The International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch (HRW) lobbied at a UN disarmament conference in Geneva last week for stronger international law on incendiary weapons.  The Clinic has previously presented the legal arguments for more robust protections; this time, we focused on the suffering these weapons cause to civilians.

Behind the scenes, diplomats at the meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) responded positively to our paper and our presentation, and they were visibly moved by the photographs and testimony we provided.  The next step is to get their public support for the critical protections.

As we explained to an audience of about 20 delegates last week, incendiary weapons have the potential to inflict excessively cruel injuries on civilians and soldiers alike.  Existing treaty law has a loophole excluding munitions containing white phosphorous, an incendiary substance that can burn flesh to the bone, and which has been used in several recent conflicts.  The law also inconsistently regulates other incendiary weapons, like napalm.

The Clinic and HRW have called on countries to initiate negotiations of an amended treaty later this year, and to complete those negotiations by the end of 2012.

Joe Philips and Joanne Box stand in front of the United Nations in Geneva.
Joe Phillips, JD ’12, and Joanne Box, LLM ’11, lobbied for stronger treaty law at a UN conference last week.

Many thanks to the students who worked on the paper and presentation: Joe Phillips, JD ’12, and Joanne Box, LLM ’11, who attended the meeting in Geneva; and Alan Cliff, JD ’11, who attended a similar conference with me last November.

For more information on the shortcomings of existing law on incendiary munitions, see the memo the clinical team published in November, The Need to Re-Visit Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons.