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

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

In 2020, you should be watching for growing international rejection of “killer robots” – weapons that would kill without meaningful human control – and increasing calls for a new treaty to preemptively ban them.

Allowing machines to select and target human prey without human intervention sounds like something out of an apocalyptic sci-fi movie. But in many respects, we’re teetering on the edge of this threshold: nations including China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are already developing and deploying precursors to fully autonomous weapons, such as armed drones that are remotely piloted by a human. These countries are investing heavily in military applications of artificial intelligence (AI) with the goal of gaining a technological advantage in next-generation autonomy on the battlefield.

These are the same countries resisting demands from dozens of states for a new ban treaty to ensure meaningful human control over the use of force. They call efforts to regulate killer robots “premature” and reject concerns that such weapons will threaten the right to life and principles of human dignity, or that they would fail to they meet international law standards, including rules of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.

But change is on the way as momentum to regulate intensifies. Killer robots are now seen as one of the top existential threats faced by the planet. A growing number of states and some unlikely allies are now backing the drive for a new treaty to prohibit lethal autonomous weapons systems, which Nobel Peace laureates warn would cross “a moral and ethical Rubicon.”  

In September 2019 at the high-level United Nations General Assembly, an “Alliance for Multilateralism” initiative led by France and Germany and including dozens of foreign ministers, identified killer robots as being among six “politically relevant” issues requiring an urgent multilateral response. (The others included climate change and gender equality in education).

The eight meetings on killer robots by the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) since 2014 have found widespread agreement among virtually all of the 80 participating states on the need to retain some form of human control over the use of force. Thirty countries now vigorously promote a ban treaty as essential to stigmatize the removal of human control from weapons systems.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is also concerned that “killer robots could take the place of soldiers.” Deeming the prospect of machines with the power and discretion to take human life “morally repugnant and politically despicable,” he has called for a new treaty to be negotiated, and offered UN support towards that goal, as detailed in his Agenda for Disarmament.

Leading AI experts, roboticists, scientists, and technology workers at Google and other companies are demanding regulation. They warn that algorithms are fed by data that inevitably reflect various social biases, which, if applied in weapons, could cause people with certain profiles to be targeted disproportionately. Killer robots would be vulnerable to hacking and attacks in which minor modifications to data inputs could “trick them in ways no human would ever be fooled.”

The concerns around killer robots are also beginning to impact their military acquisition and development; increasingly jittery defense planners are becoming reluctant to budget millions of dollars for autonomous weapons systems that might be prohibited before they are even built. In 2019, for example, a major German industry association comprised of businesses and defense contractors including Rheinmetall called for the government to work for a new treaty to ban killer robots.

This shows how regulation via a new treaty is the most effective way to address mounting uncertainty about what is acceptable and unacceptable regarding increasingly complex autonomous weapons systems.

With public pressure, the calls for a new treaty to ban killer robots will soon become too overwhelming for military powers to contain in the failing CCW forum. Don’t just watch this space: join the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and demand a ban treaty now.

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

Mr. President,

Stockpile destruction is undoubtedly one of the great success stories of the Mine Ban Treaty. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, a total of 93 States Parties have collectively destroyed more than 55 million antipersonnel landmines from their stocks, including more than 1.4 million mines during 2018.

Currently, just three States Parties have stockpiled antipersonnel mines to destroy. Sri Lanka has committed to destroy its 78,000 stockpiled mines by the end of 2020, while Greece (with 643,000 mines) and Ukraine (with 3.5 million mines) remain in violation of Article 4 after repeatedly failing to complete stockpile destruction by their respective deadlines.

We appreciate the update provided by Greece today and its transparency, but are concerned to learn about the “temporary pause” in the stockpile destruction process. But we are astonished not to hear from Ukraine today. Where is Ukraine? Why is it not here at the Review Conference to explain what it is doing to destroy its stockpiled antipersonnel mines?

As HRH Prince Mired has reminded us, Landmine Monitor estimates that as many as 30 of the 33 states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty stockpile a collective total of approximately 50 million mines today. This provides added impetus for us all to encourage the states to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

Non-state armed groups do not appear to be able to obtain significant numbers of factory-made antipersonnel mines now that production and transfers have largely halted under the Mine Ban Treaty. However, Landmine Monitor has identified several groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen that possess antipersonnel mines, mostly improvised from locally-available components. Use of these improvised antipersonnel mines in recent years has led to a sharp increase in the number of mine casualties globally.

But it’s not all bad news. The Polisario Front in Western Sahara this year completed the destruction of more than 20,000 antipersonnel mines, ending a process that has been underway since 2006.

Lastly, we wish to address an outstanding issue of concern for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. A total of 71 States Parties have retained antipersonnel mines for training and research in detection and clearance techniques. Leading this list are Bangladesh, Finland, and Sri Lanka, which between them collectively possess nearly 50,000 retained antipersonnel mines.

We commend Botswana, Thailand and Chile for their decisions this year to destroy the stockpiled antipersonnel mines that were originally retained for research and training. They show us how it is not essential to use live mines for these purposes. And thank you to Indonesia for submitting the transparency report for the Mine Ban Treaty, detailing the status of the mines retained for training. We encourage all states with overdue transparency reports to turn them in, especially those who are retaining mines for research and training purposes. 

Cyprus, Nigeria, Senegal, and a few other states parties with mines retained under Article 3 have never used any for the permitted purposes and are, in effect, violating the nature of this exception, as they essentially are stockpiling the mines. States Parties should treat this as a compliance issue, including the involvement of the Committee on Cooperative Compliance.  

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Video

Chile: Reform Police in the Wake of Protests

Excessive Force against Demonstrators, Abuses in Detention

(Santiago) – Chile’s national police, Carabineros, committed serious human rights violations, including excessive use of force in the streets and abuses in detention, after thousands of Chileans took to the streets on and in the weeks following October 18, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch met with President Sebastián Piñera on November 26 and recommended a series of reforms directed to help prevent police misconduct and strengthen oversight in the wake of compelling evidence of excessive use of force and abuses against demonstrators and bystanders. From the beginning of the demonstrations through November 21, the National Human Rights Institute filed 442 criminal complaints on behalf of victims with prosecutors, regarding injuries, cruel treatment, torture, rape, killings, and attempted killings allegedly committed by security forces.

“There are hundreds of worrying reports of excessive force on the streets and abuse of detainees, including brutal beatings and sexual abuse, that should be promptly and thoroughly investigated to ensure victims’ access to justice,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Issues such as the indiscriminate and improper use of riot guns and shotguns, abuse of detainees in custody, and poor internal accountability systems gave rise to serious violations of the rights of many Chileans. This is precisely why police reforms are urgently needed.”

The protests began over an increase in the price of public transportation and have continued for over a month. The demonstrations broadened to reflect anger over serious deficiencies in the provision of social services and economic inequality.

On October 18, Piñera declared a state of emergency in several locations, deploying the military to enforce it. The state of emergency, which included measures restricting freedom of movement such as curfews, was lifted on October 28. The national police responded to massive protests across Chile. While most demonstrators were peaceful, some groups engaged in violent acts, including attacking police officers and police stations with rocks and Molotov cocktails, looting, and burning public and private property. On November 21, the police command said that more than 1,896 officers were injured from October 18 to November 20, about 127 of them seriously.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 70 people in Santiago and Valparaíso in November. Some were victims who had been injured by pellets fired from shotguns or direct hits from teargas cartridges fired from riot guns; others alleged to have suffered police abuse in the streets or police stations. Human Rights Watch also interviewed police officers, some of whom had been injured by demonstrators, doctors, lawyers, academics, representatives of civil society, and government officials, including the Supreme Court president, the attorney general, the chief public defender, the police general director, and the foreign affairs, interior, defense, and justice ministers.

Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence that police used excessive force to respond to protests, injuring thousands of people, whether they were engaged in violent actions or not. The country’s emergency services treated 11,564 people injured during the demonstrations from October 18 to November 22, the Health Ministry told Human Rights Watch. Of those, more than 1,100 had moderate or serious injuries.

The use of shotguns that scatter pellets indiscriminately over a wide area with the potential to harm anyone in their path is of particular concern, Human Rights Watch said. The pellet shotguns were the main cause of the more than 220 eye injuries documented by the National Human Rights Institute, an official and independent body. On November 17, the Health Ministry reported that 16 lost eyesight in one eye and 34 had severe eye injuries that could result in partial or total eyesight loss, with their recovery depending on an assessment in the next three months.

On November 19, the police temporarily suspended the use of the pellet shotguns for crowd control at protests while external experts evaluate the composition of pellets. Given their inherently inaccurate nature, indiscriminate impact, and evidence of the serious injuries they have caused, their use should be suspended indefinitely in all circumstances until competent and independent authorities conduct a proper examination of their risks, Human Rights Watch said.

Police also brutally beat protesters, shot bean bag rounds and teargas cartridges directly at them, and ran over some with official vehicles or motorcycles.

The Attorney General’s Office is investigating 26 deaths. Among them are a demonstrator who died after an alleged police beating on the street, three protesters allegedly fatally shot by military forces using live ammunition, and one who was run over by a Navy vehicle, according to information from the Attorney General’s Office.

Medical personnel said that one demonstrator with a heart problem died when he did not receive proper emergency care, because police were using weapons against protesters and medical personnel. The Attorney General’s Office is also investigating the deaths of two men in police custody, which it is currently treating as suicides.

Human Rights Watch learned that at least another 18 people died in fires during looting, were run over by private cars during demonstrations, or died for other reasons without evidence, so far, that government agents played a role.

The police detained more than 15,000 people and ill-treated some of them.

Of 442 criminal complaints filed by the National Human Rights Institute on behalf of victims of abuse, 341 refer to allegations of torture and inhumane treatment and 74 of sexual abuse. Many detainees allege they were brutally beaten by police. Another of the most common allegations was that police forced detainees, including children, to undress and squat fully naked in police stations, a practice banned by police protocols in March 2019 but that still occurs, including before the protests.

The police appear to be more likely to force women and girls to strip than men, based on data that the National Human Rights Institute collected and interviews Human Rights Watch conducted. A Chilean human rights lawyer told Human Rights Watch of a case in which men and women were detained in the same circumstances, but only women were forced to undress, and cases of police touching women’s genitalia after they were forced to strip.

The Attorney General’s Office has opened preliminary investigations into alleged abuses against 2,278 people, in which 203 members of security forces are allegedly implicated, including 173 police officers. Only 9 – 4 police and 5 members of the Armed Forces – have been “formalized,” meaning that their cases moved to the next investigation phase.

Before the protests, the government adopted a protocol on the use of force and promoted it. During the protests, according to information provided by the government to Human Rights Watch, it took other measures, such as requesting security forces to implement the protocol and the deployment of 250 human rights police instructors to units engaged in crowd control operations.

The abuses in detention and the serious injuries suffered by hundreds of protesters were facilitated by structural failures of oversight and accountability that predate the current wave of demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said.

For detailed recommended reforms and further information on the Human Rights Watch findings, please see below.

Recommended Reforms

  • Review police powers of detention during identity controls to ensure safeguards against arbitrary use of stop and detain powers and accountability for their use;
  • Ensure accountability for police abuses and misuse of less-lethal equipment;
  • Reform the police disciplinary system to ensure that disciplinary decisions are made by an independent decision maker not in the affected person’s direct chain of command, and ensure that staff working for internal affairs do not need to work alongside or come under the command of those they have investigated or disciplined;
  • Enact a protocol jointly with health authorities to ensure detainees are entitled to and undergo thorough independent forensic exams not in front of and out of earshot of police;
  • Enforce the existing ban on strip searching of people detained during protests (requiring them to fully undress) and punishing officers who continue that practice;
  • Install cameras in all areas within all police stations with safeguards to ensure detainee privacy, and a system to retain recordings for use by judicial and other authorities;
  • Suspend all use of pellet shotguns – not just at protests – until a proper examination of their risks is conducted by competent and independent authorities;
  • Study the use of alternative less-lethal equipment that minimizes injuries;
  • Strengthen training on less-lethal equipment and crowd control for all police, including but not limited to special forces; and
  • Ensure that police have adequate protection equipment, time off, and overtime pay.

In addition, the Attorney General’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office should closely and regularly monitor the work of the police, including by instructing judicial officials to frequently inspect police stations and interview detainees there.

Indiscriminate and Improper Use of Shotguns

Since October 18, pellet ammunitions fired in the context of anti-government protests injured at least 1,015 people in the lower and the upper body, according to the National Institute of Human Rights.

The most serious injuries include ocular lesions. At Del Salvador Hospital, where the vast majority have been treated, 77 percent of eye injuries were caused by pellets as of November 19, the Health Ministry told Human Rights Watch. Teargas cartridges caused the second most injuries.

  • Marlene Morales Canales, 33, approached a crowd near her home in Santiago on October 19 with her 14-year-old daughter, she told Human Rights Watch. She saw the police about 20 meters away, heard gunshots, and felt a pellet bursting her right eye. “I lost my eyesight immediately, and there was a lot of blood,” she said. After the gunshots, the police also started shooting teargas. Doctors told her she will never recover sight in her right eye.

Marlene Morales on November 15. 

© 2019 César Muñoz Acebes

Some of those injured were wounded by multiple pellets, suggesting they were shot at from a closer range, given that pellets scatter over a distance.

  • Ronald Barrales, 36, was participating in a demonstration in downtown Santiago on November 11 when people in front of a police truck started throwing rocks at it, he said. He was trying to walk past, when a police officer opened the passenger door, pointed a shotgun at him from eight meters away, fired, and hit him in the belly, chest, and left eye with pellets. Doctors told him he will never recover sight in that eye.

Ronald Barrales as he arrived at the Santa Maria Hospital on November 11. On the right, an X-ray showing the pellet that hit him in the eye as a round bright object. 

© 2019 Courtesy of Ronald Barrales
  • On October 29, police injured Jorge Ortiz, the Finance Unit director at the National Human Rights Institute, while he was monitoring protests in La Alameda. Ortiz was wearing a yellow jacket and helmet, widely recognized in Chile as gear used by the Institute’s team. He sustained six pellet wounds on his back, buttocks, and the back of his left leg as he was running from the police, who were shooting toward an area with demonstrators located close to the Institute’s team, Ortiz said.

Jorge Ortiz was hit by six pellets from behind despite wearing the Institute’s team widely recognized yellow jacket and helmet. 

