel Macron of France should raise serious concerns with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince regarding laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will visit Paris on November 21, 2018.

The UAE plays a prominent role in the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen. Since March 2015, the coalition has indiscriminately bombed homes, markets, and schools, impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid and used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of them likely war crimes. The UAE and UAE-led proxy forces have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, and tortured Yemenis in southern and eastern Yemen, including Yemeni activists who have criticized coalition abuses.

“As the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan could have acted to stop grave abuses in Yemen, but instead war crimes have mounted,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “If President Macron is truly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he should tell the crown prince that France will stop selling weapons to the UAE if there’s a real risk of their unlawful use.”

Despite Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s records of abuse, France, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, continue to sell weapons to both countries. In June, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported that French special forces were on the ground in Yemen, alongside UAE forces.

Macron should press the UAE to investigate alleged serious violations by its armed forces and Yemeni forces it supports, to appropriately prosecute those responsible for war crimes, and to provide reparation to victims of violations, Human Rights Watch said. France should stop supplying weapons and munitions to the UAE if there is a substantial risk that these arms are being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

Despite leading considerable efforts to present the UAE as progressive and tolerant, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the nation’s de facto leader, has largely failed to improve his country’s human rights record.

Domestically, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. In 2014, the UAE issued a counterterrorism law that gives authorities the power to prosecute peaceful critics, political dissidents, and human rights activists as terrorists. UAE residents who have spoken about human rights issues are at serious risk of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and torture. Many are serving long prison terms or have left the country under pressure.

In March 2017, the UAE detained Ahmed Mansoor, an award-winning human rights defender, on speech-related charges and held him incommunicado for more than a year. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison on May 29, 2018 for crimes that appear to violate his right to free expression.

UAE courts also imposed a 10-year prison sentence in March 2017 on a prominent academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared in August 2015, for charges that included peaceful criticism of the UAE and Egyptian authorities.

On October 4, the European Parliament adopted a strongly worded resolution calling for the immediate release of Mansoor and all other “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE. The resolution expressed concern that “attacks on members of civil society including efforts to silence, imprison, or harass human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, and others has become increasingly common in recent years.” It said that European institutions should make respect for human rights activists “a precondition to any further development of relation between the EU and UAE.”

In addition, despite some reforms, many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labor. The kafala (visa-sponsorship) system ties migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers can face punishment for “absconding,” including fines, prison, and deportation. A 2017 law extended key labor protections to domestic workers, previously excluded from such guarantees, but its provisions remain weaker than those of the country’s national labor law.

Yet over the past several years, the UAE and France have strengthened their bilateral relations across a range of areas, including security, trade, and cultural exchanges. In 2017, France increased its arms sales to the UAE and opened the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum amid serious concerns regarding labor abuses in building the museum. On October 11, the UAE joined the International Organization of the Francophonie, which promotes the spread of French language and values, as an associate member, although  human rights and democratic principles are at the heart of the organization’s charter.

“By failing to address the UAE authorities’ serious rights violations in Yemen, France risks glossing over a dark reality,” Jeannerod said. “Despite outward appearances, the UAE has repeatedly shown itself to be resistant to improving its human rights record at home and abroad.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Remnant of a wing assembly that is mounted on a US-made GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided 500-pound bomb found at the Arhab water drilling site, Sanaa governorate, where at least 31 civilians were killed in an airstrike on September 10, 2016. According to the manufacturing date as well as the national stock number, this wing assembly was produced by Raytheon Company, a US defense contractor, in October 2015.

© 2016 Priyanka Motaparthy / Human Rights Watch

On November 11, 30 senior Obama administration officials issued a statement calling on the Trump administration to end all support for Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen. This was a positive and thoughtful effort, given America’s participation in a war that has had catastrophic outcomes for the people of Yemen. But it was, ultimately, a failed reckoning for the Obama administration’s role in risking American complicity in Saudi-led coalition abuses in the first place.

The statement by the former senior officials attempts to acknowledge that America’s participation in the war — providing intelligence, refueling, and logistical assistance to the Saudi-led coalition — was now clearly a mistake, given the coalition’s failure to limit its myriad violations and end the war. But they justify the Obama administration’s initial decision to support the war as based on “a legitimate threat posed by missiles on the Saudi border and the Houthi overthrow of the Yemeni government, with support from Iran.”

A more honest reckoning for how the US got to where it is in this war in Yemen would start with a greater admission of the truth of the Obama administration’s motivations and mistakes in participating in this war. In their letter, the Obama officials try to distinguish their administration’s support for the war as “conditional,” vs. Trump’s “unconditional” support. Of course, this matters little to the Yemeni people because the outcome has been the same: death and destruction, very often by US bombs.

Video

Video: US-Made Bombs Used in Unlawful Airstrikes in Yemen

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition killed several dozen civilians in three apparently unlawful airstrikes in September and October 2016. The coalition’s use of United States-supplied weapons in two of the strikes, including a bomb delivered to Saudi Arabia well into the conflict, puts the US at risk of complicity in unlawful attacks.

The Obama administration’s stated justifications for joining the war effort obscure the truth of what led them to the war. Other Obama administration officials had alreadystated that their support for the war, coupled with a $1 billion arms deal, was first and foremost payback for Saudi’s grudging tolerance of the Iran nuclear deal, and to reassure them that the US remained a reliable ally, despite the deal. The amount of Iranian support to the Houthis has been debated, of course, but with little evidence, all pretty murky; better known is the fact that the Houthis are a fiercely independent group with a long history of waging war in Yemen.

As the war has evolved, Iran’s involvement with the Houthis has certainly grown, filling in the vacuum for the Houthis’ desperate search for allies, effectively creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is clear is that the former Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh – long supported by the US – and various Yemeni defense forces controlled by his son and nephew supported the Houthis to such a degree that international observers formally dubbed them the “Houthi-Saleh forces.”  The Houthis had been at war with Saleh’s government for decades over long-simmering grievances as a minority group in the country. They had supported the uprising against Saleh and were active participants in the country’s “National Dialogue” to reshape the country’s governance. When Houthi armed groups marched on the capital, it was to rebel against the newly drafted constitution and a proposed federal structure they believed would weaken them. They negotiated an agreement with President Hadi to resolve their differences, but soon found themselves in control of the capital when Saleh-backed defense forces stepped down from defending key government buildings, including the parliament and the presidential palace.

