The United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW or CCWC), concluded at Geneva on 10 October 1980, and entered into force in December 1983, seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate.
The full title is Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. The convention covers land mines, booby traps, incendiary devices, blinding laser weapons and clearance of explosive remnants of war.
The aim of the Convention and its protocols is to provide new rules for the protection of civilians from injury by weapons that are used in armed conflicts and also to protect combatants from unnecessary suffering. The convention covers fragments that are undetectable in the human body by X-rays, landmines and booby traps, and incendiary weapons, blinding laser weapons and the clearance of explosive remnants of war. Parties to the convention must take legislative and other actions to ensure compliance with the convention.
CCWC includes five protocols dealing with specific weapons. The Convention and its annexed protocols apply in all types of armed conflict, both international and non-international. This was not the case when the convention was first adopted, but the scope was expanded by two conferences in 1996 and 2001. Some provisions also apply after open hostilities has ended, such as the rules in protocols II and V about minimising the dangers from mines and other ordnance.
CCWC lacks verification and enforcement mechanisms and spells out no formal process for resolving compliance concerns. A state-party can refute its commitment to the convention or any of the protocols, but it will remain legally bound until one year after notifying the treaty depositary, the UN Secretary-General, of its intent to be free of its obligations.
Adoption and Entry into Force
The CCWC consist of a set of additional protocols first formulated on 10 October 1980, in Geneva and entered into force on 02 December 1983. As of the end of September 2022, there are 126 state parties to the convention. Some of those countries have only adopted some of the five protocols, with two being the minimum required to be considered a party.
The convention has five protocols:
- Protocol I restricts weapons with non-detectable fragments
- Protocol II restricts landmines, booby traps
- Protocol III restricts incendiary weapons
- Protocol IV restricts blinding laser weapons (adopted on 13 October 1995, in Vienna)
- Protocol V sets out obligations and best practice for the clearance of explosive remnants of war, adopted on 28 November 2003, in Geneva
Protocol II was amended in 1996 (extending its scope of application), and entered in force on 03 December 1998. The amendment extended the restrictions on landmine use to internal conflicts; established reliability standards for remotely delivered mines; and prohibited the use of non-detectable fragments in anti-personnel landmines (APL). The failure to agree to a total ban on landmines led to the Ottawa Treaty.
Protocol I: Non-Detectable Fragments
Protocol I on Non-Detectable Fragments prohibits the use of any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which are not detectable in the human body by X-rays. The reason is that such fragments are difficult to remove and cause unnecessary suffering. The protocol applies when the “primary effect” is to injure by non-detectable fragments and does not prohibit all use of e.g. plastic in weapons design.
Protocol II: Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices
Protocol II on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices was amended on 03 May 1996, to strengthen its provisions and extend the scope of application to cover both international and internal armed conflicts. The protocol regulates, but does not ban, land mines. It prohibits the use of non-detectable anti-personnel mines and their transfer; prohibits the use of non-self-destructing and non-self-deactivating mines outside fenced, monitored and marked areas; prohibits directing mines and booby traps against civilians; requires parties to the conflict to remove mines and booby traps when the conflict ends; broadens obligations of protecting peacekeeping and other missions of the United Nations and its agencies; requires States to enforce compliance with its provisions within their jurisdiction; and calls for penal sanctions in case of violation.
Protocol III: Incendiary Weapons
Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons prohibits, in all circumstances, making the civilian population as such, individual civilians or civilian objects, the object of attack by 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 a combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target. The protocol also prohibits the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons against military targets within a concentration of civilians, and limits the use of incendiary weapons delivered by other means. Forest and other plants may not be a target unless they are used to conceal combatants or other military objectives. Protocol III lists certain munition types like smoke shells which only have a secondary or additional incendiary effect; these munition types are not considered to be incendiary weapons.
Protocol IV: Blinding Laser Weapons
Protocol IV on Blinding Laser Weapons prohibits the use of laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness. The parties to the protocol also agree to not transfer such weapons to any state or non-state entity. The protocol does not prohibit laser systems where blinding is an incidental or collateral effect, but parties that agree to it must take all feasible precautions to avoid such effects.
Protocol V: Explosive Remnants of War
Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War requires the clearance of UXO (unexploded ordnance), such as unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs and abandoned explosive weapons. At the cessation of active hostilities, Protocol V establishes a responsibility on parties that have used explosive weapons to assist with the clearance of unexploded ordnance that this use has created. Parties are also required, subject to certain qualifications, to provide information on their use of explosive weapons. Each party is responsible for the territory in their control after a conflict. The protocol does not apply to mines and other weapons covered by protocol II. The protocol came about as a result of a growing awareness during the 1990s that the protection against unexploded ordnance was insufficient. The protocol was adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2006.
As of 2017, the CCW has failed to achieve consensus to open negotiations on adding a compliance mechanism to help ensure parties honour their commitments. China and Russia have opposed restrictions on anti-vehicle mines, such as a requirement that such mines self-deactivate. In the 2010s the CCW opened talks on restricting lethal autonomous weapons. As of 2021, most of the major powers oppose an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons.
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