© 2019 Courtesy of Jorge Ortiz
  • The police entered the Liceo 7 school in Santiago on November 5 after the students voted to join the demonstrations. Two girls were injured, including one who was hit with more than 10 pellets, the Children’s Ombudsperson Office (Defensoria de la Niñez) said. Prosecutors have charged a police major with inhuman treatment in this case.
  • A 16-year-old boy was looking out to the street from the hall of his apartment building with some friends in Santiago on October 19 when police officers entered and shot at him as he ran to his apartment, according to the Children’s Ombudsperson Office and the National Human Rights Institute. They hit him with at least 10 pellets in the back and ribs.

General Mario Rozas, the top police commander, said on November 13 that the police use 12mm shotguns that fire cartridges containing 12 8mm pellets, and that they are permitted to open fire “when their lives are at risk or a civilian is in danger.” Police have used them in response to attacks by demonstrators with rocks or other projectiles, police officers and witnesses said. To be authorized to fire the gun, police must undergo a two-week training course and renew their certification every year.

While initially concentrated within a small radius as they are fired, the pellets contained in the cartridges expand away from each other, to create a constellation of projectiles that can reach several decimeters in radius within a few meters of being fired.

A review published in the British Medical Journal of studies examining the use of similar types of less-lethal weapons in six regions between 1990 and 2017 documented injuries to 1,984 people with these weapons, 53 of whom died as a result. Among those injured, 71 percent had injuries that were considered severe and 300 people suffered life-long disabilities. Out of those, 84 percent had permanent eye damage.

A 2012 internal report by the Chilean police made public on November 21 by local media outlets concluded that people hit by pellets from these shotguns at a distance of 25 meters or less could suffer serious injuries and even death. Even at 30 meters the pellets could cause injuries that would result in eye loss, the report warned.

Police officers told Human Rights Watch that they are instructed to use the shotgun at a minimum distance of 30 meters and aim between the knee and the ankle, to avoid hitting vital parts of the upper body. But beyond 45 meters, they shoot straight to make sure the pellets reach rioters, said a captain of the Special Operations Group (GOPE), the elite force. Shotguns, however, do not have a scope, and therefore each officer has to roughly estimate the safe distance to fire in the midst of what are often stressful and chaotic circumstances.

Police authorities admit there is “high risk” involved in using such an imprecise weapon. “It’s not a weapon to aim,” General Rozas said. General Jorge Ávila, in charge of public order, said that, “the shooter does not control the trajectory of the pellets.” Because of the complex physical and environmental dynamics that affect the trajectory of the pellets, even when police shoot toward the lower extremities it is almost impossible to ensure that pellets do not hit the upper body, increasing the risk of grave or possibly lethal injuries.

An open cartridge and 8 mm. pellets.

© 2019 César Muñoz Acebes

Police commanders do not seem to have conveyed that risk to the rank and file, however. Human Rights Watch interviewed three officers who minimized the possible harm of the pellets. A captain said, “it’s very hard for a pellet to go through cloth, even if shot very near,” and a corporal said it was “impossible [for pellets] to cause serious eye injury.”

The University of Chile’s Mechanical Engineering Faculty published a report on November 18 that found that pellets were 80 percent silica, barium sulphite, and lead, and only 20 percent rubber. On a scale of rigidity, they are as hard as a shopping cart’s wheel. Another study by medical experts at the Carlos Van Buren hospital reached similar conclusions after analyzing pellets they removed from patients.

On November 19, after the university report was released, the police suspended their use of these shotguns when responding to protests pending an external analysis of their composition. They stated they may only be used “as an extreme measure and exclusively in self-defense, when there is an imminent risk of death.” However, even in those extreme circumstances, because of the imprecise nature of the shotguns, the police cannot ensure they hit only the intended target.

A police captain holds a teargas gun. A pellet shotgun hangs on his right side. 

© 2019 César Muñoz Acebes

Other Injuries Caused by Police

The police also need special training and a yearly certification to use the 37mm riot gun that launches teargas cartridges. They are instructed to fire toward the sky, to slow down the heavy projectile’s trajectory in a downward arc meant to land on the ground, behind the crowd, a GOPE captain said. However, there have been credible allegations that police officers shot teargas projectiles straight into the crowd, which can be lethal.

  • Juan Gabriel García Barco, 25, passed through a demonstration in downtown Santiago on November 11 as he was walking home. He passed a bridge where demonstrators were throwing stones at police vehicles blocking the way, when he was hit in the face with a projectile. He felt pain and had blood running down his face. He believes that it was a teargas cartridge, as he saw a police officer stick what he thinks was teargas riot gun out of one of the vehicles and heard a loud noise directly before he was hit. He also smelled teargas after being hit, he said. A witness said he saw police aiming at García Barco from a distance of roughly 5 meters. García Barco had no sight in his left eye when Human Rights Watch interviewed him three days later.

Juan Gabriel García Barco at the Santa María Hospital in Santiago on November 14. 

© 2019 César Muñoz Acebes
  • Claudio Inda, 26, was standing in front of a bus close to Congress in Valparaíso during a demonstration on November 21, Inda’s partner told Human Rights Watch. When the bus drove away, he saw police on the other side of the street. The police shot a teargas cartridge directly towards where Inda was standing. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video filmed by a bystander showing the incident, which Inda said was filmed at the time. Doctors treating Inda at the Van Buren Hospital told Human Rights Watch that the cartridge broke his jaw.

Image of Inda’s broken right jaw taken at the Carlos Van Buren Hospital in Valparaíso. November 21, 2019. 

 
The police appear to have also used bean bag rounds fired from riot guns against protesters. A bean bag round consists of a small fabric pillow filled with lead pellets. They are meant to be fired at extremities to reduce injuries, but there has been at least one case in which someone hit by these rounds during a demonstration was seriously injured.
  • On October 28, a doctor at the Public Emergency Care Hospital (also known as Posta Central) in Santiago operated on a patient who arrived with one of these rounds inside his skull. The doctor said the round had fractured the patient’s skull, and such an injury posed a “serious risk” to the patient’s life. Possible consequences of this trauma must continue to be assessed for a year, he said. 

X ray of a patient hit by a bean bag round and images of the round extracted from patient’s skull on October 28, 2019. 

© 2019 Courtesy of Doctor Fernando Fu Padgett

There have also been several reported cases of police hitting demonstrators with their vehicles or motorcycles.

  • On November 14, Agustin Gómez Pérez, 19, and his brother were heading to Viña del Mar to take photographs of a demonstration, when the police tried to arrest him near a metro station in Valparaíso. Gómez Pérez tried to escape, but several officers intercepted him with their motorcycles. He was run over by a police motorcycle, as can be seen in a video Human Rights Watch reviewed. The victim was admitted at Gustavo Fricke Hospital, where he was diagnosed with abdomen trauma, according to the National Human Rights Institute.

Broad Powers of Detention

Under Chilean law, in addition to detaining people caught in flagrante committing a crime or against whom there is an arrest warrant, the police have other legal basis on which to detain people, including:

  • Preventive Identity Controls: Article 12 of Law 20.931, adopted in 2016, allows police to verify the identity of any person over age 18 who is on the streets, in public spaces, or in private spaces with public access, such as a mall. Police may detain people for up to an hour to verify their identity.
  • Investigative Identity Controls: Article 85 of the Criminal Procedures Code grants the police power to detain people if there is an “indication” they may have committed or attempted to commit a crime or infraction, were about to commit one, could provide useful information to investigators about such offenses, or had hidden their face or identity. Police may register the person, clothes, baggage, or vehicle, and demand proper identification. The police have up to 8 hours to complete the identification process.

Under both provisions, the detained person must be released unless the police find they tried to hide their identity or provide a false one, or if there is evidence they committed a crime.

In the absence of rigorous monitoring of when and how these powers are invoked, this system risks facilitating discriminatory and abusive arrests. People detained for up to eight hours for identity checks are registered but not designated as “detainees,” a police station commander said. Human Rights Watch requested information to high level judicial authorities regarding how many people the police had arrested to check their identity in the context of the demonstrations. Such information is not available.

In cases in which the police intend to formally arrest a person, they have to communicate with prosecutors within 12 hours of arrest. Prosecutors then decide if the detainee should be released unconditionally, released pending a hearing set for a later date, or detained until they are brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Police typically communicate with prosecutors about such cases on the phone or electronically, meaning that prosecutors do not see such detainees in person, according to public defenders interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

According to official data shared by Carabineros with a local media outlet and reviewed by Human Rights Watch, police carried out over 3.1 million identity controls in 2017 and 4.8 million in 2018. In both years, about 90 percent were considered preventive identity controls. Only 182,000 people were detained after these arrests.

Under Chilean law, prosecutors can investigate crimes, including those committed by police, by their own initiative or if someone files a complaint. However, in practice, they do not ordinarily visit police stations to examine detention conditions or the police detention and identity-check registries, the Public Defenders’ Office said.

Based on National Institute of Human Rights documentation, at least 6,972 people were formally detained in police stations in the context of the demonstrations between October 17 and November 21.

The actual number of people deprived of liberty in the context of demonstrations is, however, much higher. According to official data provided to Human Rights Watch, the police detained more than 15,000 people from October 18 to November 19, and “held” an additional 2,000 for violating the curfew during the state of emergency.

Chile’s chief public defender told Human Rights Watch that police do not have the power to detain someone for breaking a curfew and can only issue a fine. Therefore, he said, this suggests that those held by police only because they had breached the curfew may have been victims of arbitrary arrests. There is some room for interpretation under Chilean law regarding the power to hold someone who broke the curfew until the curfew ends, but several jurists told Human Rights Watch that police cannot sanction people with detention for breaking the curfew.

  • Xiomara Aguilar, 18, was on her way home with a friend in Santiago when they were detained five minutes after the curfew started at 7 p.m., she said. Police bent their arms hard, pulled their hair, and took them to the police criminal lab, she said. They spent five hours sitting in a corridor there, handcuffed. At midnight, they were transferred to a police station, where police made them undress and squat fully naked. Police kept them in a cell without water or food until 6 a.m., when the curfew ended.

Under Chilean law, detainees facing charges must be brought before a judge to assess the legality of their detention within 24 hours of arrest. The Public Defender’s Office said that in the first week of the demonstrations at such hearings nationwide, the number of detentions declared unlawful almost quadrupled—increasing from 2 percent of all detention to 7.6 percent—because there was no evidence that the detainee had committed a crime and, in some cases, because the detainee had been mistreated by the police. Since October 29, that number has decreased, but judges are still finding twice as many illegal detentions as in the months preceding the protests—4.5 percent since October 29, as compared to 2 percent previously.

Mistreatment, Sexual Abuse, and Torture in Detention

From the beginning of the demonstrations through November 21, the National Human Rights Institute filed 442 criminal complaints on behalf of victims with prosecutors alleging police-inflicted injuries, cruel treatment, torture, sexual violence, attempted killings, and killings.

The National Human Rights Institute has filed 341 complaints that refer to allegations of torture and inhumane treatment and 74 of sexual abuse since the protests began. One of the most common complaints was that detainees, including children, were forced to undress and squat naked in police stations. Police protocols explicitly ban that practice, without any exceptions. Yet, several officers said it is allowed when there is suspicion that the detainee may have drugs or a weapon hidden in body cavities.

In reality, the police have ordered people to undress in a context that did not reflect even an erroneous belief that the detainee was seeking to smuggle contraband into detention, suggesting that they discriminated against women and girls. Officers are more likely to force women and girls to strip than men, according to the data from the Institute. A Chilean human rights lawyer described a case in which men and women were detained in the same circumstances, but only women were ordered to undress, and cases in which officers touched women’s genitalia after making them strip. The Institute also documented cases of threats of rape and rapes of four men.

Chile’s Children’s Ombudsperson Office has collected information about 327 cases of possible violations of children’s rights during the demonstrations between October 18 and November 15. Of those, 118 are cases of physical injuries associated with beatings, and 54 are cases of injuries by pellets and bullets.

  • Claudio Muñoz, 18, said that two people dressed as civilians detained him and beat him as he was running away after throwing a rock at a police truck in Santiago on October 20. They handed him over to the police, who also beat him and took him to a nearby station. Inside, more than 10 officers kicked and punched him, and hit him with a police baton. The police later took him to a bigger police station, where he was again beaten twice. Police made him and three other detainees, including a 14-year-old boy, strip naked and squat, Muñoz said.

Claudio Muñoz on October 21, the day of his release from detention. 

© 2019 Courtesy of Claudio Muñoz

He was taken to a 3x3 meter cell where there were 14 men. Muñoz’s mother, who saw him briefly at the police station, noticed lacerations, a bloody mouth and ear, and bumps in the head, she said. At around midnight, a guard hosed Muñoz and the others in the cell with cold water through the bars, he said. At around 2 a.m., police placed another 15 men in his cell. It was so crammed they had to lean on one another while standing, Muñoz said. The police released him 18 hours after his arrest, without taking him before a judge.

  • Josué Maureira, 21, went into a looted supermarket in Santiago on October 21 after curfew, believing he heard a woman asking for help, he said. The police found him and beat him there, in their vehicle, and in the police station, he said. “They forced me to shout out loud ‘I am a fag,’” said Maureira, who had painted nails and wore tight pants.

A group of five police officers raped him with a police baton and then placed him in a cell, Maureira said. In the morning, the police forced him to sign an already typed confession in which he admitted to looting, he said. Maureira said he was never informed of his rights, and that he asked for a lawyer, but was not given one, or allowed to contact one.

At his hearing, the public defender raised the allegation that Maureira had been mistreated and the prosecutor set a later date for an interview with him on that matter. The judge ordered his pretrial detention. Maureira told the doctor at the jail that he had been tortured, but he only gave him some painkillers, he said. Maureira was released on October 25 after the National Human Rights Institute appealed the detention order. He had a medical exam that day that, according to his lawyer, documented that he had anal and other injuries.

  • On October 21, navy officers detained Juana Molina (pseudonym), 39, near a supermarket in Valparaíso that had recently been looted, together with 11 others who were in the area, according to testimony gathered by the legal clinic at Valparaíso University’s Law School. The officers pulled Molina’s hair, threw her to the ground, and beat her with their guns on her back. They ordered her to “walk like a dog” while pointing their guns at her until she got to a part of the street where water was running – there, the officers told her to crawl “like a snail.”

They later took her into the supermarket that had been looted, where the officers forced her onto the floor, which was littered with broken glass, and stepped on her head and feet. The officers were not wearing name tags and had their faces covered, she told lawyers from the legal clinic. She was later taken to a police station, where she was not allowed to speak with her family or a lawyer, and the police forced her to sign a document that she said she could not read carefully stating she had “no injuries.” During her detention that night with other women, officers woke them up twice, and refused to let them go to the bathroom. On October 22, she was charged with theft and released under investigation and on condition that she does not get close to the supermarket.