The Obama administration, not learning enough from past foreign military experiencesin Yemen, accepted baseless assurances from the Saudis — including the then-deputy Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman and the inexperienced Saudi military — that they would overthrow the Houthis in months. The US decidedly looked the other way from Saleh’s strong support for the Houthis, including vast stores of weaponry from the Defense Ministry, an institution that remained loyal to Saleh. The war dragged on, with limited military gains by the Saudi-led coalition, but a rising toll of unnecessary and unlawful death and destruction.

Well before President Trump’s appearance, we at Human Rights Watch and others had documented well over 100 apparently indiscriminate or disproportionate aerial attacks by the Saudi-led coalition on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen, causing devastation to Yemenis in their homes, markets, schools, hospitals, and even during their weddings and their funerals. In case after case, we showed that US weapons were being used in many of these attacks, including widely banned cluster munitions in populated areas. False denials and cover-ups by Saudi military authorities were clear signs that they were not trustworthy partners. We repeatedly provided this evidence to Obama administration officials, but they would insist, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, that the support they were providing was reining in the Saudis and helping improve their ability to comply with the laws of war. This is not a case of hindsight knows best. The Obama administration should have known back then.

Also well before Trump adviser — and son-in-law — Jared Kushner’s conspicuous friendship with Muhammad bin Salman, the Saudi-led coalition’s arbitrary and excessive delays on imports to Yemen were exacerbating health and nutrition crises, as diseases like cholera spread like wildfire. The Saudi-led coalition’s closure of a critical airport meant that many Yemenis couldn’t travel to get the healthcare they needed. UN humanitarian agencies and global relief organizations pleaded in vain about the harm caused by the coalition restrictions, to little avail.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration was providing Saudi Arabia not only with ongoing military support (which the formal officials mention) but also diplomatic cover (which the former officials omit), especially at the UN. When the UN finally named Saudi Arabia on its “Global List of Shame,” of the worst offenders against children, for its attacks on children in Yemen, the US stood silent as Saudi Arabia strong-armed the UN. Then-Secretary General Ban Ki Moon resisted for a while, but finally caved in and removed Saudi Arabian from the list, admitting that Riyadh had threatened to cut its funding to various UN agencies. Twice during the Obama administration, the US had the opportunity to push for a UN inquiry into abuses by all sides in the Yemen conflict, and twice it did not—the Saudi-led coalition didn’t want one. Despite repeated queries about whether the US supported the first proposed UN inquiry, Obama officials responded with silence or words of deflection, which spelled the political demise of such an initiative.

The cost of the Obama administration’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war went beyond Yemen. The juxtaposition of the Obama administration decrying Syrian/Russian attacks on civilians and Assad’s ongoing blockade of humanitarian goods, while the United States was defending Saudi-led coalition attacks on civilians and the impact of the blockade in Yemen, undermined the credibility of the Obama team’s efforts to restrain the Syrian government. The Russians openly mocked then-UN Ambassador Samantha Power for this hypocrisy. The US should have condemned and acted to curb both coalitions, equally and fairly.

Whatever conditionality the Obama administration thought it had created — in holding up the transfer of precision munitions near the tail end of Obama’s term and suspending cluster munition transfers earlier — ultimately did not have meaningful impact in reining in the continued Saudi-led coalition attacks on civilians. Nor were the steps robust enough to protect the US and US officials from risking complicity in war crimes.

Despite the claimed “unconditional” support from the Trump Administration, its officials, too, have reacted strongly to some excesses: condemning the total blockade, pushing Saudi Arabia to permit cranes to get into Yemen, ending refueling of coalition planes. But, like the steps of the previous administration, it is not anywhere close to enough. As Yemenis remember the pain and suffering the US has helped inflict on their country, as they surely must, they will not look more kindly on the Obama administration’s merely “conditional” support. And that is not to mention several dozens of Yemeni civilians killed in drone strikes in the pursuit of Al Qaeda fighters.

The responsibility for these failed policies does not fall equally on all senior Obama officials, and some individuals made every effort to steer the ship in a far better direction. But that’s not the point here. The point is an honest, full appreciation of the reasons for these policies and their consequences. The statement by former senior officials fails in that task.

The tragic fact is that the US can play a less destructive role in Yemen —building on what we’ve seen these last few weeks. The US could end arms sales to Saudi Arabia, push for the UN to call out Riyadh for its role in Yemen’s nightmare, and investigate the US role in war crime after war crime so that the US, too, can ensure it does not keep making the same deadly mistakes.

The bipartisan Senate bill introduced on November 15 calling for sanctions and restrictions on Saudi Arabia for the harm it has caused in this war is the strongest effort to date for taking serious action.

The question is: Will they? Will US officials be able to look back in a few years and write a letter saying they did all they could to stop famine, to prevent more atrocities, to ensure countless Yemenis don’t go without justice or redress? Or will those officials, too, only be able to see there was so much more that could have been done when it is far too late and many more have died?

And finally, the broader reckoning Obama administration officials should provide is their failure to seize the opportunity presented by the Arab Uprisings for a new orientation of US interests in line with the interests of the region’s people and their rights, and not their dictators and outright tyranny. This is not predominately about Syria, and the ongoing debate about whether the Obama administration’s intervention— including providing arms and assistance to a variety of little-known armed groups — and at other times nonintervention helped or hurt the Syrian people.

It is, however, squarely about where the US plays a leading role in supporting, arming, and protecting abusive governments in the Middle East – namely Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – so that America is much more directly responsible for the conduct of these foreign partners. The Obama administration had an opportunity to broadly rethink America’s historically problematic role in the region, and ultimately failed to do so. A fuller reckoning is the only way to avoid current policy debates and future policies from remaining misguided.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Incendiary weapons were used in Eastern Ghouta, Syria, in March 2018, causing more than 260 civilian casualties.
 

