Conventional weapons

30 November 2011

International humanitarian law bans or restricts certain types of conventional weapons in order to protect civilians from their indiscriminate effects and to spare combatants from excessive injuries that serve no military purpose. One of the main legal instruments for this is the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The 1980 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 ("Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons" or "CCW") is based on the general rules of international humanitarian law that prohibit the use of weapons that are indiscriminate or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.

The prohibitions and restrictions of the Convention are laid out in its 5 Protocols. The first three Protocols were adopted when the Convention was negotiated in 1980, while the fourth and fifth Protocols were adopted in 1995 and 2003 respectively. Protocol I prohibits the use of weapons that injure by fragments that cannot be detected by X-rays. Protocol II, amended in 1996, regulates the use of landmines, booby-traps and other explosive devices. Protocol III restricts the use of incendiary weapons. Protocol IV bans the use and transfer of laser weapons designed to cause permanent blindness. Under Protocol V, States established a framework to minimize the risks and effects of explosive remnants of war in post-conflict situations.

An important feature of the CCW is that it can be expanded and new Protocols can be adopted to respond to the development of new weapons and to changes in the conduct of warfare. Through a process of consultation and review, States are able to consider amendments to the Convention and its Protocols and to propose additional Protocols on conventional weapons that are not covered in existing Protocols. In the past, there have been proposals for new CCW Protocols on anti-vehicle mines, small calibre bullets and cluster munitions.