  • On October 18, police detained Jaime Guevara (pseudonym), 17, near the metro station Elisa Correa in Santiago. He told Human Rights Watch he was detained by a police officer as he was running away after the police attempted to disperse a peaceful demonstration. An officer that did not have a name tag on him handcuffed one of his hands to his motorcycle, resulting in a burn on his hand, and drove away, forcing Guevara to run after the motorcycle. Guevara said he was held with another 17-year-old boy and that during their detention, which lasted all night, officers forced them to strip and squat, and brutally beat and kicked them. The officers also banged the other boy’s head against the wall, Guevara said.

Inconsistent use of cameras in police stations and not saving recordings create obstacles to investigating police station abuses. Only about half of police stations in the country have cameras, said Colonel Karina Soza, the police human rights director. At a station in Santiago supposedly covered by cameras “everywhere,” as an officer put it, Human Rights Watch found a large blind spot in the holding cells area. In addition, there is no centralized archive of images recorded by the cameras. At another station in Santiago, the major in charge said that the footage was automatically erased after seven days due to lack of local storage capacity.

As in Molina’s case, several people who said they had suffered abuse in detention stated that the police were not wearing their name tags. Colonel Soza said that some officers wear new vests without fasteners for the names.

The conditions in which injured detainees receive medical exams is another concern. Police said that the law requires them to ask detainees if they have injuries and take those who say yes to nearby medical centers. There, doctors are supposed to make an independent assessment of the injuries in a report that can be used in judicial proceedings. However, police acknowledged that the exams are often performed in cubicles without the necessary privacy. In addition, the police admitted that sometimes the same officer who makes the arrest – and could have mistreated the detainee – takes them to the medical center for the exam.

Muñoz said a police officer was standing outside the examination cubicle, within earshot. Maureira said that a doctor examined him while he was handcuffed and an officer kept him in a chokehold. And Guevara said a policeman was standing beside him the entire time. At the Posta Central hospital, the largest medical center near the biggest demonstrations in Santiago, medical personnel said that the police often try to observe the forensic exams and resist when a doctor tells them to move away.

Inadequate Internal Accountability

The police have internal disciplinary proceedings to punish officers who commit abuses with administrative sanctions, including expulsion from the force, but the system lacks independence and transparency.

Allegations of irregularities are investigated by an internal affairs department made up of about 400 staff, the comptroller general in charge of the system said. However, investigators from internal affairs can be transferred to other sections of the police force and end up working alongside the officers they previously investigated, or even work under their command. Once an irregularity has been investigated, the results are sent to “administrative prosecutor’s offices,” which are headed by colonels. These colonels are not necessarily trained as lawyers, the comptroller said. They typically work in that position for three to five years, and are then transferred to other roles within the police force. Colonels make a recommendation for disciplinary action, but the final decision comes from the immediate superior of the officer being investigated.

The Chilean government told Human Rights Watch that as of November 19, there were 273 administrative cases open against police officers for incidents related to the protests, and an additional 73 cases under preliminary investigation. Human Rights Watch could not find publicly available information about these or other internal affairs investigations and their result.

Exhausting Working Conditions for Police and Violence by Rioters

The wave of demonstrations has forced many police to work shifts that are much longer than usual – up to 16 hours a day instead of 8 – and without days off or overtime pay, police commanders said.

The police’s leadership mobilized 20,000 of the 60,000 officers to respond to demonstrations nationwide, General Rozas said. Of those, only 1,400 are members of “special forces,” the unit trained in crowd control. But given the scale of demonstrations, the leadership mobilized even officers who do administrative work, after just a day of training, several police officers said.

On the streets, the police encountered tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators, but also groups of violent rioters. From October 18 to November 22, 1,896 officers were injured in the context of the demonstrations, according to police leadership. Official data indicates that 127 suffered serious injuries, including 5 officers who had partial or total eyesight loss. At least 2 were burned by Molotov cocktails, and others had broken bones, Alberto Naranjo, a medical doctor and the chief of emergency care at the police hospital in Santiago said.

  • Lieutenant Leandro Veloso Soto, 33, said he was in a group of about eight officers using a megaphone to tell 200 demonstrators to clear the streets of Paine on November 12, when demonstrators started throwing stones at them. Veloso, who was not wearing his visor because not enough were available, heard gunshots and then felt a hit on his right eye. Doctors told him that a projectile had ruptured the veins inside his eye, and he may recover eyesight only partially.

Standards on Use of Force

Chile is a party to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and has both substantive obligations to respect rights including to life (article 4), to bodily integrity and freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment (article 5), and to liberty (article 7), as well as procedural obligations to investigate and punish violations of those rights. Strictly observing international standards on use of force is an essential element of respecting the rights to life and bodily integrity.

A police protocol on the use of force (Circular 1.832) requires that its deployment be proportional to the threat posed by an individual or a group, or the offense about to be committed.

These standards are consistent with the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (BPUFF), which require law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, to resort to non-violent means and de-escalation as much as possible before resorting to the use of firearms. Whenever the use of firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials should use restraint and act in proportion to the severity of the risk faced. They should prioritize the use of less-lethal equipment to ensure that the legitimate objective be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and the preservation of human life respected. The deliberate use of lethal force is permissible only when it is strictly necessary to protect life.

Although teargas is normally not a lethal weapon, it can cause serious medical problems for people exposed to it, even when it is used with restraint. As a riot control method, teargas should only be used where necessary as a proportionate response to quell violence. It should not be used in a confined space, and cartridges should not be fired directly at any individual, and never at close range. Security forces should issue warnings before firing.

BPUFF require authorities to promptly report on and investigate all incidents of law enforcement officials killing or injuring people with firearms through an independent administrative or prosecutorial process.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Most antipersonnel landmines possessed by states that joined the Mine Ban Treaty were swiftly destroyed by the time the treaty entered into force on 1 March 1999. In the 20 years since, there has been steady progress to destroy remaining stocks, resulting in the destruction of more than 55 million antipersonnel landmines by 92 States Parties. The vast majority of those stockpiled antipersonnel mines were destroyed within the treaty’s four-year deadline. This was facilitated by the treaty’s unique cooperative compliance provisions and mechanisms, as well as by its community of supporters. However, the impressive compliance record by most States Parties was unfortunately not met by all as a handful missed deadlines, some significantly, in completing their stockpile destruction obligations. Two states remain in serious violation of the treaty’s stockpile destruction obligation.1

Introduction

The Mine Ban Treaty comprises an unprecedented combination of disarmament provisions and humanitarian goals. The comprehensive prohibitions on antipersonnel landmines stigmatize these explosive weapons, which are detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. The treaty contains firm deadlines requiring clearance of mined areas within 10 years, while states “in a position to do so” are obliged to provide assistance to landmine victims.

The treaty’s requirement that States Parties destroy their stockpiled antipersonnel mines within four years is one of the most visible examples of how the treaty is helping to eradicate these weapons.

This chapter looks at how landmines were once manufactured and transferred around the world, creating massive stockpiles that were used to the detriment of human lives and limbs. It reviews the largely successful implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty’s stockpile destruction obligations over the past two decades despite some serious challenges. The chapter considers how the treaty’s unique set of compliance provisions and mechanisms as well as its community of practice have helped states avoid and resolve stockpile destruction issues. Finally, the chapter provides some lessons learned.

Unless noted, all facts and figures contained in this chapter come from the Landmine Monitor reporting initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which has closely tracked and reported on stockpiling and destruction of antipersonnel mines since 1999.2 Human Rights Watch provides research and editing for this civil society-based verification initiative to systematically monitor a major multilateral disarmament and international humanitarian law agreement.3

Landmine Stockpiles

In their seminal 1993 report Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, ICBL co-founders Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights described landmines as “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” due to their widespread proliferation, longevity, and the devastating harm caused by decades of unrestrained use.4 That report showed how weak and convoluted rules governing the use of landmines had been widely ignored, creating a complex humanitarian tragedy over the long-term.

More than 50 states produced antipersonnel mines at some time, of which 41 stopped before or upon joining the Mine Ban Treaty. But by that point, the damage had already been done. Hundreds of millions of antipersonnel landmines had been transferred around the world for decades, creating massive stockpiles. Some stockpiled landmines were abandoned or looted, other stocks were used, but many remained in their storage crates, untouched as the stigma against landmines grew.

The first annual Landmine Monitor report estimated that more than 250 million antipersonnel mines were stored in the arsenals of 108 countries. When it was presented to states attending the treaty’s First Meeting of States Parties held in May 1999 in Maputo, Mozambique, the ICBL called for a major effort to eradicate landmine stockpiles as a form of “preventive mine action.”5

Nearly all of the 33 states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are still believed to stockpile landmines, despite limited information.6 But over time, major non-signatories have made notable announcements and disclosures concerning their landmine stocks as a gesture of goodwill and transparency. At the Mine Ban Treaty’s Third Review Conference in 2014, the United States announced that it had prohibited production of antipersonnel mines and disclosed that it possessed a stockpile of three million mines, a significant reduction from the more than 10 million previously reported by the United States government. China stated that it held fewer than five million mines, a massive decrease from the long-standing estimate of 110 million mines.

Fewer non-state armed groups are able to obtain factory-made antipersonnel mines now that production and transfer has largely halted under the Mine Ban Treaty. Some in states outside the treaty have acquired landmines by stealing them from government stocks or removing them from minefields. However, most have made their own improvised landmines from locally available materials. These are often known as victim-activated improvised explosive devices or IEDs. These are also banned by the treaty.

Stockpile Destruction

By the time the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, more than 12 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines had already been destroyed by states committed to relinquishing the weapons. Canada, Norway and ten other signatories and States Parties had completed the destruction of their antipersonnel mine stocks, while eighteen more were in the process of doing so, including France, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.7

By the treaty’s First Review Conference in 2004, 65 States Parties had completed the destruction of their stockpiles, collectively destroying more than 37.3 million antipersonnel mines.8 No State Party facing the first stockpile destruction deadline of 1 March 2003 failed to meet it. Italy destroyed the most mines (7.1 million), followed by Turkmenistan (6.6 million), while Albania, France, Germany, Japan, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom each destroyed more than one million antipersonnel mines.

By the time of the treaty’s Second Review Conference in 2009, 86 States Parties had completed the destruction of their stockpiles, destroying a collective total of 44 million antipersonnel mines.9 However, a handful of states completed destruction of their stockpiles days or months after their respective deadlines had passed.

According to Landmine Monitor’s count, a total of 92 States Parties had destroyed a collective total of more than 55 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines as at 2019, the year of the treaty’s Fourth Review Conference.

However, there were certain exceptions to this impressive record by four States Parties, which missed their stockpile destruction deadlines by years.10

Ultimately, none of the stockpiled antipersonnel mines posed significant technical issues for States Parties to destroy, with two notable exceptions: the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable mines and United States-made ADAM artillery-delivered mines.

Referred to by Afghans as “butterfly” mines due to their unique shape and bright colour, the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable antipersonnel mines contain a toxic liquid explosive filling (VS6-D) that renders them extremely dangerous and difficult to destroy. PFM mines are packed in containers for delivery by helicopter, rocket, or ground dispenser, which has added another complication as their destruction requires sophisticated environmental pollution control measures.

Ukraine missed its stockpile destruction deadline due to the challenges it has faced destroying the 6 million PFM-type mines. Belarus faced similar challenges but completed the destruction of its 3.3 million PFM types mines in April 2017, while North Macedonia and Turkmenistan also destroyed stocks of PFM-type mines.

The United States-made ADAM mines stockpiled by Greece and Turkey contain a small amount of depleted uranium that requires a special industrial process to destroy, so the projectiles containing the ADAM mines were transferred to Germany for demilitarization at a specialized facility.

Any assessment of stockpile destruction under the Mine Ban Treaty would be incomplete without considering Article 3’s provision that allows a State Party to retain or transfer “a number of anti-personnel mines for the development of and training in mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques.”

Of the 164 States Parties, 71 have retained antipersonnel mines for training and research purposes, of which 37 retain more than 1,000 mines and four each retain more than 12,000 mines.11 The remainder each retain fewer than 1,000 mines. Another 86 States Parties have declared that they do not retain any antipersonnel mines, including 34 states that stockpiled antipersonnel mines in the past.

Over the past 20 years, ICBL concerns that the retention provision would be abused by a State Party using such mines in combat have not been realized. There have been some close calls that were resolved in true cooperative compliance fashion through quiet and sustained follow-up with the State Party concerned.

However, the retention by certain states of several thousand or more than 10,000 mines still raises significant compliance questions for the Mine Ban Treaty. The ICBL is especially concerned by States Parties with retained mines that have never used them for the treaty’s permitted purposes, as these are in essence stockpiled mines.

Cooperative Compliance

Each State Party facing the Mine Ban Treaty’s stockpile destruction deadline has met that obligation, with a handful of exceptions, some serious. This section looks at how the treaty’s innovative cooperative compliance provisions and mechanisms helped contribute to this largely positive outcome.12

During the whirlwind Ottawa Process that created the treaty, states prioritized securing an unequivocal prohibition of antipersonnel mines over creating complex verification provisions. According to one diplomat, “the thinking at the time by the majority of negotiating states was that it should be politically so costly to breach the obligations of the treaty that it would deter anyone from doing it.”13

A unique “cooperative compliance” approach proposed by Canada in early 1997 was ultimately incorporated into the final text of the treaty. Under Article 8, States Parties commit to “consult and cooperate with each other” and “work together in a spirit of cooperation” to implement provisions by providing financial, technical, and other assistance.

According to the ICBL chair, Stephen D. Goose of Human Rights Watch, the cooperative compliance approach “assumes goodwill on part of all States Parties … to try to resolve issues in the quietest, friendliest, least confrontational manner” by emphasizing assistance to States Parties to meet their obligations rather than criticism for failing to do so.14  

Article 8 also lists five compliance steps that the treaty’s States Parties can follow, but none have been attempted over the past 20 years.15 In addition, the treaty’s Article 6 provision stipulates that States Parties requiring assistance to fulfill their implementation obligations should “seek and receive assistance” from other State Parties. And Article 7 requires State Parties to provide a transparency measures report detailing their implementation within six months of the treaty taking effect for that country and annually thereafter, by 30 April.16

The transparency reporting requirement has provided States Parties, Landmine Monitor and others with a particularly valuable tool to review and confirm data on stockpiled landmines as well as track efforts to destroy them.

From the outset, the Mine Ban Treaty lacked a standing institutional structure. This reflected the desire of states to spend funds in the field on mine clearance and victim assistance rather than on costly secretariats.17 It also was due to concern that States Parties remain actively involved in overseeing implementation and addressing challenges.