© 2018 Syria Civil Defense
(Geneva) – Countries at an upcoming United Nations disarmament conference, faced with evidence of 30 new incendiary weapons attacks in Syria, should agree to strengthen the international law that governs their use, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 13-page report, “Myths and Realities about Incendiary Weapons,” counters common misconceptions that have slowed international progress in this area. Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance. While often designed for marking and signaling or producing smokescreens, incendiary weapons can burn human flesh to the bone, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. They also start fires that destroy civilian objects and infrastructure.

Countries at UN treaty meeting should:

• Revisit existing international law on incendiary weapons in 2019.
• Work to close loopholes in that law,
• Condemn the use of incendiary weapons in populated areas.
“The excruciating burns and lifelong disabilities inflicted by incendiary weapons demand a global response,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and lead author of the report. “Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.”

The report details the exceptionally cruel harm caused by incendiary weapons, explains the shortcomings of existing law, and lays out steps countries should take in response. The report, designed as an accessible overview of the incendiary weapons issue, was co-published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

Incendiary rockets rain fire over farmland outside a town in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are scheduled to address incendiary weapons at the UN in Geneva from November 19 to 23. Protocol III to this treaty imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it does not provide sufficient protections for civilians.

In 2018, the Syrian-Russian military alliance used incendiary weapons in at least 30 attacks across six governorates of Syria, based on Human Rights Watch research. The majority of these attacks involved ground-launched rockets, but air-dropped weapons have also caused harm. For example, an incendiary airstrike on March 16 in Eastern Ghouta killed at least 61 people and injured more than 200.

As flames from incendiary rockets rain down, smoke billows over farmland in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Human Rights Watch documented an additional 90 incendiary weapons attacks in Syria from November 2012 through 2017. The total number is most likely higher. Syria has not joined Protocol III, but Russia has.

The countries at the UN meeting should address the weaknesses of Protocol III as well as articulate their policies and practices. They should also establish a forum dedicated to reviewing the protocol more formally in 2019 with the intention of strengthening its protections for civilians.

Local people struggle to extinguish fires from an incendiary weapons attack in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Government support for action against incendiary weapons has grown significantly in recent years, although a small number of countries that view existing law as adequate have opposed proposals to amend the protocol.

Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.

Bonnie Docherty

Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Protocol III has two major loopholes that have weakened its impact. First, its definition excludes multipurpose weapons, such as those with white phosphorus, which may be primarily designed to provide smokescreens or illumination, but which can inflict the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons. White phosphorus, for example, can continue to smolder in bandaged wounds and reignite days after treatment if exposed to oxygen. In 2017, the US-led coalition used white phosphorus while fighting to retake Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State. The United States is party to Protocol III.

Second, while the protocol prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in populated areas, it allows the use of ground-delivered models in certain circumstances. Because all incendiary weapons cause the same effects, this arbitrary distinction should be eliminated. A complete ban on incendiary weapons would have the greatest humanitarian benefits.

“Nations should make strengthening international law on these weapons a priority for the disarmament agenda,” said Docherty, who is also associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Harvard clinic. “Stronger obligations would limit the conduct of treaty countries and, by increasing stigmatization of incendiary weapons, influence the behavior of other countries and non-state armed groups.”

Docherty will present the report’s findings at a side event at the United Nations in Geneva at 1:15 p.m. on November 20 in Conference Room XXII. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content

Incendiary weapons are among the cruelest weapons used in contemporary armed conflict. These weapons, which produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, cause excruciating burns and destroy homes and other civilian structures. They are regulated by Protocol III to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), but that instrument has loopholes that reduce its legal and normative power.[1] CCW states parties have increasingly expressed support for revisiting and strengthening Protocol III, and they have set aside time at their annual Meeting of States Parties in November 2018 to address the topic.

Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) call on states to hold a robust exchange of views in November, and to dedicate additional time in 2019 for further discussions, possibly in the form of an informal meeting of experts. States should not only condemn ongoing use, but should also work toward closing Protocol III’s loopholes and building the stigma against incendiary weapons. A complete ban on incendiary weapons would have the greatest humanitarian benefits.

To bolster the case for reviewing and amending Protocol III, this paper rebuts common myths about incendiary weapons and the law that regulates them.

Myth #1: The harm caused by incendiary weapons is comparable to that of other conventional weapons.

 

Reality: Incendiary weapons inflict exceptionally cruel injuries, including horrific burns, which can produce immediate and long-term suffering and, in many cases, a painful death.

  • Incendiary weapons can cause fourth- and fifth-degree burns that damage skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and even bones. Burns can also lead to severe infections and shock.[2]  
  • Victims face an excruciating treatment process. Dressings for burns must be changed daily and dead skin removed, a painful process that has been described as being “flayed alive.”[3]
  • Incendiary weapons can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory damage. Victims may be unable to breathe due to inflammation to the lungs or other tissues.
  • Individuals who survive an initial attack often experience organ failure, lowered resistance to disease, lifelong disability, muscle weakness, and psychological trauma. Survivors sometimes find that they are also shunned due to severe scarring and disfigurement, which can drive them to withdraw from society. 
  • In addition to inflicting physical injury, incendiary weapons can cause socioeconomic harm and displacement because they destroy homes, hospitals, schools, farmland, and other civilian infrastructure.

As flames from incendiary rockets rain down, smoke billows over farmland in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Myth #2: Incendiary weapons are not a common tool in contemporary armed conflict.

 

Reality: Incendiary weapons have been used repeatedly in recent armed conflicts, most notably in Syria.

