In a report filed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in conjunction with Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC), the groups called for countries to address the risks and costs caused to civilians by incendiary weapons.The report states that incendiary weapons cause both short- and long-term physical harm to civilians because of the dangerous chemical compounds present in them that are then released upon explosion. These harmful components of the devices cause fourth- and fifth-degree burns and can damage different parts of the body, from skin to muscle to bone.In 1980, the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) adopted the CCW Protocol III on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons, which governs the use of incendiary weapons by nations across the globe. This protocol prohibits nations from “making the civilian population…individual civilians or civilian objects the object of attack by incendiary weapons,” making military objectives within a concentration of civilians the subject of an incendiary weapon attack, and making “forests or other kinds of plant cover” the object of an incendiary weapon attack except when such locations are used to conceal combatants or are themselves military objectives.The report filed by HRW and IHRC addresses CCW Protocol III and calls on the CCW to close the loopholes present in the rule. Specifically, it calls on the CCW to address the issue and revisit CCW Protocol III at their annual meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, which is set to take place later this month.The loopholes present in the rule include a lack of acknowledgment of signaling weapons that produce incendiary effects and the use of incendiary weapons launched at the surface level.The report also addresses Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s use of surface-level-fired incendiary weapons used on attacks of several provinces throughout Ukraine and calls on Russia to cease its use of incendiary weapons amid the country’s opposition to a proposal by Ireland to hold diplomatic discussions on Protocol III.HRW has also documented the recent use of incendiary weapons in other countries, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, and Yemen.HRW and the IHRC recommend that CCW mandate informal consultations to assess the adequacy of Protocol III at their meeting in November. The groups also recommend that CCW hold discussions outside of its organization to consider the appropriateness of national and international measures implemented to address the issues incendiary weapons create and find a way to set stronger international standards for the regulated use of such devices.“The failure of countries to even discuss the effectiveness of existing law on incendiary weapons highlights the weakness of consensus-based diplomacy at the United Nations,” Bonnie Docherty, senior arms researcher at HRW said in a statement. “Governments should urgently address the horrific effects of incendiary weapons and make addressing their humanitarian concerns a top priority.
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