Over the past two decades, States Parties and the Mine Ban Treaty community have gradually put in place a web of mechanisms and structures to enable implementation concerns to be resolved cooperatively before they escalate. A lightly staffed Geneva-based implementation support unit supports States Parties, including the chairs of various committees that oversee the implementation of specific Mine Ban Treaty provisions.

The treaty’s system of regular meetings and informal sessions have facilitated support for stockpile destruction by issuing joint action plans urging States Parties that missed their deadline to comply without delay and communicate their plans to do so as well as request assistance. The treaty’s rotating stockpile destruction chairs have overseen destruction efforts, helping States Parties to overcome challenges.

Lessons Learned

Below are seven lessons that can be drawn from stockpile destruction under the Mine Ban Treaty.

First, establish a clear deadline and robust transparency mechanisms. Without the four-year stockpile destruction deadline, it is highly unlikely that the Mine Ban Treaty’s impressive compliance rate could have been achieved. The ICBL fostered positive competition, challenging State Parties to declare and destroy their stockpiled mines in advance of the four-year deadline, setting certain events and earlier dates as completion targets.18  

Second, ride the political momentum generated from the treaty negotiation process. The ICBL encouraged swift destruction of stockpiled mines as an optimal and highly visible way for states to demonstrate their strong commitment towards implementation. Heads of states and senior ministers attended completion events covered by media with campaigners and survivors present.19

Third, ensure that States Parties requiring implementation support receive the financial and technical aid they seek. Most national militaries disposed of their own landmine stocks, sometimes with external donor funding, but more often after the government allocated a budget to ensure destruction. Mine action operators, police and others played a supportive role by assisting with inventory reviews, determining how to safely destroy landmines and assisting with physical destruction of stocks.

Fourth, realize that physical destruction of landmines generally does not require sophisticated facilities. The vast majority of stockpile antipersonnel mines were destroyed through open-burning/open-detonation (OB/OD). Where the size of the stockpile or environmental constraints precluded this, states parties often transferred mines to be destroyed at facilities in other countries operated by private companies. Ultimately, no stockpiled antipersonnel mines posed significant technical issues for States Parties to destroy with two notable exceptions: the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable mines and ADAM artillery-delivered mines.

Fifth, the Mine Ban Treaty experience demonstrated some of the side benefits that can come from the stockpile destruction. Several States Parties developed industrial processes to recover and recycle components with economic value as scrap metal. In some cases, the components were directly recycled into products. For example, Afghanistan melted the metal bodies of bounding fragmentation mines and refabricated them as manhole covers, while Ukraine has recycled the plastic bodies of some of its mines and made toy pelicans for children.

Sixth, civil society support and scrutiny is crucial to ensuring full compliance. Landmine Monitor published its first report prior to the submission deadline for states to provide their initial transparency reports under Article 7, thereby setting the standard for comprehensive and detailed reporting. Landmine Monitor’s analysis of Article 7 reports, together with its inquiries, reminders, and offers of assistance, have helped generate momentum towards stockpile destruction. When Landmine Monitor finds inconsistencies and irregularities, it engages with the State Party concerned to seek clarification and try to resolve the matter directly. 

Finally, the experience shows how no one wants to be at the top of the list when it comes to stockpiling weapons. In addition to tracking stockpiled mines, Landmine Monitor closely reviewed the quantities of mines retained by State Parties, drawing special attention to those retaining several thousand or more than 10,000 mines. Dozens of States Parties perceived this as negative publicity, especially if they were at the top of the list with the most mines, and responded by reducing the number retained or destroying the mines altogether.

Case Study: Chile

State Party Chile completed the destruction of its stockpile of 299,219 mines in August 2003, well in advance of the deadline of 1 March 2006. The process was notable for its transparency and high-level support. The Army and Navy destroyed the stocks by open detonation with assistance provided by the Organization of American States (OAS). Then-Minister of Defense Michelle Bachelet attended and spoke at several events held to mark the progressive destruction of the stocks. The ICBL, Landmine Monitor and media were also invited to witness the stockpile destruction at these events. In 2003, Chile announced that it would reduce the number of antipersonnel mines that it initially reported would be retained for training and research from 28,647. It now retains just over 2,000 mines.

Case Study: Greece

In its initial transparency report for the Mine Ban Treaty provided in 2004, State Party Greece disclosed a stockpile of 1.5 million antipersonnel mines. It started the process of stockpile destruction late, almost eight months after the 1 March 2008 deadline, and shipped a portion of the stockpile to Bulgaria for destruction. Complicated legal and contractual issues stalled any physical destruction for years. On 1 October 2014 a series of explosions demolished the Bulgarian facility of the subcontractor that held the mines, killing 15 workers. Greece resumed its efforts to destroy the stockpiled mines and committed to destroy them by the end of 2019. Earlier this year, Greece reported that 1,171,715 antipersonnel mines had been destroyed, while 396,452 mines were still to be destroyed.

Case Study: Japan

State Party Japan completed the destruction of its stockpile of one million antipersonnel mines within weeks of the treaty’s 1 March 2003 deadline. It contracted three private companies to destroy the mines at a cost of ¥ 2.068 billion (US$17.8 million). The process was notable for its high-level political support and engagement by communities living near the destruction facilities. Japan’s Prime Minister addressed 300 children from around the country at a youth summit on solutions to the landmine crisis that followed an official ceremony organized by mayor of Shin-Asahi to mark completion of the destruction process. Landmine Monitor visited the stockpile destruction facility in 2000, when Association for Aid and Relief Japan and the town organized a 70-kilometer charity run with landmine survivor Chris Moon, a former deminer, to raise awareness and support for the Mine Ban Treaty. 

Case Study: Libya

States outside the treaty have been far less open about their production, transfers, and stockpiles of landmines, but sometimes civil war and regime change enables unprecedented insights into previously hidden activities. Before the Arab Spring began in 2011, Libyan officials used to state that the country had never produced or exported antipersonnel mines and no longer stockpiled the weapon.20 Yet as the Gaddafi government progressively lost control of the country that year, government forces abandoned massive weapon depots containing landmines and other munitions.21 Their contents revealed that Libya had received hundreds of thousands of antipersonnel and antivehicle mines over the years, accumulating a stockpile of mines from countries including Belgium, Brazil, China, and the former Yugoslavia. Gaddafi forces used mines in 2011 and there is evidence that non-state armed groups continue to use them. Libyan authorities, United Nations agencies and mine clearance organizations have attempted to collect and destroy abandoned landmines, but many are still believed to be held by militias, criminal groups and in civilian hands. Imagine how many lives and limbs could have been saved if Libya had heeded calls to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

Case Study: Turkmenistan

State Party Turkmenistan reported the completion of its stockpile destruction on 28 February 2003, just ahead of its deadline.22 However, it also reported that it would retain 69,200 antipersonnel mines for demining training purposes. One year later, after several States Parties and the ICBL pointed out that the number was unacceptably high, Turkmenistan announced it would destroy the stockpile. It invited representatives from the ICBL and Human Rights Watch to witness destruction later that year. They discovered that Turkmenistan had, in fact, been retaining 572,200 individual antipersonnel mines, as most of the stock was air-delivered and it had counted only the containers and not the mines they held.

Case Study: Ukraine

In 2006, State Party Ukraine reported a stockpile of 6.6 million antipersonnel mines under its ownership or possession that it inherited from the break-up of the Soviet Union. After missing the 1 June 2010 destruction deadline, Ukraine destroyed 1.4 million antipersonnel mines from stocks between 2011 and 2017. Since 2015, NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency has been assisting with the operation to destroy the remaining stockpile of more than 5 million PFM mines at a facility in Ukraine. Belarus also missed its 1 March 2008 deadline after facing similar challenges with the extremely hazardous PFM antipersonnel mines, but completed the destruction of its stockpile in April 2017, including 3.4 million PFM-1 mines.

Conclusion

Over the past 20 years, the United States and other non-signatories have declined calls to join the Mine Ban Treaty yet tacitly supported it from the sidelines. Their arguments against joining have diminished and now boil down to a general skepticism over the utility of multilateral treaties as well as objections with the unconventional and unprecedented way in which the treaty was negotiated outside of United Nations auspices (but with firm United Nations support).

Yet the Mine Ban Treaty is thriving and provides a prime example of a multilateral instrument that is working to reduce and prevent human suffering. This is seen vividly in the way in which States Parties have swiftly destroyed their stockpiled mines.

Those facing such challenges in completing their stockpile destruction obligation have not been met with condemnation, but rather with the cooperative compliance approach. The method seems to be working as 20 years on, no State Party has triggered the treaty’s Article 8 provisions, yet.

  • 1. See “Conclusions on the status of implementation of Article 4 (Stockpile Destruction) of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention,” Mine Ban Treaty Seventeenth Meeting of States Parties, 25 September 2018. See also Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 4.
  • 2. See the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor website for annual reports and country profiles (http://www.the-monitor.org/en-gb/home.aspx).
  • 3. See also: Mary Wareham, “Evidence-Based Advocacy: Civil Society Monitoring of the Mine Ban Treaty,” in Wareham, Stephen D. Goose, and Jody Williams (eds.), Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security (Rowman & Littleford, 2008).
  • 4. Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, October 1993. https://www.hrw.org/news/1993/10/01/landmines-deadly-legacy
  • 5. International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Towards a mine-free world,” April 1999. This first report is available from the Monitor’s archived site: http://archives.the-monitor.org/
  • 6. States not party that have stockpiled antipersonnel mines: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, North Korea, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Libya, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Syria, United Arab Emirates, US, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
  • 7. Austria, Belgium, Canada, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Namibia, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, and Switzerland. See Landmine Monitor Report 1999.
  • 8. See Landmine Monitor Report 2004.
  • 9. See Landmine Monitor Report 2009.
  • 10. See Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 4.
  • 11. See Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 19.
  • 12. See also: Stephen D. Goose, “Goodwill Yields Good Results: Cooperative Compliance and the Mine Ban Treaty,” in Goose, Jody Williams, and Mary Wareham (eds.), Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security (Rowman & Littleford, 2008).
  • 13. Interview with Steffen Kongstad, Deputy Director General, Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo, 5 April 2006.
  • 14. Telephone Interview with Steve Goose, Executive Director Arms Division, Human Rights Watch, 11 April 2006.
  • 15. The treaty provides for five steps to be taken: 1) One or more States Parties can request information regarding allegations of non-compliance from the requested State Party that has 28 days to respond; 2) If the requested State Party fails to respond satisfactorily (or at all), the requesting state or states may either refer the matter to the next meeting of States Parties or, if one-third of members agree, convene a special meeting of States Parties; 3) If unable to resolve the issue, the meeting or special meeting of State Parties can authorize by majority vote a fact-finding mission to the State Party concerned by a team of experts selected from a list maintained by the UN Secretary-General; 4) The fact-finding mission must give at least 72 hours notice before its arrival, and may stay up to fourteen days after which it reports its findings to the meeting or special meeting of States Parties; 5) The meeting or special meeting of States Parties reviews the fact-finding mission’s report and then, by a two-thirds vote if consensus cannot be reached, may ask the requested State Party to take measures to address the compliance issue within a specified period of time, and suggest ways and means to resolve the matter, “including the initiation of appropriate procedures in conformity with international law.”
  • 16. The treaty requires that each State Party with stockpiled antipersonnel mines report and provide updated information annually on: 1) The total number of antipersonnel mines in its ownership or possession, or under its jurisdiction or control, including a breakdown of the type, quantity and, if possible, lot numbers of each type of stockpiled mine; 2) The status of programmes to destroy stockpiled antipersonnel mines, including details of the methods to be used in destruction, location of all destruction sites and the applicable safety and environmental standards to be observed; and 3) The types and quantities of all antipersonnel mines destroyed during the previous calendar year, including the full breakdown of the quantities, types and, if possible, lot numbers of each type of stockpiled mine. See ODA Article 7 monitoring website (https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/E262A17349C45BDEC12573ED00387359?OpenDocument).
  • 17. By 1997, there was already fatigue over the cost and needs of treaty support structures after the Chemical Weapons Convention created the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 1993 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty established its International Monitoring System in 1996.
  • 18. See for example, ICBL Press Release, “Landmines Campaign Challenges Governments to Complete Stockpile Destruction by September 2001,” (Buenos Aires, 6 November 2000).
  • 19. Such stockpile destruction events took place in Algeria, Croatia, Japan, Mozambique, and other states.
  • 20. Landmine Monitor interview with Col. Ali Alahrash, Ministry of Defense, Geneva, 16 March 2004.
  • 21. This included the 60-bunker Hight Razma facility near Benghazi, a 35-bunker facility near Ajdabiya, and a smaller facility near Tobruk. In September 2011, HRW visited in a Khamis Brigade base in the Salahadin neighborhood of Tripoli that included a farm compound holding approximately 15,000 antipersonnel mines and a nearby storage facility housing more than 100,000 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines. HRW, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011; and HRW, “Libya: Secure Unguarded Arms Depots,” 9 September 2011.
  • 22. Turkmenistan entry, Landmine Monitor Report 2004.
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, sitting, looks toward Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams, far left, after signing the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa on December 3, 1997.

© 2019 AP Photo/Tom Hanson

Today the Fourth Review Conference of the international Mine Ban Treaty opens in Oslo, Norway. A total of 164 states have joined the treaty, committing to cease production, use, and transfer of antipersonnel mines, to destroy their stockpiles, clear mine-affected areas, and assist mine survivors.  

It is worth celebrating the significant steps states have taken over the past 20 years to alleviate the suffering caused by antipersonnel mines through this treaty. Since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, 27 additional countries have joined, including many that possessed large stockpiles of or were significantly contaminated by landmines. New use of antipersonnel mines has decreased dramatically due to stigma created by the ban treaty. In 2018, only Myanmar, which has not joined the treaty, used antipersonnel mines. More than 50 states previously produced antipersonnel mines, but 41 have ceased production, including the United States and three others that have not joined the treaty. Governments have collectively destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines. A total of 31 countries once affected by antipersonnel mines have been declared mine-free. In 2018, funding for mine action totaled approximately $699.5 million, the second-highest yearly total to date.  

However, considerable challenges remain. Thirty-three states have yet to join the Mine Ban Treaty, including China, Russia, and the US. In 2018, non-state armed groups used antipersonnel landmines, often improvised versions, in six countries. According to the annual Landmine Monitor report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, over 6,800 people were killed or injured by landmines or explosive remnants of war in 2018. Where the age of victims was recorded, more than half of the casualties were children. Around the world, 55 countries are still mine-affected.

States still outside the treaty should take steps to join. They should participate in the Review Conference and other meetings of the treaty, submit voluntary transparency reports, and vote in favor of the annual United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting universalization and implementation of the treaty.