  • Human Rights Watch documented 30 incidents involving incendiary weapons in Syria over the first seven months of 2018. The attacks, by the Syrian-Russian military alliance, took place in six governorates: Aleppo, Damascus, Damascus Countryside, Daraa, Hama, and Idlib. Syria Civil Defense reported that on March 16, 2018, an incendiary weapon attack on Kafr Batna, in Eastern Ghouta, killed at least 61 people and injured more than 200.[4]
  • From November 2012 through 2017, Human Rights Watch documented more than 90 incendiary weapons attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in Syria.[5] The total number of such attacks is likely higher because some attacks go unreported or are not recorded by visual media so cannot be investigated.
  • Human Rights Watch documented use of incendiary weapons in Ukraine in July 2014, although it could not determine who fired the weapons.[6]
  • White phosphorus munitions, which have comparable effects to incendiary weapons regulated under international law, have also been used repeatedly over the past 15 years, including by US-led coalition forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2017;[7] by Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen in 2016;[8] by Israel in Gaza in 2008-2009;[9] by both the International Security Assistance Force and the Taliban in Afghanistan between 2005-2011;[10] by Ethiopian forces in Somalia in 2007,[11] and by the United States in Iraq in 2004.[12]

Incendiary rockets rain fire over farmland outside a town in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Myth #3: Existing international humanitarian law is adequate to protect civilians from incendiary weapons; preventing problematic use is a matter of compliance and universalization.

 

Reality: While states should join and comply with the Convention on Conventional Weapons, Protocol III governing incendiary weapons has two loopholes that interfere with its ability to protect civilians.

  • Article 1 of Protocol III narrowly defines an incendiary weapon as “any weapon or munition primarily designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injury to persons….” This definition excludes multipurpose munitions, notably those containing white phosphorus, which set fire and cause burns but are “primarily designed” for other uses, such as marking, obscuring, or signaling.
  • Article 2’s restrictions on use arbitrarily differentiate between incendiary weapons based on their delivery system. Article 2 comprehensively prohibits the use of air-dropped incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians, but it allows the use of ground-launched incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians when the military target is “clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken” to limit the incendiary effects and minimize injury or loss of life to civilians.
  • The drafters of Protocol III focused on regulating the incendiary weapons most troubling at the time of its negotiation: air-dropped weapons specifically designed to burn and set fires, notably those containing napalm. This narrow scope, however, is a legacy of the 1970s and no longer appropriate today.[13]

The aftermath of an airstrike using incendiary weapons on Khan Sheykhoun in Idlib Province, April 16 2017.

© 2017 Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib

Myth #4: Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons appropriately excludes multipurpose munitions that have only incidental incendiary effects.

 

Reality: By excluding multipurpose munitions, such as those containing white phosphorus, Protocol III fails to regulate munitions that cause the same harm in the same manner as those it defines as incendiary weapons.

  • White phosphorus is a chemical substance that ignites when exposed to oxygen. The chemical reaction creates intense heat of about 815 degrees Celsius and produces light and a thick smoke.[14]
  • White phosphorus munitions operate in the same way as the incendiary weapons covered by Protocol III: by setting fires and causing burns “through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.” As noted above, they fall outside of Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons because they are “primarily designed” to be obscurants.
  • White phosphorus causes severe thermal and chemical burns, often down to the bone, that are slow to heal and likely to develop infections. If not all fragments of white phosphorus are removed, they can exacerbate wounds after treatment and reignite when exposed to oxygen. White phosphorus burns on only 10 percent of the body are often fatal.
  • In 2008-2009, for example, Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza killed at least 12 civilians and left dozens suffering from deep burns and respiratory damage.[15]
  • The use of white phosphorus munitions between 2005 and 2011 in Afghanistan also severely burned civilians, including an eight-year-old girl, who went through fifteen surgeries due to the extensive burns on her face, head, neck, and arms. Her recovery period took a number of months because whenever doctors tried to “scrape the dead tissue, flames leapt out.” While she and five other family members ultimately survived the attack, two of her sisters died.[16]

Screenshot of a video taken in April 2017 in Saraqeb, northwestern Syria, showing the bright trails produced by incendiary weapons. 

Myth #5: Armed forces need white phosphorus munitions because of their effectiveness as obscurants.

 

Reality: The humanitarian harm caused by white phosphorus munitions outweighs their potential usefulness on the battlefield, and less dangerous alternatives exist.

  • Protocol III should regulate white phosphorus munitions, despite claims about their military utility, because of the cruel and indiscriminate harm they cause.  In the past, weapons that inflict unacceptable harm, such as antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions, have been banned or regulated regardless of purported military benefits.
  • In addition, there are alternative obscurants to white phosphorus munitions, such as 155mm smoke projectiles, which produce comparable visual screening properties without destructive incendiary effects.[17]
  • Some states have already turned to such alternatives in response to public pressure. While Israel used white phosphorus munitions in Gaza in 2008-2009, it began developing alternative smoke shells after it was widely condemned for the harm its munitions caused. There have been no reports of Israeli use of white phosphorus in Gaza since 2009, although it has conducted further military operations there.[18]

Footage showing what Human Rights Watch arms experts have identified as RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM incendiary bombs mounted on a Russian attack aircraft at a Russian air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.

© 2016 Russia Today/YouTube

Myth #6: Protocol III’s distinction between air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons reflects meaningful differences based on the types of delivery mechanism and frequency of use.

 

Reality: The distinction between air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons is arbitrary because they cause the same type and magnitude of harm and have both been used in recent conflicts.

  • The delivery system of an incendiary weapon is irrelevant because the nature and extent of harm is the same. An individual will suffer cruel injury regardless of how the incendiary warhead reached them. Protocol III itself states that all incendiary weapons “set fire to objects or … cause burn injury to persons.”
  • Both air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons have been used in populated areas in recent conflicts. In 2017, most of the 22 incendiary weapons attacks that Human Rights Watch documented in Syria involved air-dropped models.[19] In 2018, Human Rights Watch documented that the Syrian-Russian military alliance used ground-launched incendiary Grad rockets in at least 20 instances and air-dropped incendiary weapons in at least 10 instances.[20]   
  • Ground-launched incendiary weapons, in particular 9M22S Grad rockets, were also used in July-August 2014 in at least two towns in Ukraine, Ilovaisk and Luhansk. They burned several homes and endangered civilians.[21]
  • Because they generally lack aircraft to drop incendiary weapons, non-state armed groups are more likely to have access to ground-launched models. For example, the US military reported 11 cases from 2007-2009 in which insurgents used white phosphorus delivered by rockets or mortars in Afghanistan.[22]

Remnants of ZAB2.5SM submunitions from an August 7, 2016 incendiary weapon attack on Idlib city.

