Incendiary weapons

Massive explosion Massive explosion © Photo by guvendemir on iStock

What are incendiary weapons? 

Incendiary weapons are among the cruellest weapons used in contemporary armed conflicts. These weapons injure or kill people, together with setting fire to objects through heat or flame produced by a chemical reaction of a flammable substance such as napalm or white phosphorus. 

 

How are they affecting civilians?

Incendiary weapons cause extremely painful and excruciating burns and destroy homes, civilian objects and other infrastructures. The invasive burns inflicted by these weapons can cause immediate and long-term suffering and, in many cases, a painful death. Particularly, incendiary weapons can cause fourth- and fifth-degree burns that damage skin, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and even bones, leading to shocks and infections. Another possible consequence is respiratory damage to the lungs and tissues that is caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Survivors often experience lifelong disabilities and psychological trauma because of the severe scarring and disfigurement, which can drive them to withdraw from society. 

Furthermore, since incendiary weapons are used in populated areas, as is happening in Syria, they also cause socioeconomic harm and displacement since they destroy homes, schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructures.  

 

What is the international community doing about it?

Protocol III to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) regulates incendiary weapons and currently, more than 110 nations are parties to it. However, the Protocol has loopholes that reduce its legal and normative power, as it excludes multipurpose munitions that have the same incendiary effects and does not contain strong regulations for ground-launched models or air-dropped ones. Human Rights Watch urges states to review the protocol and to close those loopholes. CCW states parties have expressed their commitment to review and strengthen the protection offered by Protocol III and they should address this issue during the 2021 CCW Review Conference which will be held in December. 

 

Sources:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/14/myths-and-realities-about-incendiary-weapons

https://www.hrw.org/topic/arms/incendiary-weapons

https://humanitariandisarmament.org/issues/incendiary-weapons/

http://www.weaponslaw.org/glossary/incendiary-weapon-definition#:~:text=Incendiary%20weapons%20kill%20or%20injure,Convention%20on%20Certain%20Conventional%20Weapons.

https://disarmament.ch/events/ccw-sixth-review-conference/

 

Author: Eleonora Gonnelli

 

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