As a co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate along with Jody Williams, Human Rights Watch challenges all states to step up their efforts to achieve a landmine-free world under the auspices of the Mine Ban Treaty.

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

A Campaign to Stop Killer Robots publication on possible treaty elements. 

© 2019 Human Rights Watch

Major military powers are racing to embrace weapons that select and fire on targets without meaningful human control. This is raising the specter of immoral, unaccountable, largely uncontrollable weapon systems – killer robots. It is also driving fears of widespread proliferation and arms races leading to global and regional instability.

There is increasing recognition that it’s time to ring the alarm on these weapons systems. This month in Paris, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a new international treaty to ban killer robots, stating that “machines that have the power and discretion to kill without human intervention are politically unacceptable and morally despicable.”

Yet at last week’s meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the UN in Geneva, states made no progress towards launching negotiations on a treaty to ban or restrict such fully autonomous weapons. Instead, they agreed to spend the next two years developing a “normative and operational framework” to address concerns raised by such weapons systems.

This vague objective falls far short of what’s needed. Dozens of countries wish to negotiate a treaty to retain human control over the use of force, including 30 states that want a treaty banning killer robots. Yet, a handful of military powers, most notably Russia and the United States, block any movement in the direction of a legally binding instrument.

Geopolitics were on stark display at the CCW meeting. The US was mostly silent. Russia both dominated the discussions and attempted to exclude civil society from key sessions. China is playing both sides of the issue. Although it reiterated its desire to negotiate a treaty around the weapons systems, China is also among the nations most advanced in pursuing such weapons.

The next CCW meeting on killer robots will take place in six months. Meanwhile, other initiatives are working to build support for a treaty to ban killer robots. Brazil will hold a symposium on killer robots in Rio de Janiero next February, while the advocacy group, Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, will meet in Buenos Aires at the end of that month.

Within less than a decade, the killer robots have become one of the most pressing threats to humanity. There are signs that the public strongly supports regulation now. The only appropriate response is to launch negotiations to ban killer robots.

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

Delegates to the Convention on Conventional Weapons Meeting of High Contracting Parties deliberate the contents of the final report of the meeting on November 15, 2019. 

© Alev Erhan, 2019

Incendiary weapons drew widespread condemnation at last week’s annual meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), but interventions by Russia and the United States will keep the issue off the agenda next year.

Almost all states parties that spoke on the topic condemned recent use in Syria and pushed for further multilateral discussions. But Russia and the US insisted that existing international law is adequate and blocked proposals to set aside time in 2020 to discuss CCW Protocol III, which governs the weapons. Since CCW meetings operate by consensus, opposition from the two countries was enough to keep Protocol III off next year’s agenda.

Despite that setback, the majority of states concerned about the cruel effects of incendiary weapons succeeded in joining forces and refusing to let major military powers sweep a matter of humanitarian concern under the rug. The meeting’s final report reflected these states’ widespread concern and calls to reinstate the agenda item.

Incendiary weapons, which produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, can inflict severe burns, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma.  

While Protocol III imposes restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, its definition of the weapons excludes multipurpose munitions, like white phosphorus, that have incendiary effects but are primarily designed for other purposes. The protocol also has weaker regulations for ground-launched incendiary weapons than air-dropped ones.

At least 14 of the 17 states parties that spoke about incendiary weapons condemned or expressed concern about recent use. At least 12 called for dedicated CCW discussions to assess and/or strengthen of Protocol III. The European Union, which represented 28 member states and three others, also condemned the use of incendiary weapons on civilians or in civilian areas and requested that Protocol III be put back on the agenda.

Over the coming year, countries should continue to condemn the use of incendiary weapons and renew their push for dedicated time to discuss Protocol III. In the long run, they should prepare to revisit the protocol at the CCW’s 2021 Review Conference, with an eye to increasing its impact by closing its loopholes.

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

Buildings destroyed by explosive weapons in the Ramouseh neighborhood of eastern Aleppo, Syria.

© 2019 AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Summary and Recommendations

States are currently engaged in a political process to address the consequences of using explosive weapons in populated areas. That process was launched in October 2019 when more than 130 states gathered in Austria for the Vienna Conference on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare.1 Over the coming months, states will convene in Geneva to negotiate the text of a political declaration to reduce the civilian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, also known as EWIPA. 

Related Content

Political declarations are documents in which states commit to achieving political goals through individual and coordinated action. Although not legally binding, these political commitments carry significant weight.  They outline standards for state conduct and clarify existing international law. They shape state behavior and advance a common goal.

The current process toward a political declaration aims to address the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly weapons with wide area effects. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, they cause immediate and long-term harm to the civilian population and civilian infrastructure.2 In particular, the use of EWIPA kills and injures large numbers of civilians and causes psychological harm. Hundreds of thousands of civilians across almost 120 countries have been killed or injured by explosive weapons in the past decade alone, and 90 percent of those civilian casualties occurred in populated areas.3 Reverberating effects include damage to critical infrastructure and displacement of the local population, among other adverse impacts.4

To inform the content of a new political declaration, Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic have conducted a study of existing declarations. Focusing on political declarations related to the conduct and consequences of armed conflict (see appendix for a complete list), they assessed the structure and components of these documents. This report identifies seven key components that are common to armed conflict-related political declarations: an introduction identifying the problem of concern and six categories of commitments.

This report examines each of these components. It describes what the component entails; lays out the precedent, found in existing conflict-related declarations, for including it; discusses how that component could be applied in the forthcoming political declaration on the use of EWIPA; and explains the value of the component in bolstering political declarations and states’ movement toward common goals. The commitments proposed by the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), a civil society coalition co-founded by Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2011, parallel the structure identified in this report.5

Based on their study, Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic recommend that a political declaration on the use of EWIPA draw on the model of previous conflict-related declarations and include the following components:

  • Adoption of practical measures that concretely address EWIPA-related harms;
  • Assistance for victims of past and future explosive weapons use;

  • Adoption and promulgation of laws and policies to prevent and remediate the harm caused by explosive weapons;

  • Gathering and sharing of disaggregated data to track the problems associated with use of EWIPA and progress toward addressing them; and

  • Establishment of a framework for continued engagement around the use of EWIPA.6

Introductory Section

Description and Precedent

Each of the armed conflict-related political declarations reviewed for this report includes an introductory section that provides context for the declaration and that is followed by a series of commitments. The introduction usually includes a statement of the problem the declaration aims to alleviate and refers to existing international law and parallel efforts to address the problem.

The problem statements lay out the key issues the declarations seek to address and why those issues matter. The 2010 Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence, for example, begin by identifying armed violence as “a fundamental challenge to our common humanitarian and development goals.”7 The 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict describes the “widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflicts around the world [as] one of the greatest, most persistent and most neglected injustices.”8 The 2015 Safe Schools Declaration highlights the “urgent humanitarian, development and wider social challenges” presented by the “impact of armed conflict on education,” and then elaborates on the many ways that the failure to protect educational infrastructure during war adversely affects children.9

Many political declarations dealing with armed conflict also cite widely endorsed treaties, especially the Geneva and Hague Conventions, in their introductions. These declarations tend to invoke international law in three different ways. First, they frequently highlight how the practice of concern in the declaration is already violating international law, and in so doing, bolster the case for a response.  The 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, for example, notes that “rape and other forms of serious sexual violence in armed conflict … constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their first Protocol.”10 Second, declarations sometimes refer to international law in order to clarify the legal context behind a particular issue. The 2007 Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or Use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups recall “all the international instruments relevant to the prevention of recruitment or use of children in armed conflict, their protection and reintegration, and to the fight against impunity for violators of children’s rights, as well as relevant regional instruments.”11 Finally, declarations encourage states to sign onto other relevant legal instruments. The 2007 Paris Commitments, for example, stress in particular the importance of ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child.12

Declarations also frequently note parallel efforts that advance the same objectives. The 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, for example, welcomes the non-binding Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, which “draw on existing good practice” and “provide guidance” to reduce the impact of armed conflict on education.13 That declaration additionally “commends” other international bodies for their work on the topic, notably the United Nations for monitoring the effects of armed violence on education and children, and recognizes the importance of two UN Security Council resolutions that urge states to protect children and their educational facilities during armed conflict.14

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

A problem statement on the use of EWIPA, especially those with wide area effects, should highlight the documented pattern of harm to civilians and civilian objects. In particular, the problem statement should spotlight the high incidence of civilian death and injury, infliction of psychological distress, damage to essential infrastructure, interference with health care and education, generation of displacement on a large scale, degradation of the environment, denial of humanitarian access, and contamination of territory with explosive remnants of war.15 This list would impress upon states the grave harms caused by the use of explosive weapons, especially those with wide area effects, in populated areas and the need for a declaration to increase protections for civilians.

An EWIPA political declaration should also include references to existing international law. International humanitarian law requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between civilians and combatants and prohibits the infliction of disproportionate harm.16  As the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) has noted, the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, which is a “major cause of harm to civilians and of disruption of services essential for their survival,” is “very likely to have indiscriminate effects” and to violate international humanitarian law.17 Such a reference to existing law would underscore the problem of EWIPA and provide legal grounding for the declaration.

A political declaration could also note parallel efforts to recognize and address the problem of EWIPA. In particular, it could cite the UN Secretary-General’s annual protection of civilian reports and the recent Agenda for Disarmament, both of which recognize the harm caused by the use of EWIPA.18 The latter also calls for development of a political declaration and “new efforts to rein in the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, through common standards, the collection of data on collateral harm and the sharing of policy and practice.”19

Value of Introductory Sections

The introduction of a political declaration provides a touchstone for the general and specific commitments that follow by describing the problem at issue and placing it in a legal context. The introduction allows states to unite around clear and common concerns while setting the stage for the work they agree to do separately and together in furthering their shared objective. The problem statement in particular can provide extra motivation for states to endorse and robustly implement the declaration. Finally, references to existing international law and parallel efforts bolster the political declaration by providing a strong grounding in states’ pre-existing commitments and situating new commitments in a broader context.

General Commitment to Address the Problem

Description and Precedent

Political declarations often include a general commitment to address the problem identified in the introduction. The broadest commitment of a declaration, it presents the document’s primary objective. In so doing, it can help frame the remaining, more specific commitments that seek to advance that goal. General commitments sometimes appear as part of the introduction, and sometimes within the list of commitments that follows.20   

General commitments in conflict-related political declarations take a variety of different forms. For example, countries can commit to “end” a problem, “spare no effort to end” a problem, or “promote” solutions to a problem.21 In the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, states resolve to “reduce armed violence and its negative impact on socio-economic and human development.”22 The 2017 Political Declaration on the Protection of Medical Care in Armed Conflict includes an overarching commitment to “take practical measures to enhance the protection of, and prevent acts of violence against, the medical and humanitarian personnel.”23 The declaration goes on to enumerate such practical measures.

Sometimes these general commitments include multiple parts that elaborate on how states will achieve a broader aim. For instance, in the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, countries state that “[b]y working together, sharing our knowledge and our experience, mobilising resources and committing our global political will we are determined to end the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of war.”24  

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

In an EWIPA declaration, states should commit to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Wide area effects, which exacerbate the harm caused by the use of EWIPA, are attributable to the inaccuracy of a weapon, a large blast radius, and/or the delivery of multiple munitions at the same time. While the exact wording remains to be determined, a commitment to “stop” the use of EWIPA with wide area effects would have the greatest humanitarian impact because of the strength of the language.

Another proposal on the table is a general commitment to “avoid” the practice. The so-called avoidance policy proposed by the ICRC relates to international humanitarian law’s principle of proportionality. That principle prohibits attacks in which the expected harm to civilians and civilian objects would be excessive compared to the anticipated military advantage.25 The ICRC suggests that a commitment to “avoid” would create a presumption that the use of heavy explosive weapons in a populated area would cause disproportionate harm and be unlawful “unless sufficient mitigation measures are taken to limit the … consequent risk of incidental civilian harm.”26 Under this presumption, a state would have to demonstrate that it has taken sufficient measures to limit civilian harm in order to prove that the presumption against the use of EWIPA can be overcome.

Value of General Commitments

A strong general commitment can be the most critical pledge within a political declaration. The general commitment serves as a core mission statement and focuses the efforts of endorsing countries. It can also create cohesion among countries that endorse the declaration and agree to work toward a common objective. This commitment can further influence non-endorsing states and non-state actors by clarifying and crystallizing norms while generating stigma around unacceptable behavior.

Adoption of Practical Measures

Description and Precedent

Commitments to adopt practical measures identify specific, concrete steps that states agree to take to implement the general commitment or achieve the broader goals of the political declaration. These commitments are more precise and action oriented than a general commitment.

Because of their specificity, commitments to adopt practical measures vary widely depending on the problem a declaration targets. Some are directed at national programs designed to advance the declaration’s objective. For example, the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict commits states to “[e]nsur[ing] that sexual violence prevention and response efforts are prioritised and adequately funded.”27 Other commitments regarding practical measures deal with state conduct.  In the 2006 Declaration on Anti-Vehicle Mines, states pledged not to “use any anti-vehicle mine outside of a perimeter-marked area if that mine is not detectable.”28

Political declarations also commit states to take practical steps at the international level. For example, in the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, states pledge “where in a position to do so, [to] provide and facilitate international cooperation and assistance to programmes working to prevent or respond to attacks on education.”29

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

Commitments to adopt practical measures could take various forms in an EWIPA declaration. To prevent the harm caused by the use of EWIPA and implement the general commitment, they should encourage states to exchange best practices and update training and equipment, steps that would help improve civilian protection in urban warfare. To remediate harm that has occurred, the commitments should call on states to sponsor protection measures that enable communities to better reduce harm on their own, support the timely clearance of areas contaminated by explosive remnants of war, and promote and ensure unimpeded access to inclusive humanitarian aid. At an international level, the commitments should encourage states to provide international cooperation and assistance.30 These examples are just some of the practical commitments that states could include in an EWIPA declaration.

Value of Adopting Practical Measures

Commitments to adopt practical measures identify critical action areas that are designed to address the overarching problem. These types of commitments supplement the broad general commitment by specifying action areas for states to prioritize when working to address the problem.

Enumerating concrete actions to be taken makes it easier for states to implement the political declaration in an effective and timely manner. Furthermore, given that progress toward the general goals can be harder to assess, these specific commitments provide metrics against which countries can judge their progress and the progress of others.