© 2016 Syria Civil Defense Idlib

Myth #7: Amending Protocol III would be complicated and time consuming.

 

Reality: Strengthening Protocol III, which requires only small changes to the text, would be legally and procedurally straightforward.

  • Expanding Article 1 to cover multipurpose munitions with incidental incendiary effects would simply require shifting from a design-based to an effects-based definition. The language could be changed to “any weapon or munition that has the effect of setting fire to objects or causing burn injury to persons….”
  • Precedent for adopting an effects-based weapons definition exists in CCW Protocol I on Non-Detectable Fragments,[23] Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions,[24] and the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice.[25] Each of these documents looks to the effects of particular types of weapons in order to determine their legality.[26]
  • Strengthening restrictions on use would simply require eliminating the distinction in Article 2 between delivery systems. Article 2(2) could be amended to remove “air-delivered,” so that it prohibits making “any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by incendiary weapons.” Article 2(3) could then be deleted.
  • Treaties regulating conventional weapons generally do not distinguish based upon delivery system. For example, Amended Protocol II to the CCW, which covers mines, booby-traps, and other devices, defines a “remotely-delivered mine” as a mine “delivered by artillery, missile, rocket, mortar, or similar means, or dropped from an aircraft.”[27]   
  • The process to amend Protocol III could be similarly straightforward and completed in a timely manner. States should set aside time to review Protocol III in 2019 and then agree to a negotiating mandate with the goal of strengthening the protocol the following year.

At least four incendiary submunitions burn on the ground of a narrow street in the al-Mashhad neighborhood of opposition-held east Aleppo city immediately after an incendiary weapon attack on August 7, 2016.

© 2016 Malek Tarboush

Myth #8: States are resistant to amending Protocol III.

 

Reality: Growing state support for strengthening the law and condemnation of recent use demonstrates the time is ripe for CCW states parties to revisit Protocol III.

  • Since 2010, at least 35 states, along with other international actors including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN secretary-general, have publicly recognized the problems of incendiary weapons.[28]
  • In November 2017, CCW states parties engaged in particularly robust discussions when the topic became a separate agenda item at their annual meeting. Almost all of the 26 states that spoke expressed concerns about incendiary weapons, and the majority recommended CCW states parties take some action in response.
  • At least nine states supported amending Protocol III.[29] For example, Costa Rica described ongoing use of incendiary weapons as an “alert” to evaluate and expand the scope of Protocol III. Austria said it “continues to see value in strengthening Protocol III,”[30] while Chile promised to work with “like-minded States and civil society in order to bring about an effective prohibition of this type of weapon and to strengthen Protocol III.”[31] 
    Simple changes in international law could help save civilian lives during wartime.

    Bonnie Docherty

    Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch

  • At least 13 states called for further discussions on Protocol III.[32] For example, the Holy See urged “[a]n honest technical and legal review of the provisions.”[33] Croatia stated, “[T]he time is right to discuss the relevance of standards set by Protocol III,”[34] while the Philippines agreed that “review and reflection is timely and consistent with the objective of keeping the convention and its protocols relevant.”[35
  • Switzerland proposed an informal meeting of experts regarding Protocol III.[36] While this proposal was ultimately blocked by a few states parties, at least five states expressly supported it.[37]
  • At least 17 states plus the European Union condemned or expressed concerns about reports of recent and ongoing use of incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians at the CCW’s annual meeting in 2017.[38] For example, Zambia “condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the use of incendiary weapons in populated areas regardless of the method of deployment.”[39] The United States said it was “deeply concerned over the continued reports of air-delivered incendiary weapons being used in areas near civilians,”[40] while Ireland described such reports as “disturbing.”[41]
  • Final reports from CCW annual meetings, which are adopted by consensus, have noted concerns regarding incendiary weapons with increasing urgency since 2011.[42] At the end of the CCW’s 2017 Meeting of States Parties, the final report “condemned any use of incendiary weapons against civilians or civilian objects, and any other use incompatible with the relevant rules of international humanitarian law, including the provisions of Protocol III where applicable.”[43]

A ZAB-2.5 incendiary submunition from a December 5, 2016 attack on Maarat al-Numan south of Idlib.

© 2016 SMART News Agency

Myth #9: CCW states parties should not make Protocol III a priority for discussion because attention would be better spent on tackling new issues than revisiting agreed-on protocols.

 

Reality: CCW states parties should prioritize revisiting and strengthening Protocol III because the convention is intended to be a living document and states parties have not revisited Protocol III since it was adopted in 1980.

  • At the 2017 Meeting of States Parties, several CCW states parties remarked that a review of Protocol III was long overdue. While, in the words of Costa Rica, the CCW was designed to be “a convention that is dynamic and flexible,”[44] Protocol III has remained static for almost four decades.
  • States parties have, by contrast, expanded and strengthened other elements of the convention and its three original protocols several times since adoption. States parties have amended Protocol II, added two new protocols, and expanded the scope of the convention to encompass non-international armed conflicts.[45]
  • Work on incendiary weapons need not distract from progress on lethal autonomous weapons systems because states parties to the CCW have demonstrated their ability to work on multiple issues at the same time. For example, while states parties were negotiating Protocol IV on blinding laser weapons in 1995, they were also amending Protocol II. In 2003, states parties both adopted Protocol V on explosive remnants of war and agreed to a political commitment on mines other than antipersonnel mines.[46]
  • The evidence of ongoing use of incendiary weapons and growing calls for a response underscore the urgency of revisiting Protocol III.

Local people struggle to extinguish fires from an incendiary weapons attack in western Idlib, Syria, on July 30, 2018. 

© 2018 SMART News Agency

Myth #10: Amending Protocol III will not have a significant impact.

 

Reality: Closing the loopholes in Protocol III will better protect civilians by more strictly regulating states parties’ use of incendiary weapons and by creating a more powerful norm against their use.

