Understanding CCW Protocol III: addressing Incendiary Weapons in a changing landscape

On 8 June 2022, a webinar organized by UNODA explored the intricacies of CCW Protocol III, a crucial international instrument addressing incendiary weapons. Moderated by Richard Moyes, Managing Director of Article 36, the panel featured experts Peter Herby, Bonnie Docherty, Wen Zhou, and Henning Weber.

The first panelist, Mr. Peter Herby, Head of Petersburg Partnerships, started the conversation with an insightful presentation on the historical of incendiary weapons. Tracing their origins to ancient times, he emphasized their modern development and extensive use during the 20th century, especially in World War II, the Pacific War, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The devastating impact of napalm, a highly flammable gel extensively used, prompted international awareness of the severe humanitarian consequences. To address these concerns, Protocol III to the CCW was adopted in 1980, specifically regulating incendiary weapons. However, Mr. Peter Herby highlighted current challenges, noting recent use in the Middle East, notably in Iraq and Syria.

During the meeting, Mrs. Bonnie Docherty, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, explored the humanitarian, legal, and diplomatic dimensions of CCW Protocol III. She underscored the nefarious effects of incendiary weapons on civilians, citing examples from ongoing conflicts, including Ukraine. Mrs. Docherty pointed out limitations in the protocol’s definitions, particularly its exclusion of multiple-purpose munitions containing white phosphorus. She stressed the importance of diplomatic discussions to strengthen the provisions of Protocol III and improve its effectiveness.

Mrs. Wen Zhou, Legal Advisor at the ICRC, expanded on Protocol III’s role as the primary International Humanitarian Law instrument regulating incendiary weapons. Highlighting International Committee of the Red Cross’s rules protecting civilians and civilian objects, Mrs. Zhou addressed challenges posed by improvised incendiary weapons. She emphasized the importance of ongoing discussions among States to address evolving challenges. Mr. Henning Weber, Vice President and Head of Weapons Research at ISS ESG, provided a unique perspective by exploring the intersection of arms control and responsible investment. Highlighting the growing influence of environmental, social, and governance

factors in investment decisions, Mr. Weber discussed how investors view controversial weapons. Despite efforts to address humanitarian concerns, the preference for certain munitions persists. Mr. Weber proposed an international regulatory framework to incentivize key players and urged for a comprehensive technical definition of incendiary weapons through structured dialogue.

The session concluded with a Q&A segment, where participants, including representatives from Ireland and Mexico, raised questions about the future steps for State Parties and how to emphasize the humanitarian harm caused by incendiary weapons. The panelists emphasized the importance of informal consultations and forums among State parties to address the challenges discussed during the webinar.

The webinar provided a comprehensive exploration of CCW Protocol III, covering historical perspectives, humanitarian considerations, legal analyses, and the evolving landscape of responsible investment in the context of arms control. The discussions underscored the complexity of regulating incendiary weapons and the ongoing efforts required to ensure their responsible use within the framework of International Humanitarian Law. The event was organized under the project in support of the universalization, implementation and strengthening of the Convention on Certain Weapons (CCW) funded by the European Union.

Text prepared by Anila Hysaj