Victim Assistance

Description and Precedent

Most political declarations related to armed conflict include commitments to assist victims harmed by the activities or weapons that are the focus of the declaration. Victim assistance encompasses a wide range of measures devoted to remediating ongoing human suffering regardless of when it was caused. In particular, it includes emergency and continuing medical care, physical rehabilitation, psychological and psycho-social support, measures to ensure the social and economic inclusion of survivors, and the adoption or adjustment of relevant laws and public policies supported by data collection and analysis.31

An integrated approach realizes victim assistance through wider development, human rights, and humanitarian efforts, in addition to specific initiatives aimed at addressing the needs of survivors.32 To recognize the dignity and rights of victims, such an approach also requires meaningful inclusion of victims, non-discrimination, and sensitivity to age and gender.33

The concept of victim assistance originated and has been codified in disarmament treaties. The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty commits states parties to provide assistance for people harmed by a specific type of weapon in its preamble and its provision concerning international cooperation.34 The 2003 Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War to the Convention on Conventional Weapons and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions include articles fully dedicated to the needs of victims and their rights to receive assistance.35

Victim assistance has also been incorporated in many political declarations. For example, in the 2010 Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence, states committed to “[r]ecognise the rights of victims of armed violence in a non-discriminatory manner, including provision for their adequate care and rehabilitation, as well as their social and economic inclusion, in accordance with national laws and applicable international obligations.”36 In the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, states committed to “[p]rovide better, more timely and comprehensive assistance and care, including health and psychosocial care that addresses the long-term consequences of sexual violence in conflict, to female, male and child victims and their families, including children born as the result of sexual violence.”37

In addition to the provision of services for critically injured individuals,38 survivors, and indirect victims, victim assistance can include support for the rebuilding of public infrastructure and compensation for the loss of property and livelihoods.39 For example, the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration includes a commitment to “support the re-establishment of educational facilities.”40 Reconstruction of infrastructure sometimes falls under the umbrella of victim assistance, although it can also be treated as one of the practical measures discussed above.

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

A political declaration on EWIPA should include a commitment to recognize the rights of victims, including individuals, their families, and affected communities, and to provide them services. Humanity & Inclusion, an NGO with particular expertise in this area,41 has recommended specifically that states, while upholding the principle of non-discrimination, should commit to ensuring that victims have their basic needs met; access to mainstream services, personal support, and disability-specific services; and assistance to compensate for the loss of their homes and/or livelihoods due to the use of explosive weapons.

Humanity & Inclusion also recommends complementary remedial commitments on reconstruction of public infrastructure, unimpeded access to principled and inclusive humanitarian aid, international cooperation and assistance, risk education, and the clearance of explosive remnants of war.42 Integrated support for affected communities is especially important in the EWIPA context, where damage to infrastructure often has severe reverberating consequences.

Value of Assisting Victims

Including a robust commitment to victim assistance addresses the needs and protects the rights of those most affected by the harm addressed in a political declaration. It is also key to ensuring a comprehensive and long-term response to the problem.

At the same time, a commitment to assist victims can bolster cooperation and support for affected states. Effective victim assistance often relies on the mobilization of both national and international resources. Countries experiencing violence related to armed conflict are not always well-positioned to respond quickly to the needs of victims within their borders. A commitment to support affected states with the provision of victim assistance helps bridge that gap and ensure that services reach those who need it most. 

Adoption and Promulgation of Laws and Policies

Description and Precedent

Political declarations usually include commitments to adopt and promulgate laws and policies. This kind of commitment can involve national or international measures, or both.43

Many armed conflict-related political declarations include commitments for endorsing states to take action at the national level, including by ensuring that domestic law and policy are consistent with pledges made in the declaration. For example, the 2017 Political Declaration on the Protection of Medical Care in Armed Conflict includes an agreement stating that “[endorsing states will review] national legislation, policies and procedures relevant to the protection of medical care in armed conflict.”44 The 2013 G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict includes a commitment for “[g]overnments [to] review the doctrine and training provided to their national military and police where appropriate to ensure that it includes training for appropriate personnel deployed to relevant theatres on the implications of rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.”45 Similarly, in the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, states agree to “[e]nsure our national military and police doctrine and training is in accordance with international law so as to enable a more effective prevention and response to sexual violence in conflict.”46

Commitments on laws and policies can, and usually do, encourage action at the international level, such as by calling for the development of new international law. For example, in the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, parties agree to “[promote] the development of further international instruments, including legally binding ones.”47 In the 2006 Declaration on Cluster Munitions, states “call for an agreement” to “prohibit the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions that pose serious humanitarian hazards.”48

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

In an EWIPA political declaration, commitments to adopt and promulgate laws and policies could include a number of different items. For example, the declaration should include a commitment that endorsing states will review and adapt their domestic military policies to ensure they are in line with the principles of the declaration. Similarly, it should include a commitment that endorsing states adopt legal and administrative measures to provide victim assistance. On the international level, the declaration could encourage the development of other international agreements or guidelines down the road.

Value of Adopting and Promulgating Laws and Policies

There are numerous reasons to include commitments to adopt and promulgate laws and policies in a political declaration.  Whether legally binding or not, international agreements are most effective when they are accompanied by national implementation measures. For example, agreeing to review and, if necessary, amend national military codes and policies can help ensure the most relevant actors have internalized the political declaration’s commitments. By encouraging the development of law and policy at the national level, this kind of commitment shows respect for state sovereignty. It acknowledges that states may know best how to tailor the measures of the declaration to fit their own national systems and circumstances.

A commitment to adopt and promulgate laws and policies at the international level can also have benefits. It can lead to further development of international law or standards at a later stage. In the interim, it can build and bolster legal standards and norms, thus extending the commitment’s impact beyond the states that endorse a particular declaration. By crystallizing international norms, such a commitment can influence the conduct of states that have not endorsed the declaration and non-state actors, including non-state armed groups that seek legitimacy on the international stage. In addition, civilian victims from non-endorsing states might benefit from international assistance or at least from the public recognition of the harm they suffered.

Data Gathering and Sharing

Description and Precedent

Armed conflict-related political declarations often include a commitment to support and improve the collection and sharing of data. Relevant data can include the number of casualties, disaggregated by sex, age, and ability, and the incidence of other types of harms. For example, endorsers of to the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict pledge to “[e]ncourage and improve the safe and ethical collection of data and evidence relating to acts of sexual violence committed in conflict, to inform national and international responses.”49 In the 2010 Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence, states agree to “[m]easure and monitor the incidence and impact of armed violence at national and sub-national levels in a transparent way.”50

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

In the context of EWIPA, a political declaration should include a commitment to undertake and support others in undertaking data gathering and reporting. The data collected should encompass the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the type of weapon used, casualties, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure and housing.51 Data on casualties should be sorted, in particular, by age, gender, and nature of injury.

Some states already collect data related to EWIPA use. For instance, states parties to Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War to the Convention on Conventional Weapons are obligated to collect information on their own use of explosive ordnance in conflict.52 More generally, states have a duty to gather data on the impact of particular weapons on civilians in order to comply with international humanitarian law. Without in any way supplanting or assuming this primary duty of states, NGOs also are sometimes involved in the collection of such data.53

Value of Gathering and Sharing Data

Data collection can improve implementation of the declaration’s other commitments. It helps assess the effectiveness of the declaration and what further steps could be taken to strengthen the content of and compliance with the commitment. Data may also inform the design and updating of relevant programs as needed. For example, detailed data can provide states with lessons for future operations, with the goal of mitigating civilian harm. If, as discussed below, states convene further meetings focused on the issue or on the declaration’s implementation, it is particularly useful for states and supporting NGOs to have information on the declaration’s effectiveness and progress toward achieving its goals.

Collection and publication of accurate information also benefits victims. It provides ongoing recognition of the harm victims experience. In so doing, it can honor survivors and bolster efforts to mitigate or remedy their suffering. Reliable data on the numbers of victims and their circumstances, as well as information about affected communities, further facilitates the provision of victim assistance, which is discussed above. In addition, by spotlighting ongoing problems, as well as progress spurred by the declaration, the data encourages more states to join a declaration. 

Finally, a commitment to gathering and sharing data allows for monitoring of progress and promotes accountability among states. Monitoring sheds light on compliance, both with relevant existing international law and with the new political commitments in the declaration. The information gathered can then help hold states responsible for implementing their legal obligations and political commitments. For example, in the 2007 Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or Use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups, the monitoring efforts that states commit to supporting are aimed at uncovering “violations of child rights in armed conflict, including the unlawful recruitment or use of children.”54

Establishment of a Framework for Continued Engagement

Description and Precedent

Most political declarations include a commitment that endorsing states will continue engaging with the problem at hand. Such commitments often take the form of agreements to convene the group that negotiated the political declaration along with states that more recently endorsed the declaration.  

These commitments can specify the regularity by which future meetings will occur, actual dates and/or locations for future meetings, the general need to reconvene, or any combination of these agreements. For example, the 2006 Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development includes a commitment to “meet[] again no later than 2008 to assess our progress in achieving these goals.”55 The 2015 Safe Schools Declaration includes a commitment to “[m]eet on a regular basis,”56 while the 2016 Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles says that endorsers “are resolved to continue discussions.”57

Commitments that establish a framework for continued engagement frequently identify specific reasons why further work is necessary. The 2016 Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, for example, highlights the need for states that have endorsed the declaration to keep international standards up to date with “the rapid development of UAV technology.”58 The 2013 G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict cites “a considered review of the implementation of the above commitments” as the rationale for continued engagement.59 Similarly, the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration states that the purpose of meeting regularly in the future is to “review the implementation of this declaration and the use of the [corresponding] guidelines.”60 In the 2013 Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, states agree to “[s]upport and encourage the development of the International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict at national, regional and international levels, with a view to its conclusion in 2014.”61

Application to an EWIPA Declaration

A political declaration on the use of explosive weapons should include a commitment for the states that are endorsing the declaration to meet again regularly. The commitment could also specify that discussions at these future meetings should focus on sharing information gathered, exchanging best practices, and determining what, if any, changes are necessary to strengthen implementation measures currently being undertaken. In particular, at these future meetings, states could analyze the ongoing use of explosive weapons and whether current measures associated with the declaration are sufficient.62 

Value of Establishing a Framework for Continued Engagement

Committing to establish a framework for continued engagement can be useful in several ways. First, such a commitment creates a framework for sharing ideas and information related to the declaration and its implementation. States can review the data gathered regarding the status of the problem being addressed and the progress made toward addressing it. This information can help states assess the adequacy of the political declaration and consider whether additional steps are needed. States can also exchange best practices and lessons learned regarding the operationalization of other commitments.

Second, like the data-gathering commitment, a commitment to continue engagement can facilitate compliance monitoring and promote accountability. The prospect of regular meetings can motivate states that have endorsed the declaration to achieve certain goals before they report to their peers. These meetings provide an opportunity to determine which states may need international assistance in order to achieve their political commitments. Continued engagement also normalizes and reifies the principles laid out in the declaration.

Third, a commitment to engage gives states the opportunity to address issues that they did not have the time or political will to address during the declaration drafting period.

Fourth, this kind of commitment creates an opportunity for parties to foster relationships and build on the political declaration. For example, a plan to meet again can provide a forum for states that are interested in developing other agreements complementary to the declaration in the future.

Appendix

Political Declarations Analyzed

Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, 2013: Declaration to end rape and sexual violence in armed conflict.

Declaration on Anti-Vehicle Mines, 2006: Declaration developed through the forum of the Convention on Conventional Weapons calling on governments to limit their use of anti-vehicle mines.

Declaration on Cluster Munitions, 2006: Declaration developed through the forum of the Convention on Conventional Weapons calling for an agreement to prohibit cluster munitions.

G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, 2013: Declaration in which G8 foreign ministers recognize the need to work together to end sexual violence in conflict.

Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development, 2006: Declaration to curb the negative effects of armed violence on development.

Joint Declaration for the Export and Subsequent Use of Armed or Strike-Enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), 2016: Declaration identifying principles to ensure the responsible export and subsequent use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Oslo Commitments on Armed Violence, 2010: Declaration outlining measures to prevent and reduce armed violence.

Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or Use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups, 2007: Declaration to end the recruitment and use of children by armed forces or armed groups.

Political Declaration on the Protection of Medical Care in Armed Conflict, 2017: Declaration to enhance protection of, and prevent acts of violence against, medical and humanitarian personnel.

Safe Schools Declaration, 2015: Declaration on preventing attacks on education during armed conflict, which includes endorsement of Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Buildings destroyed by explosive weapons in the Ramouseh neighborhood of eastern Aleppo, Syria.

© 2019 AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
(Geneva) – Governments should make a commitment to protect civilians from the harmful impacts of explosive weapons used in towns and cities during conflicts, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today at a diplomatic conference in Geneva. 
 

The 23-page report, “A Commitment to Civilians: Precedent for a Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas,” co-published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, lays out the components of a new political declaration on explosive weapons, bolstering its case with precedent from existing declarations.

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Explosive weapons, including artillery shells, rockets, mortars, and air-dropped bombs, have recently caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other countries. Civilians are often killed or injured by the initial explosion, crushed by collapsing buildings, or maimed by explosive remnants of war. Reverberating effects include damage to homes and essential infrastructure, interference with health care and education, large-scale displacement of people, degradation of the environment, and denial of humanitarian access.  

“We should not look away from today’s victims of conflict, who are all too often civilians living in towns and cities that are under attack from bombs, rockets, artillery shells, and other explosive weapons,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Military forces should avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas due to the unacceptable harm they often cause.”

Two types of explosive weapons – antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions – have been prohibited outright due to their indiscriminate and devastating effects on civilians. Yet other types of explosive weapons used in populated areas, especially those with wide-area effects, have become the primary cause of civilian harm in many of today’s armed conflicts, the organizations found.

In October 2019, more than 130 countries met in Austria to discuss how to better protect civilians in urban warfare. That meeting began a process in which, over the coming months, countries will negotiate the text of a political declaration aimed at reducing the civilian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The current process is focused in particular on explosive weapons with wide-area effects, which can be attributed to inaccurate weapons, weapons with a large blast radius, or the delivery of multiple munitions at the same time. The declaration should recognize the rights of victims and affected communities.

Political declarations commit countries to individual and coordinated action to achieve agreed-upon political goals. While not legally binding, such commitments carry significant weight because they outline standards for conduct and clarify existing international law. For example, the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, now endorsed by 99 countries, presses governments and others involved in armed conflict to restrict the military use of schools and to keep children in school during conflicts.

Political declarations almost always include commitments to adopt relevant practical measures and promulgate laws and policies at the national or international level, Human Rights Watch and the clinic said. Countries may pledge, for example, to reform military policies, increase training, and exchange best practices. Political declarations also usually include commitments to assist victims, gather and share data, and continue to engage with the problem at hand.

All of these commitments should be included in a political declaration on explosive weapons, the organizations said.

Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the International Network on Explosive Weapons, a coalition established by humanitarian, legal, and other civil society groups in 2011 to push for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

“Civilians in many countries are suffering enormous harm daily from the use of explosive weapons in urban areas,” said Docherty, who is also associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the clinic. “Countries should come together to say that they will do everything they can to protect people from this harm and to plan a course of action.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you Mr. Chair.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is the rapidly growing coalition of more than 130 non-governmental organizations in 60 countries working with urgency to prohibit fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Mr. Chair, it’s abundantly clear from the Convention on Conventional Weapons deliberations since 2014 that such weapons systems raise a host of fundamental ethical, moral, legal, accountability, operational, and security challenges. These will only increase until there is regulation.

Weapons systems that would select and engage targets on the basis of sensor processing and that do not allow for meaningful human control will cross the threshold of acceptability and must be prohibited.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urges states to launch negotiations here at the CCW or elsewhere on a legally binding instrument to ban fully autonomous weapons and preserve meaningful human control over the use of force. As we know well by now, this goal is now firmly shared by dozens of states, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, non-governmental organizations, and technology companies and workers.

Increasingly, we find that this goal is shared by the general public. A new poll out this week of ten European countries shows that three-quarters of those surveyed want their governments to work towards an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

One key finding is that the men and women surveyed supported the goal of a killer robots ban treaty in equal numbers. But note that for the minority of respondents who did not express support for a new treaty, more men opposed such a treaty than women. More women were undecided on the question of banning killer robots than men.

Mr. Chair, the CCW has been building a shared understanding on this issue for years now. But it struggles to agree on credible recommendations for multilateral action due to the objections of a handful of military powers, most notably Russia and the United States. Yet again, a couple of states can abuse a concept of ‘consensus’ to curb the ambition of a majority of the participating states and prevent a more focused mandate that would enable a more productive conversation.

It’s time to chart a new pathway forward. Last month at the United Nations General Assembly, foreign ministers from dozens of countries highlighted the importance of multilateral action on killer robots by signing on to the high-level political declaration presented by France and Germany.

With the political declaration behind us, we ask: what’s next? Commitments to discuss vague ‘normative frameworks’ and additional ‘guiding principles’ are a form of diplomatic treading water. You do not have time or money to waste on inconclusive deliberations. We have to ask if the purpose of these CCW talks to legitimize the development, production and use of killer robots? Because it increasingly looks like that to us. Is this what you mean by “operationalize”?

We have been listening carefully for any initiatives that you plan to undertake next year to address this concern outside of this forum as two weeks of CCW meetings per year are completely insufficient to make any meaningful progress. We welcome the symposium that Brazil plans to hold next February and urge all of you to consider how to advance discussions outside of the CCW.

Our Campaign will hold a regional meeting next month in Pakistan and then a global meeting of our membership in Argentina in February. We are focusing on building national understanding of this issue and seeking bold political leadership, which is clearly needed to achieve the goal of a new treaty.

To close, I was to remind you all that our coalition is not driven by concerns over “killer robots running amok” but rather by the urgent need to tackle the serious threats that fully autonomous weapons pose to our very humanity.

A new international ban treaty is the normative framework that’s urgently needed to prevent a dangerous future of lethal autonomous weapons systems. A new treaty is both achievable and necessary. It is a humanitarian priority and an ethical obligation.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Thank you for the floor.

Human Rights Watch is one of the founders of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and the global coordinator of the Campaign. Over the past six years, we have urged High Contracting Parties to identify options for addressing the host of dangers posed by fully autonomous weapons, and to act concretely on those options.

We remain convinced that the only viable option is a preemptive prohibition on the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons. A majority of the world’s nations have called for negotiations on a legally binding instrument with prohibitions and restrictions. The UN SecretaryGeneral has called these weapons “morally repugnant and politically unacceptable.”

Yet a small group of states continues to impede significant progress in the CCW. The time is rapidly approaching when options other than the CCW must be considered.

Lethal autonomous weapons systems are not the only issue of deep concern in the CCW. Human Rights Watch also places a high priority on incendiary weapons. As we note in a new paper released this week, Protocol III imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but fails to provide sufficient protections for civilians.

Over the past year, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has continued to use incendiary weapons in or near civilian areas in Syria. In May and June alone, incendiary weapons were used at least 27 times, mostly in Idlib governorate, but the total number is most likely higher. A May 25 incendiary weapon attack in the Khan Sheikhoun area of Idlib burned approximately 175,000 square meters of farmland.

Since the conflict in Syria began in 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented about 150 incendiary weapon attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance. Human Rights Watch has used open-source material, satellite imagery analysis, and interviews to identify the attacks.

Incendiary weapons can inflict severe burns, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. They also start fires that destroy civilian homes, objects, and infrastructure.

There is a clear humanitarian imperative to deal with these cruel weapons. Yet at the last annual meeting of the CCW in November 2018, Russia blocked consensus on a widely supported proposal to continue dedicated discussions on incendiary weapons in 2019.

Protocol III has two major loopholes. First, its definition of incendiary weapons excludes multipurpose weapons, such as those with white phosphorus. White phosphorus munitions may be primarily designed to provide smokescreens or illumination, but they can inflict the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons.

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

During this meeting, High Contracting Parties should take the following steps:

  • set aside time in 2020 for an in-depth discussion of the implementation and adequacy of Protocol III;
  • condemn any use of incendiary weapons;
  • express their views on the adequacy of Protocol III, and elaborate policies and practices more generally; and
  • reinstate incendiary weapons as a separate agenda item for the CCW.

For the longer term, states should work to close Protocol III’s loopholes and further stigmatize the use of incendiary weapons, with an eye to agreeing to amend the instrument at the 2021 Review Conference.

Thank you.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots conducts a visual stunt in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany in March 2018. 

© 2018 Clare Conboy
(Geneva) – Almost three in every four people responding to a new poll in 10 European countries want their governments to work for an international treaty prohibiting lethal autonomous weapons systems, Human Rights Watch said today. At the conclusion of a diplomatic meeting scheduled for November 13-15, 2019, states will determine the next steps for addressing the threats posed by such weapons, which, once activated, would select and attack targets without human intervention.

“Banning killer robots is both politically savvy and morally necessary,” said Mary Wareham, the Arms Division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “European states should take the lead and open ban treaty negotiations if they are serious about protecting the world from this horrific development.”

Countries attending the annual meeting of states parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the United Nations in Geneva will decide on November 15 whether to continue diplomatic talks on killer robots, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems or fully autonomous weapons.

Since 2014, these states have held eight meetings on lethal autonomous weapons systems under the auspices of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), a major disarmament treaty. Over the course of those meetings, states have built a shared understanding of concern, but they have struggled to reach agreement on credible recommendations for multilateral action due to the objections of a handful of military powers, most notably Russia and the United States. These nations, along with China, Israel, and South Korea, are investing significantly in weapons with decreasing levels of human control in their critical functions, driving fears of widespread proliferation and arms races leading to global and regional instability.

Past failures by CCW states parties 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.

“We clearly need to begin charting a new path forward in a new forum, by 2021 at the latest, as the current talks seem destined for failure,” Wareham said. “Commitments to discuss vague ‘normative frameworks’ and additional ‘guiding principles’ are simply a form of diplomatic treading water.”

Human Rights Watch co-founded and coordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which commissioned the survey by the global public opinion and data company YouGov. The survey was conducted in October in Belgium, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. The governments of these countries all agree that it is important to retain human control over the use of force, but none are currently working for new international law on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The poll asked: “Do you think [COUNTRY] should work towards an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems?” The YouGov survey used random respondent pools of 500 – 1,000 people in each country, except Germany, which used a random respondent pool of 2,047 people.

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents said they favor their country working for an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Thirteen percent did not, while 14 percent said they were not sure or preferred not to answer.

The strongest support was in Ireland (81 percent), the Netherlands (80 percent), Hungary (78 percent), and Spain (77 percent) followed by Italy (75 percent), Norway (72 percent), Switzerland (72 percent), Belgium (71 percent), and Germany (69 percent). In Finland, 60 percent of respondents favored their government working for an international treaty to ban killer robots, but more than a quarter (28 percent) said they did not know.

Support for creating a killer robots treaty was strong among both women (74 percent) and men (71 percent). However, more men (17 percent) opposed the idea of their country working to ban killer robots compared to women (10 percent), who were more likely to be undecided (16 percent) than men (12 percent).

All age groups polled expressed support for a treaty (from 67 percent to 78 percent). Those most in favor were age 55 or above.

Since 2013, 30 countries have called for a ban on fully autonomous weapons, including Jordan and Namibia in 2019. Austria, Brazil, and Chile have formally proposed the urgent negotiation of “a legally binding instrument to ensure meaningful human control over the critical functions” of weapons systems.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a rapidly growing coalition of 130 nongovernmental organizations in 60 countries that is working to ban fully autonomous weapons and retain meaningful human control over the use of force. Human Rights Watch arms director Steve Goose and senior arms researcher Bonnie Docherty will address a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots briefing for CCW delegates on November 13 at the UN in Geneva.

“As the public learns more about the serious threat that fully autonomous weapons pose to humanity, they will expect legislative action,” Wareham said. “Governments need to provide more than just empty rhetoric affirming the importance of retaining human control over increasingly autonomous weapons systems.”

 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Use of an incendiary weapon in Bdama, Idlib in July 2018.

© 2018 Syria Civil Defense

Ten years ago, images of white phosphorus munitions raining fire on populated areas of Gaza generated international outrage and sparked discussions of incendiary weapons at the United Nations. The Israel Defense Forces’ use of white phosphorus in January 2009 caused civilian casualties and damaged civilian structures, including a school, market, humanitarian aid warehouse, and hospital.1 At the following year’s Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), several states condemned the attacks and highlighted the shortcomings of CCW Protocol III, which governs incendiary weapons.2 Since then, as use of incendiary weapons has spread to other conflicts, including in Syria and Ukraine, calls to review the protocol’s adequacy and strengthen its humanitarian protections have increased. 

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Incendiary weapons, which start fires and burn people, are notorious for the severity of the immediate and long-term injuries they cause. Adopted in 1980, Protocol III regulates the use of incendiary weapons, but its efficacy as a humanitarian instrument is limited by two key loopholes. First, its design-based definition arguably excludes certain multipurpose munitions with incendiary effects, notably those with white phosphorus. Second, the protocol contains weaker restrictions for ground-launched incendiary weapons than air-dropped versions, even though all such weapons cause horrific harm.

After years of slow but steady progress, efforts to strengthen international law on incendiary weapons took a step backwards at the CCW’s annual meeting in November 2018. Russia took advantage of the desire for consensus and blocked the widely supported proposal to continue dedicated discussions of incendiary weapons under a separate agenda item at the CCW’s November 2019 meeting. Meanwhile, in Syria, the Syrian-Russian military alliance continued its use of incendiary weapons in or near civilian areas.

Despite this setback, CCW states parties should continue to speak out on incendiary weapons and demand time for a reassessment of Protocol III. Indeed, they should intensify their work on the topic now so that they are prepared to take concrete action at the 2021 CCW Review Conference. In particular, they should:

  • Condemn ongoing use of incendiary weapons;

  • Express their views on the adequacy of Protocol III during the general debate or the session on the status and operation of the protocols;

  • Work to close Protocol III’s loopholes and further stigmatize the use of incendiary weapons. A complete ban on incendiary weapons would have the greatest humanitarian benefits; and

  • Set aside time in 2020 for an in-depth discussion of the implementation and adequacy of Protocol III, with an eye to agreeing to amend the instrument at the 2021 Review Conference.

Incendiary Weapons and the Harm They Cause

Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance.3 They can be used to burn people or material or to penetrate plate metal. Due to their extreme heat, incendiary weapons can cause severe fourth-degree or even fifth-degree burns, often killing or physically and psychologically scarring their victims.4 Survivors face an array of other short-term and long-term consequences, including but not limited to: lingering respiratory problems from smoke inhalation, severe infection, shock, organ failure, muscle weakness, and lifelong disability. The disabilities and disfigurement caused by incendiary weapons sometimes lead to socioeconomic exclusion. The use of incendiary weapons also results in the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, farmland, and other civilian infrastructure, and can cause displacement.

Although primarily designed to produce smokescreens and thus arguably not covered by Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons (see further discussion below), white phosphorus munitions operate in the same manner and produce the same effects as other incendiary weapons.5 When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin, it inflicts intense and persistent burns, sometimes to the bone. Infection is common, and the body’s absorption of the chemical can cause serious damage to internal organs as well as death. Because white phosphorus burns on contact with oxygen, treated wounds can reignite when bandages are removed.

Protocol III and Its Loopholes

Protocol III seeks to protect civilians and civilian objects by regulating the use of incendiary weapons in “concentrations of civilians” and in “forests and other kinds of plant cover.”6 Nevertheless, it contains two legal loopholes that reduce its effectiveness.

First, Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons arguably excludes most multipurpose incendiary munitions. According to Article 1(1), an incendiary weapon is “any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.” The definition does not encompass munitions, like those containing white phosphorus, that set fires and cause burns but are “primarily designed” to create smokescreens or signal troops.7 The nature or magnitude of impact or injury is not taken into account, as long as its primary purpose is considered beyond the scope of the protocol. The applicability of Protocol Ill thus depends largely on how developers, manufacturers, and users describe the purpose of a weapon.

Second, Protocol III draws an arbitrary and outdated distinction between air-dropped and ground-launched incendiary weapons. It prohibits the use of air-dropped models in concentrations of civilians, but the provision on the use of ground-launched incendiary weapons in such areas includes several caveats, falling short of a ban. This loophole ignores the reality that incendiary weapons cause the same horrific burns and destructive fires regardless of their delivery mechanism. In addition, ground-launched incendiary weapons, especially when delivered by multi-barrel rocket launchers, can have wide area effects comparable to air-dropped ones, which makes them dangerous to civilians when used in populated areas. Furthermore, non-state armed groups have greater access to ground-launched incendiary weapons and may feel less pressure not to use them if international law, and the resulting norm, is less than absolute.

It would be legally, if not politically, straightforward to close both these loopholes. Article 1(1) of Protocol III could be amended to redefine incendiary weapons as weapons that “have the effect of setting fires and causing burns….” Article 2 could be rewritten to prohibit the use of any incendiary weapon, regardless of its delivery mechanism, within a concentration of civilians. These changes would create stronger rules for states parties and increase the stigma against incendiary weapons, influencing even actors outside the treaty.

Ongoing Use in Syria

Ongoing use of incendiary weapons, including in concentrations of civilians, highlights the need for stronger international law. While the use of white phosphorus dominated discussions a decade ago, the intervening years have provided a reminder that other types of incendiary weapons are problematic as well.