  • A stronger protocol would bind states parties, meaning they could not lawfully engage in use that falls into the current loopholes. Eliminating ambiguity in Protocol III would also facilitate enforcement because with clearer rules, breaches are easier to recognize and condemn.
  • Strengthening Protocol III could also influence the conduct of actors not bound by its provisions by increasing the stigma against incendiary weapons. Stigmatization has already contributed to changes in domestic policies. For example, growing opposition to incendiary weapons, at the international and national levels, helped pressure Israel, which is not party to Protocol III, to alter its policies on white phosphorus in 2013 in order to dramatically restrict use.[47]
  • Stigmatization can also influence the conduct of non-state armed groups, especially those that seek to be viewed as responsible actors.

 

Annex I. Relevant Publications

A series of reports published over the past decade by Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) examine the issue of incendiary weapons in more depth. Approaching the topic from a variety of angles, these reports make the case that existing international law is inadequate and should be strengthened. The reports also provide annual updates of the use of incendiary weapons and the evolution of government positions.

To download the full reports, please visit: https://goo.gl/yHJQC8

 

An Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context
November 2017         

This 30-page report examines how the outdated regulations of Protocol III reflect concerns about incendiary weapons use at the time of the protocol’s negotiation. It argues that the law must evolve to respond to a changed military and political landscape.

 

Time to Act against Incendiary Weapons
December 2016         

This 32-page report highlights the urgency of action at the CCW’s Fifth Review Conference and calls on states to set aside time to revisit Protocol III.

 

From Condemnation to Concrete Action: A Five-Year Review of Incendiary Weapons
November 2015

This 27-page report analyzes the past five years of the incendiary weapons debate. It also discusses recent use of incendiary weapons in Syria and Ukraine, allegations of use in Libya and Yemen, and the evolution of national views on Protocol III.

 

Incendiary Weapons: Recent Use and Growing Opposition
November 2014 

This 16-page report details the latest harm caused by incendiary weapons in Syria and Ukraine while showing the influence of growing stigma on the practice of states, such as Israel.

 

Syria’s Use of Incendiary Weapons*
November 2013

This 25-page report documents new use of incendiary weapons in Syria and the civilian harm that resulted.

 

Government Positions on Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons
November 2012

This 18-page report updates an April 2012 report on countries’ views of Protocol III.

 

Incendiary Weapons: Government Positions and Practices
April 2012

This 22-page report analyzes government statements on Protocol III and provides evidence of the use, production, and stockpiling of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorous.

 

Q&A on Incendiary Weapons and CCW Protocol III
November 2011

This 3-page Q&A defines incendiary weapons, describes the harms they cause, lays out the shortcomings of Protocol III, and offers ways to strengthen the law.

 

Strengthening the Humanitarian Protections of Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons
August 2011

This 15-page report urges state parties to discuss Protocol III at the CCW’s Fourth Review Conference and proposes specific amendments to close its loopholes. The report argues that a blanket prohibition of incendiary munitions would most effectively protect civilians.

 

The Human Suffering Caused by Incendiary Munitions
March 2011

This 16-page report details the horrific harms caused by incendiary weapons, including napalm and white phosphorous, and provides a history of use since states adopted Protocol III.

 

The Need to Re-Visit Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons
November 2010

This 10-page report introduces the inadequacies of Protocol III and calls on states parties to revisit the protocol. It also examines how the US reservation has exacerbated the protocol’s shortcomings and hindered its ability to build norms.

 

Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza*
March 2009

This 71-page report, based on an in-depth field investigation, documents Israel’s use of white phosphorus during its 2009 military operations in Gaza.

 

*Unless noted by an asterisk, Human Rights Watch published these reports jointly with IHRC.

 

 

[1] Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III), adopted October 10, 1980, entered into force December 2, 1983.

[2] For more information on the suffering caused by incendiary weapons, see Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), Memorandum to Convention on Conventional Weapons Delegates: The Human Suffering Caused by Incendiary Munitions, March 2011, https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/03/31/human-suffering-caused-incendiary-mu..., p. 3.

[3] Denise Chong, The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War (New York: Penguin Group, 1999), p. 94.

[4] Syria Civil Defense, “A horrific massacre including unconscienable [sic] Napalm air strikes killed at least 61 civilians in #Kafr_Bata Town,” Twitter, March 16, 2018, https://twitter.com/SyriaCivilDef/status/974660689502629889 (accessed October 21, 2018).

[5] Human Rights Watch documented more than 68 incendiary weapons attacks from November 2012 to 2016, and 22 attacks in 2017. Human Rights Watch and IHRC, An Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context, November 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/20/overdue-review-addressing-incendiary..., pp. 14-15. A YouTube video, published by Russia Today in June 2016, showed a Russian aircraft with incendiary bombs at Russia’s airbase in Syria, suggesting that Russia has also been using incendiary weapons in Syria. Mary Wareham, “Incendiary Weapons Pose Civilian Threat in Syria,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, June 21, 2016, https://www. hrw.org/news/2016/06/21/dispatches-incendiary-weapons-pose-civilian-threat-syria.

[6] Human Rights Watch and IHRC, Incendiary Weapons: Recent Use and Growing Opposition, November 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/10/incendiary-weapons-recent-use-and-gr..., p. 6; Yuri Lyamin and Michael Smallwood, “9M22S Incendiary Rocket Components Documented in Eastern Ukraine,” post to “The Hoplite” (blog), Armament Research Services, October 14, 2014, http://armamentresearch.com/9m22s-incendiary-rocket-components-documente... (accessed October 21, 2018).

[7] “Iraq/Syria: Danger from US White Phosphorus,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 14, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/06/14/iraq/syria-danger-us-white-phosphorus.

[8] Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Saudi Arabia Appears to be Using U.S.-Supplied White Phosphorus in its War in Yemen,” Washington Post, September 19, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/ wp/2016/09/19/saudi-arabia-appears-to-be-using-u-s-supplied-white-phosphorus-in-its-war-in-yemen/?utm_term=.fd4007f43775 (accessed October 21, 2018).

[9] Human Rights Watch, Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza, March 2009, https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/03/25/rain-fire/israels-unlawful-use-whi....

