HRW calls for stronger laws governing incendiary weapons

HRW calls for stronger laws governing incendiary weapons

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called [press release] Thursday for countries to develop stronger international laws governing incendiary weapons. The report [text, PDF] provides a five-year review of the developments surrounding incendiary weapons discussing, among other things, instances of its recent use in several countries including Syria, Libya and Ukraine. The report also discusses the gradual changes in governmental policies and positions over the years concerning the use of such weapons. According to the report, many countries condemn the use of incendiary weapons but are doing very little toward effectively curbing their use. The report states further that while there is an international treaty protocol [text, PDF] regulating the use of incendiary weapons currently, it has many loopholes, which have effectively stalled any tangible progress. HRW is expected to present its findings at a scheduled meeting in Geneva later this month, discussing the current global situation involving incendiary and other weapons

According to Sascha-Dominik Bachmann [official profile] of Bournemouth University in the UK, “Incendiary weapons, as the term is understood in international humanitarian law (IHL) describe weapons that act mainly through fire and heat” with napalm and phosphorous being their primary ingredients [JURIST op-ed]. According to the HRW report, incendiary weapons are known to burn at very high temperatures and can cause thermal and chemical burns, respiratory damage, shock, asphyxiation, and carbon monoxide poisoning. The report also states that surviving victims of an incendiary weapons attack “may suffer from intense pain, severe infections, organ failure, lowered resistance to disease, severe disfigurement and lifelong disability…” This is not the first time that the HRW has called for stricter international enforcement over the use of incendiary weapons. Last year, the HRW, in response to mounting concerns over the use of such weapons in Ukraine and Syria, issued a similar report [PDF], which also essentially stated the premise that current law prohibiting the weapons fails to protect civilians from incendiary attacks [JURIST report].