The civilian suffering caused by incendiary weapons has attracted attention in recent years, especially due to the use of white phosphorus. White phosphorus reaches temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, burns through human flesh to the bone, and can reignite when bandages are removed. Israel used the munitions in Gaza in 2009 and the United States in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. The Syrian government used other types of incendiary weapons against its people in its current conflict.
Protocol III to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) regulates the use of incendiary weapons, but it has significant loopholes. For example, its definition creates an exception for dual-use weapons, including white phosphorus, which can also serve as a smoke screen. It also has weaker regulations for ground-launched incendiary weapons than for air-dropped.
The Clinic and Human Rights Watch have sought to minimize the harmful effects of incendiary weapons. In particular, we have urged CCW states parties to reevaluate the adequacy of Protocol III from a humanitarian perspective. Since 2010, students have contributed to a series of papers that outline the shortcomings of the existing CCW language, describe the suffering incendiary weapons cause, and call for stronger international legal obligations on the topic. Students have also participated in advocacy efforts about incendiary weapons at several UN disarmament conferences.
Expert: Bonnie Docherty