[10] C.J. Chivers, “10 Years into Afghan War, a Thunderous Duel,” New York Times, October 7, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/08/world/asia/attacks-rock-us-outposts-n... (accessed October 21, 2018); Charlotte Aagaard, “Leaked Documents Show NATO Use of White Phosphorous against Afghan Insurgents,” Dagbladet information (Denmark), April 19, 2011, http://www.information.dk/265810 (accessed October 21, 2018). For further discussion of Taliban use, attempted use, and storage of white phosphorus, see “Reported Insurgent White Phosphorus Attacks and Caches,” US Central Command press release, 20090511–002, May 12, 2009, http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/9... (accessed October 21, 2018).

[11] The Ethiopian government denied having used white phosphorus. See Monitoring Group on Somalia, “Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia pursuant to Security Council resolution 1724 (2006),” S/2007/436, July 18, 2007, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2007/436 (accessed October 21, 2018), paras. 30-34.

[12] Andrew Buncombe and Solomon Hughes, “The Fog of War: White Phosphorus, Fallujah, and Some Burning Questions,” The Independent, November 15, 2005, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-fog-of-war-white-p... (accessed October 21, 2018).

[13] Human Rights Watch and IHRC, An Overdue Review, pp. 11-12.

[14] For more information on white phosphorus and its effects, see Human Rights Watch and IHRC, From Condemnation to Concrete Action: A Five-Year Review of Incendiary Weapons, November 2015, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/incendiarie..., pp. 4-5.

[15] Human Rights Watch, Rain of Fire, pp. 3-4.

[16] Jason Straziuso and Evan Vucci, “Burned Afghan Girl Learns to Smile Again,” Associated Press, June 23, 2009,

 http://www.nbcnews.com/id/31509214/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/... (accessed October 21, 2018). It is unclear which parties used white phosphorus munitions in this particular incident. The US military documented 44 alleged uses by the Taliban. The spokesman for the commander of NATO and US troops in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, however, told Human Rights Watch that NATO and US forces also used white phosphorus munitions in Afghanistan. See “Taleban ‘Used White Phosphorus,’” BBC, May 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8045012.stm (accessed October 21, 2018); “Afghanistan: NATO Should ‘Come Clean’ on White Phosphorus,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 8, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/05/08/afghanistan-nato-should-come-clean-w....

[17] Human Rights Watch, Rain of Fire, p. 4.

[18] “Israel: Strengthen White Phosphorus Phase-Out,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 18, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/05/18/israel-strengthen-white-phosphorus-p... Gili Cohen, “IDF to Stop Using Shells with White Phosphorus in Populated Areas, State Tells High Court,” Haaretz, May 13, 2013, https://www.haaretz.com/.premium-white-phosphorus-ban-in-towns-1.5242691.  

[19] Human Rights Watch, An Overdue Review, p. 14.

[20] Human Rights Watch, “Incendiary Weapons,” in Reaching Critical Will, First Committee Briefing Book, 2018, http://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/1... (accessed October 30, 2018), p. 25.

[21] Human Rights Watch and IHRC, Incendiary Weapons: Recent Use and Growing Opposition, p. 6.

[22] “Reported Insurgent White Phosphorus Attacks and Caches,” US Central Command press release.

[23] CCW Protocol I on Non-Detectable Fragments (Protocol I), adopted October 10, 1980, 1342 U.N.T.S. 168, entered into force December 2, 1983 (“It is prohibited to use any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays.” (emphasis added)).

[24] Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions prohibits the use of weapons “of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.” Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol I), adopted June 8, 1977, 1125 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force December 7, 1978, art. 35(2) (emphasis added). That protocol additionally forbids attacks using “means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol.” Ibid., art. 51(4)(c) (emphasis added).

[25] Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, International Court of Justice (ICJ) Reports 226, July 8, 1996, https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/95/095-19960708-ADV-01-00-EN.pdf (accessed October 21, 2018), para. 55 (noting that whether a weapon violated the prohibitions on poison or asphyxiating weapons depends on whether the weapon’s “prime, or even exclusive, effect is to poison or asphyxiate”) (emphasis added).

[26] The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions demonstrates how even a convention with a design-based definition can take effects into account. The convention defines cluster munition as being “designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions….” but looks to the humanitarian effects of weapons to determine which are safe to exclude. It states that its definition of cluster munition does not include munitions with certain specific technical characteristics because they “avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions.” Convention on Cluster Munitions, adopted May 30, 2008, Diplomatic Conference for the Adoption of a Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM/77, entered into force August 1, 2010, art. 2(2)(c) (emphasis added).

[27] CCW Protocol II on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and other Devices, as amended on May 3, 1996 (Amended Protocol II), adopted May 3, 1996, entered in force December 3, 1998, art. 2(2).

[28] Human Rights Watch and IHRC, An Overdue Review, p. 21.

[29] Argentina, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, the Holy See, Jordan, Mexico, Panama, and Zambia. For these statements and all audio recordings referenced below, see UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017, https://conf.unog.ch/digitalrecordings/# (accessed October 21, 2018) (audio recording).

[30] Statement of Austria, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017, p. 1.

[31] Statement of Chile, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[32] Argentina, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, the Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, the Philippines, Switzerland, and Zambia. See UNOG, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[33] Statement of the Holy See, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 22, 2017, p. 2.

[34] Statement of Croatia, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017, p. 1.

[35] Statement of the Philippines, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[36] Switzerland proposed that the Meeting of High Contracting Parties decide “to convene an informal meeting of experts to discuss issues related to the universalization and implementation of the Protocol III in light of the humanitarian concerns expressed.” Statement of Switzerland, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017, p. 2.

[37] Austria, Croatia, Ireland, Mexico, and New Zealand. See UNOG, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[38] Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, the Holy See, Ireland, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Zambia, and the European Union. Ibid.

[39] Statement of Zambia, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[40] Statement of the United States, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[41] Statement of Ireland, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[42] For more on the final reports’ language on incendiary weapons, see Human Rights Watch and IHRC, An Overdue Review, p. 24.

[43] Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Final Report, CCW/MSP/2017/8, December 11, 2017, https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/8A3BE602D1E4142CC12581E70054D0F4/$file/CCW_MHCP+2017_FinalReport_Advance+Version+(003)_ES.pdf (accessed November 12, 2018), para. 35.

[44] Statement of Costa Rica, Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW, Geneva, November 23, 2017 (audio recording).