Syrian government forces have been using incendiary weapons in concentrations of civilians in Syria since 2012.8 Incendiary weapons attacks in Syria became more frequent after Russia began joint operations with Syrian government forces in September 2015. Syria has not joined CCW Protocol III, but Russia is a party and legally bound by its provisions.

Since November 2012, Human Rights Watch has identified about 150 incendiary weapons attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance in Syria. In May-June 2019 alone, it identified 27 uses of incendiary weapons. The total number of attacks is likely much higher because some go unreported and others are not recorded by visual media so cannot be investigated.

Most of the documented incendiary weapon attacks in 2019 took place in Idlib governorate. An attack on May 25 in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, for example, left approximately 175,000 square meters of farmland burned, according to Human Rights Watch’s analysis of satellite imagery.9 

Human Rights Watch also documented this year six strikes in Hama governorate and one in the village of Tal Hadya near Aleppo. Ground-launched incendiary rockets account for almost all of the attacks recorded in 2019.

In 2018, two-thirds of the 30 incendiary weapons attacks documented by Human Rights Watch involved ground-launched models, but airstrikes also caused harm. For example, Syria Civil Defense reported that on March 16, 2018, an air attack with an RBK-500 bomb carrying ZAB incendiary submunitions killed at least 61 people and injured more than 200 in Kafr Batna in Eastern Ghouta.10

To make these identifications, Human Rights Watch reviewed videos and photographs of the use of incendiary weapons that were taken by the general public, first responders, and activists. The organization examined testimony and additional visual material from after attacks showing the effects of incendiary weapons and the remnants they left behind. Human Rights Watch also relied on satellite imagery analysis. 

Human Rights Watch is also looking into the alleged use of white phosphorus in Syria by Turkey and its allies in October 2019, but it has not confirmed whether the allegations are true.11

Political Support despite Short-Term Setback

Since 2010, the use of incendiary weapons in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere has generated debate at the CCW’s annual meetings. Over that period, at least 36 states, the European Union, and other international actors have publicly expressed their concern about the use of incendiary weapons and white phosphorus.12 During the 2018 meeting, almost all of the 19 states that engaged in discussions about incendiary weapons expressed concerns and/or a desire to continue such discussions. Protocol III, however, was dropped from the 2019 agenda due to pressure from a few states, most vocally from Russia. Russia argued that any problems with the use of incendiary weapons were a result of poor implementation of the treaty and that continued discussions would have no added value.13

Condemnation and Concern

At least 11 states plus the European Union expressed concerns about or condemned the use of incendiary weapons on civilians since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.14 Croatia emphasized the “gruesome effects of incendiary weapons on victims” as shown in coverage of hostilities in Syria.15 New Zealand stated that it was “gravely concerned” about that use.16 These states were joined by Australia, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Montenegro, the United Kingdom, and the European Union in their disapproval.

The final report of the meeting reflected these views. It declared that a “number of High Contracting Parties raised concerns over the recent growing number of reports of use of incendiary weapons against civilians and condemned any use of incendiary weapons against civilians or civilian objects, and any other use incompatible with relevant rules of International Humanitarian Law, including the provisions of Protocol III, where applicable.”17

States have also expressed concern about the effects of incendiary weapons in other international fora. In a statement during the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security in October 2019, the Non-Aligned Movement expressed “grave concern over the reported use in civilian areas of harmful and potentially fatal incendiary weapons such as white phosphorus.”18

Calls for Further Discussion

Most of the states that spoke during the 2018 annual CCW meeting supported the discussions of incendiary weapons and the inclusion of Protocol III on the agenda. The majority of these also explicitly called for further work. For example, Croatia urged states to use the CCW as the forum to “address observed shortcomings of Protocol III that arise from the challenges in implementation, universalization, technological advancements and evolution of the provisions of international humanitarian law.”19 Switzerland, concerned with reports of the use of incendiary weapons, stated that “the distinction of delivery methods warrant an in-depth discussion about humanitarian considerations, military necessity and legal questions raised by the use of incendiary weapons and munitions whose effects may be similar.”20

Recognizing the need to spend more time discussing Protocol III, New Zealand called for Protocol III to remain on the agenda of the CCW’s annual meeting. It also “remain[ed] open to the convening of an informal meeting to discuss universalisation, implementation and adequacy of Protocol III in light of the humanitarian concerns that surround incendiary weapons.”21 Such a meeting would be held outside of the formal Meeting of States Parties and would allow for even more in-depth discussions.

Looking forward, multiple states argued that Protocol III should be taken up at the 2021 Review Conference. Ireland said that “the continued applicability and relevance of Protocol III is an issue appropriate for further consideration at the next Review Conference.” Panama expressed that it was imperative for states to discuss ways to strengthen the protocol and close loopholes in preparation for the next Review Conference.22 

International and nongovernmental organizations also welcomed the discussions and called for them to continue. The International Committee of the Red Cross urged states “to report on their national policies and operational practice with regard to the use of incendiary weapons, and of weapons with incidental incendiary effects, to help to inform discussions in the CCW regarding compliance with Protocol III, rules of customary IHL [international humanitarian law] applicable to incendiary weapons, and the general rules of IHL on the conduct of hostilities.”23 Civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Article 36, and PAX, called for both further discussions and amendments to strengthen Protocol III.

Strengthening or Amending Protocol III

In 2018, at least seven states specifically called for strengthening or amending Protocol III to close the loopholes that exist due to the protocol’s arbitrary and outdated distinctions.24 Mexico advocated for expanding the scope of the protocol to include weapons with incendiary effects.25 Argentina emphasized that Protocol III is limited because it does not “cover all uses of incendiary weapons,” and expressed its commitment to review and strengthen the protocol.26 Recognizing that Protocol III distinguishes between different delivery mechanisms, the Holy See called for “an honest technical and legal review of the provisions contained in Protocol III in order to strengthen this instrument [so] as to remain relevant in today’s conflicts and enhance protections.”27 Additionally, Chile said that Protocol III’s scope of application and definitions are of particular concern.28 These states were joined by Austria, Croatia, and Panama.

Conclusion

The ongoing use of incendiary weapons underscores the need for stronger international law, and the statements made at last year’s CCW meeting show that there is an appetite for more in-depth consideration of the adequacy of Protocol III. States should seize the opportunity presented by the 2021 Review Conference to take concrete actions to increase the protection of civilians from incendiary weapons. They should not stand by until then, however. CCW states parties should set aside time for substantive discussions of the issue in 2020 in order to be fully prepared to initiate the process to amend Protocol III at the Review Conference.

  • 1. 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....
  • 2. Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol Ill), adopted October 10, 1980, 1342 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force December 2, 1983.
  • 3. For more information on the harm caused by incendiary weapons, see Human Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, An Overdue Review: Addressing Incendiary Weapons in the Contemporary Context, November 2017, http://hrp.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/AnOverdueReview.pdf, pp. 3-5.
  • 4. UN Department of Political and Security Council Affairs, “Napalm and Other Incendiary Weapons and All Aspects of Their Possible Use: Report of the Secretary-General,” A/ 8803/Rev. 1, 1973, pp. 30–31.
  • 5. Although white phosphorus munitions are generally designed to produce smokescreens, armed forces have used them specifically for their incendiary properties, including when targeting people or material or “smoking out” sheltered persons in order to kill them with other weapons.
  • 6. CCW Protocol Ill, art. 2.
  • 7. Maj. Shane R. Reeves, a military officer and professor at the US Military Academy at West Point, interprets Protocol Ill to exclude white phosphorus when it is intended for something other than burning. Major Reeves explained: “[W]hen white phosphorus munitions are employed for a non-incendiary purpose,” such as to create a smokescreen, “the munitions clearly fall outside the definition of an ‘incendiary weapon’ and will not be regulated by Protocol Ill.” Even though “white phosphorous is at times employed solely because of its ‘incidental’ incendiary effects, thus essentially converting the munition into an incendiary weapon,” the current design-based definition in Protocol Ill ensures that white phosphorus escapes regulation. Maj. Shane R. Reeves, “The ‘Incendiary’ Effect of White Phosphorous in Counterinsurgency Operations,” The Army Lawyer (June 2010), https://ssrn.com/ abstract=2295118 (accessed November 1, 2019), p. 86.
  • 8. For more information on use of incendiary weapons in Syria, see Human Rights Watch and IHRC, An Overdue Review, November 20, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/11/20/overdue-review-addressing-incendiary..., pp. 14-18.
  • 9. Human Rights Watch, “Russia/Syria: Flurry of Prohibited Weapons Attacks,” June 3, 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/03/russia/syria-flurry-prohibited-weapo....
  • 10. 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 November 1, 2019).
  • 11. “Kurds Accuse Turkey of Using Napalm and White Phosphorus,” France 24, October 24, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20191017-kurds-accuse-turkey-of-using-napalm... (accessed November 1, 2019).
  • 12. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Djibouti, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, the Holy See, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as the European Union. See statements from CCW Meetings of States Parties and Review Conferences between 2010-2018, generally available at UN Office at Geneva, “The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Meetings of the States Parties,” https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/4F0DEF093B4860B4C1257180004B1B30?OpenDocument (accessed November 1, 2019), and Reaching Critical Will, “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW),” http://reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/ccw (accessed November 1, 2019). See also Human Rights Watch notes from those meetings.
  • 13. Statement of Russia, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
  • 14. Australia, Austria, Croatia, Germany, the Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, Montenegro, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the European Union. See statements from CCW Meeting of States Parties, 2018, generally available at UN Office at Geneva, “The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Meetings of the States Parties,” and Reaching Critical Will, “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).” See also Human Rights Watch notes from those meetings.
  • 15. Statement of Croatia, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018.
  • 16. Statement of New Zealand, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
  • 17. CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties, “Final Report,” CCW/MSP/2018/11, Geneva, December 28, 2018.
  • 18. Statement by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, First Committee, 74th Session, UN General Assembly, New York, November 22, 2019.
  • 19. Statement of Croatia, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018.
  • 20. Statement of Switzerland, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
  • 21. Statement of New Zealand, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
  • 22. Statement of Panama, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018 (IHRC translation).
  • 23. Statement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
  • 24. Argentina, Austria, Chile, Croatia, the Holy See, Mexico, and Panama discussed closing loopholes in Protocol III at the 2018 Meeting of States Parties. See statements from CCW Meeting of States Parties, 2018, generally available at UN Office at Geneva, “The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons: Meetings of the States Parties,” and Reaching Critical Will, “Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).” See also Human Rights Watch notes from those meetings.
  • 25. Statement of Mexico, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018 (IHRC translation).
  • 26. Statement of Argentina, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018.
  • 27. Statement of the Holy See, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 21, 2018.
  • 28. Statement of Chile, CCW Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, November 22, 2018.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Use of an incendiary weapon in Bdama, Idlib in July 2018.

© 2018 Syria Civil Defense

(Geneva) – Russia should support, not block, diplomatic talks about possible action to address the civilian harm caused by the use of incendiary weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. 

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Issued ahead of an upcoming United Nations disarmament conference, the nine-page report, -“Standing Firm against Incendiary Weapons,” co-published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, highlights the weaknesses of international law regulating incendiary weapons. Such weapons can inflict severe burns, leave extensive scarring, and cause respiratory damage and psychological trauma. Incendiary weapons also start fires that destroy civilian homes, objects, and infrastructure.

“Russia’s regrettable opposition scuttled stand-alone diplomatic discussion this year on incendiary weapons,” said Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch and lead author of the report. “Yet there’s a clear humanitarian imperative to deal with these cruel weapons.”

Countries that are party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) are scheduled to consider incendiary weapons, killer robots, and other arms concerns at the United Nations in Geneva from November 13 to 15, 2019. At the last annual meeting of the CCW in November 2018, Russia blocked consensus on a widely supported proposal to continue dedicated discussions on incendiary weapons in 2019.

Over the past year, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has continued to use incendiary weapons in or near civilian areas in Syria. In May and June alone, incendiary weapons were used at least 27 times, mostly in Idlib governorate, but the total number is most likely higher. A May 25 incendiary weapon attack in the Khan Sheikhoun area of Idlib burned approximately 175,000 square meters of farmland, based on a Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite imagery. Syria has not joined CCW’s Protocol III, which governs incendiary weapons, but Russia has.

Since the conflict in Syria began in 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented about 150 incendiary weapon attacks by the Syrian-Russian military alliance using ground-launched rockets and air-delivered weapons. Human Rights Watch has used open-source material, satellite imagery analysis, and interviews to identify the attacks.

At the United Nations in October, Russia’s diplomatic representative said it regards Protocol III as “strong and efficient” enough to prevent civilian harm from incendiary weapons. Russia said it is open to considering “concrete proposals” for reviewing the protocol’s effectiveness, but told Human Rights Watch it regards any effort to review and reopen the protocol as “dangerous.”

CCW Protocol III imposes some restrictions on the use of incendiary weapons, but it fails to provide sufficient protections for civilians. The countries at the UN meeting should agree to restart the talks blocked by Russia last year and take steps to review the protocol more formally in 2020 with the intention of strengthening its protections for civilians. They should also articulate their policies and practices on incendiary weapons.

Protocol III’s definition of incendiary weapons, one of its major loopholes, excludes multipurpose weapons, such as those with white phosphorus. White phosphorus munitions may be primarily designed to provide smokescreens or illumination, but they can inflict the same horrific injuries as other incendiary weapons. Ten years ago, images of Israeli forces using US-made white phosphorus munitions in densely-populated Gaza, which caused civilian casualties and damaged a school, market, humanitarian aid warehouse, and other civilian infrastructure, generated international outrage. Israel and the United States are party to Protocol III.

White phosphorus is highly soluble in fat and therefore deeply burns human flesh. If fragments of white phosphorus enter the bloodstream, they can lead to multiple organ failure. Already-dressed wounds can reignite when dressings are removed and they are re-exposed to oxygen.

“White phosphorus should never be used as an incendiary weapon in populated areas due to the high risk of horrific and long-lasting injury to both civilians and combatants,” said Docherty, who is also associate director of armed conflict and civilian protection at the Harvard clinic. “Because it can burn to the bone, even relatively minor burns from white phosphorus are often fatal.”

Human Rights Watch is reviewing allegations that Turkey has used white phosphorus in recent weeks in its military offensive in northeast Syria. Some media outlets have erroneously described white phosphorus as a chemical weapon. Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, while chemical weapons inflict harm due to the toxicity of the chemicals they release.

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

“Humanitarian concerns call for nations to make simple fixes to close the loopholes in existing law and further stigmatize any use of incendiary weapons,” Docherty said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am