Blog: Patricia Villa Berger

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May 4, 2012

Incendiary Weapons: Growing Support for Stronger Protections

Posted by Michael Jacobson, JD '13, and Patricia Villa Berger, LLM '13, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy At Tufts University

Support is growing for strengthening regulations of incendiary weapons, according to a new paper published by the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch. In addition to analyzing countries’ positions, the paper highlights recent use, stockpiling, and production of incendiary weapons, which demonstrate the urgent need for better international law.

The Clinic and Human Rights Watch urge states to open diplomatic discussions on incendiary weapons as soon as possible and to move towards amending current international law with the goal of enhancing humanitarian protection.

An image of a cluster munition on a desert landscape of red clay.
An IHRC team found this white phosphorus munition at one of Qaddafi’s abandoned weapons depots in Libya in March.

The law in question is the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), an international treaty regulating weapons that cause unnecessary suffering or have indiscriminate effects. Incendiary weapons pose a significant threat to civilians, causing severe burns, asphyxiation, and, in some cases, death. States adopted CCW Protocol III to regulate the weapons in 1980.

But according to the Clinic and Human Rights Watch, the protocol has multiple loopholes; for example, it does not cover use of dual-purpose weapons with incendiary effects, like white phosphorus munitions, which have been used since 2003 in Afghanistan. Protocol III also establishes inconsistent regulations for weapons that produce the same harm.

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