[45] United Nations Office at Geneva, “Convention on Conventional Weapons,” https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/4F0DEF093B4860B4C1257180004B1B30?OpenDocument, (accessed October 21, 2018).

[46] Ibid.

[47] “Israel: Strengthen White Phosphorus Phase-Out,” Human Rights Watch news release; Cohen, “IDF to Stop Using Shells with White Phosphorus in Populated Areas,” Haaretz.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

At the United Nations in Geneva the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots called on governments to not allow the development of weapons systems that would select and attack targets without any human intervention.

© 2018 Mary Wareham

(Paris) – The French members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots on November 7, 2018 published a report "Why France Must Oppose the Development of Killer Robots," which recalls the risks arising from the development of lethal autonomous weapon systems. A few days before the first Paris Peace Forum, the campaign urged France to support the opening of negotiations for an international treaty on the preventive prohibition of fully autonomous weapons.

"The Paris Peace Forum aims to promote peace and security and to reaffirm the importance of multilateralism and collective action in the face of current challenges,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “The risk of developing killer robots is a challenge to peace and we hope that France will actively support a multilateral solution to address it, with the adoption of a preventive ban treaty on fully autonomous weapons. Time is running out to prevent their emergence, and we cannot wait for them to make their first victims to act."

Killer robots are weapons systems that, once activated, could choose and attack a target without human control. For the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, letting a machine decide on the life or death of a human being is a moral red line and a threat to the respect of international humanitarian law and human rights.

"These weapons systems are devoid of moral judgment and compassion, and in this respect, allowing them to kill is contrary to the principles of humanity and the requirements of public conscience," said Anne-Sophie Simpere, author of the report. "In addition, fully autonomous weapons cannot comply with international humanitarian law, in particular the rules requiring the differentiation between combatants and non-combatants, or the principle of proportionality. Only a human being has the precision of analysis to apply these principles in complex and changing combat situations.”

 

Nongovernmental organizations are also concerned about the difficulties in establishing clear accountability for crime, as well as the "high and systematic" risks that killer robots will attack the wrong people.

"Computer programs are imperfect, but robots have tenfold capabilities compared to humans,” said François Warlop, from Sciences Citoyennes, a French member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “They can act on a large scale, without the ability to assess the morality of their action. Their proliferation could therefore pose a threat to international security, especially since they require fewer human resources and could therefore lower the cost of engaging in a war. "

From Stephen Hawking to Steve Wozniak, thousands of scientists, but also religious leaders and Nobel Peace Prize winners denounce the dangers of killer robots and demand their prohibition before they are developed.

For the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a treaty is urgent and necessary to prevent the proliferation and development of fully autonomous weapons. Since 2013, states have been debating the subject at the United Nations. At the annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, from November 21 to 23, they are expected to adopt the terms of reference of the group of experts on lethal autonomous weapons for the coming year. One of the issues is the opening of a mandate to negotiate a treaty on these new weapons.

"France has a contradictory position in these discussions: on the one hand Emmanuel Macron has declared himself categorically opposed to autonomous weapons, while on the other hand, France does not want to start negotiations for a preventive prohibition treaty,” said Tony Fortin, from l’Observatoire des armements. “The Ministry of Armed Forces maintains that killer robots will not be allowed to emerge, while developing weapons programs over which human control is increasingly reduced. One example is the Man Machine Teaming program of Dassault and Thales, one of the announced objectives of which is to "provide the various machine systems with more autonomy and artificial intelligence."

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urges France to support the opening of negotiations for an international treaty to ban fully autonomous weapons.

On parle ici de robots entièrement autonomes dans leurs déplacements et leurs actions, y compris dans la décision d'ouvrir le feu, sans aucun contrôle humain. Imaginez de telles armes aux mains de gouvernements peu scrupuleux en matière de droits humains.

— HRW en français (@hrw_fr) November 7, 2018

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Remnant of a UK-produced missile found at the location of an air strike at Radfan Ceramics Factory, west of Sanaa, Yemen, on September 23, 2015.

© 2015 Ali Muhammad al-Sawari

(London) – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and RW UK have received permission to intervene in a court case challenging the United Kingdom’s continued sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal in April 2019.

The landmark legal case, brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), seeks to establish that the UK government is breaking its own arms export licensing criteria by continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, given the clear risk the weapons would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law violations in Yemen. The High Court in London dismissed the case in 2017, but the Campaign Against Arms trade won the right to appeal, and the three groups again received permission to intervene.

“The October 2 murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate only highlights the government’s lack of credible investigations and accountability demonstrated during the years-long Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen,” said Clive Baldwin, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The UK has contributed through its arms sales to a campaign that has killed or wounded thousands of civilians and brought the country to the brink of disaster.”

Since the coalition began its aerial campaign in Yemen in 2015, the UK has licensed at least £4.7 billion (about US$6.1 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch researchers have regularly visited Yemen and documented the use of weapons, including weapons made in the UK, in strikes that appear to be unlawful. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN, and Yemeni rights groups have repeatedly documented attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, some of which are most likely war crimes, that have hit markets, schools, hospitals, and homes, and killed thousands of civilians.

Since 2016, Human Rights Watch has called for all countries to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia until the Saudi-led coalition ends its unlawful attacks and credibly investigates those that have already occurred. A growing number of European countries have halted sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. On October 25, the European Parliament called for a common EU position banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, violations in Yemen continue. On August 9, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 26 children and wounded at least 19 more in or near a school bus in the busy Dhahyan market, in northern Yemen. The United Nations reported that on October 24, the coalition struck a vegetable packaging facility and killed 21 civilians, the latest in a series of attacks on civilian structures and yet another blow to the country’s precarious economy. The Houthi armed group, which controls much of the northern Yemen and is the target of the Saudi-led coalition’s attacks, has also committed serious violations of the laws of war, including laying antipersonnel landmines, recruiting children, and taking civilians hostage and torturing them.

“The UK should not wait for the court hearing to finally stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Baldwin said. “It should stop selling weapons now until Saudi Arabia ends unlawful attacks and holds war criminals accountable.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am