The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons

The 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 as amended on 21 December 2001, usually referred to as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons or CCW, is a key international humanitarian law instrument. It was adopted on 10 October 1980 and entered into force in 1983.

The purpose of the Convention is to ban or restrict the use of specific types of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately.

Publications on the Convention

Information Notes on the Convention and its Protocols

Structure of the Convention

The unique structure of the CCW aims to ensure flexibility in dealing with new developments in armed conflicts and weapon technologies.

  1. Framework Convention – contains general provisions on the operation, including rules on joining the regime and the possibility to negotiate and adopt new protocols;
  2. Protocols annexed to the Convention – contain the substantive prohibitions and restrictions on certain types of weapons;

This regime makes it possible to negotiate and adopt new protocols. Currently, five Protocols set out specific prohibitions, restrictions and other provisions on certain types of weapons.

An Amendment to Article 1 of the Convention, regarding the scope of application of the Convention and its Protocols, was decided in 2001 and entered into force in 2004. By joining the amendment to Article 1 of the Convention, High Contracting Parties will ensure that the CCW and its Protocols apply to situations of non-international armed conflicts.

CCW Protocols

1/ Protocol I   –  Non-Detectable Fragments

Prohibits the use of any weapon designed to injure by fragments which cannot be detected in the human body by X-rays.

2/ Amended Protocol II – Mines, Booby Traps and Other Devices, as amended on 3 May 1996

Prohibits the use of nondetectable anti-personnel mines and their transfer, and prohibits the use of non-self-destructing and non-self-deactivating mines outside fenced, monitored and marked areas. Seeks to limit the indiscriminate damage caused by landmines and requires High Contracting Parties to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians when using these weapons. Amended Protocol II is the only legally-binding instrument which covers Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). A limited number of State Parties are still party to Original Protocol II.

3/ Protocol III – Incendiary Weapons

Prohibits the use of weapons primarily designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries against civilians.

4/ Protocol IV – Blinding Laser Weapons

Prohibits the use and transfer of laser weapons designed to cause permanent blindness.

5/ Protocol V – Explosive Remnants of War

Prevents and minimizes the humanitarian impact of unexploded ordnance and abandoned explosive weapons. Includes provisions on clearance and destruction of ERW, measures for the protection of civilians, recording the use of explosive ordnance, international cooperation and assistance, and victim assistance.

Certified true copies of the texts of the Convention and its annexed Protocols (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish)

The certified true copies of the following documents are available for download:

  1. The Convention and its Protocols I, II and III
  2. The amendment to Article 1 of the Convention
  3. Amended Protocol II
  4. Protocol IV
  5. Protocol V

Note: The Meeting of the States parties to the CCW in November 2003 adopted Protocol V on ERW on the understanding that it was subject to checking of the other language versions by States whose working language was not English. Accordingly, proposed corrections from different delegation on the Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish text of the Protocol had been received, considered and approved by the CCW States parties, and effected by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, acting as depositary of the Convention.

The certified true copies of the corrected version of Protocol V are available in Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

What are the key obligations of States Parties?

By ratifying the CCW, States commit to the:

  • Prohibition of the use of any weapon of which the primary effect is to injure by fragments that are not detectable in the human body by X-rays;
  • Prohibition and regulation of the use and transfer of non-detectable anti-personnel mines, boobytraps, and other devices;
  • Prohibition of, in all circumstances, making civilians the object of attack by incendiary weapons;
  • Prohibition of the use of laser weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness and the transfer of such weapons to any State or non-State entity;
  • Requirement of Parties to a conflict to take measures to reduce dangers posed by explosive remnants of war.

Codification and progressive development of international humanitarian law

A unique and important character of the CCW is its ability to address emerging weapons issues and the possibility for negotiating new protocols. As per Article 8 (2)(a) of the Convention, at any time after the entry into force of this Convention any High Contracting Party may propose additional protocols relating to other categories of conventional weapons not covered by the existing annexed Protocols.

Currently under discussion at the CCW is the issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). Since 2017, the CCW High Contracting Parties have been examining possible challenges posed by emerging technologies in the area of LAWS through a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). In 2018 and 2019, the Group identified and adopted eleven principles to guide future work of the Group, reaffirming the relevance of international humanitarian law to such technologies.

In her video statement on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the CCW on 10 October 2020, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs of the United Nations, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, stressed that the Convention and its Protocols remained key instruments of international humanitarian law. She also noted that the diversity of issues discussed under the CCW was a clear indicator that the Convention serves as a dynamic and evolving framework that brings together key stakeholders.

CCW Facts

  • As of 1st July 2023, 126 States have ratified or acceded to the CCW. There are 119 States parties to Protocol I, 106 to Amended Protocol II, 115 to Protocol III, 109 to Protocol IV and 97 to Protocol V.
  • The CCW is one of the very few instruments of international humanitarian law which seeks to regulate the conduct of hostilities of all parties to the conflict, including non-state actors.
  • The CCW regime is characterized by a strong engagement from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and civil society.
  • The adoption of Protocol IV on Blinding Laser Weapons in 1995 is an example of a weapons system being pre-emptively banned before it was used.
  • Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War (ERW), adopted in 2003, is the first multilateral agreement to deal with the challenges posed by unexploded and abandoned ordnance. States’ adherence and implementation of Protocol V could significantly reduce the number of civilians killed or injured by ERW during and after conflicts.
  • The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has increased dramatically. States Parties to Amended Protocol II have been discussing how to address the humanitarian impact of the use of IEDs.
  • States Parties meet every five years to review the operation of the Convention. Accordingly, the Sixth Review Conference of the CCW was held from 13 to 17 December 2021 under the chairmanship of France. The Seventh Review Conference is planned to be held in 2026.
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