Universalization of the CCW and its Protocols Side Event

16 November 2022

During the proceedings of the CCW Meeting of the High Contracting Parties 2022, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the European Union (EU) organized a side event regarding the Universalization of the CCW and its Protocols on the 16th of November. The current lack of any single Protocol being ratified by all CCW High Contracting Parties, as well as 62 High Contracting Parties yet to ratify even one of the CCW’s Protocols was the impetus for the event. The event was designed to aid in the understanding of participants of the CCW and its Protocols to assist in High Contracting Parties’ ratification. The organization of the event was part of the EU Council decision (CFSP) 2021/1694 in support of the universalization, implementation, and strengthening of the CCW, which supports activities aimed at the universalization of the CCW. The event went through each of the five Protocols and their history, along with a presentation from Malawi as one of the newest High Contracting Parties to the CCW.

The delegate from the EU began with the opening remarks regarding the Convention and its entry into force on 2 December 1983.  He mentioned the flexible nature of the Convention as it can address a wide range of emerging disarmament challenges. The expansion of the Convention’s scope to apply to non-international armed conflicts in 2001 along with the Group of Governmental Experts’ discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) express this flexibility. However, the delegate from Poland as the Chair of the 2022 Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the CCW acknowledged the expansion of the Convention to include non-international armed conflicts, however, only 88 out of the 126 High Contracting Parties to the CCW are bound to this new amended Article 1. The EU delegate also mentioned that despite the Convention’s ability to adapt to issues in disarmament, some universalization of the CCW in specific regions is low. The resulting impact has limited the diversity of perspectives as well as adherence to the norms of the CCW globally.

To present Protocol I, a representative from UNODA Geneva gave a brief overview of the Protocol and its prohibition of the use of any weapon whose primary effect is to injure with fragments unable to be detected by X-rays in the human body. Protocol I is straightforward in its application as it does not pertain to the unintentionally injure of undetectable fragments. The delegate from Bulgaria as representative of the President of the 25th Annual Conference of High Contracting Parties to Amended Protocol II of the CCW presented Protocol II. The President described first the original adoption of Protocol II in 1980 of the prohibition of mines, booby-traps, and other devices against civilians indiscriminately. The Amended Protocol II in 1996 added the responsibility to clear, remove, destroy, or maintain mines, booby-traps, and other devices the state employs without delay at the cessation of active hostility. Importantly for those in attendance, the addition to the Protocol to have technical cooperation, assistance, and information sharing among High Contracting Parties for mine clearance, providing new High Contracting Parties to Protocol II access to assistance in the removal process.

The head of Petersburg Partnerships, which consults on humanitarian approaches to arms control and disarmament, presented Protocols III and IV. Protocol III on incendiary weapons began negotiations due to the use in Indochina during the 1960s-1970s. The indiscriminate destruction resulting from the massive use of napalm in Vietnam resulted in the limitations on the use. Despite this, some states desired for a full prohibition. The Protocol has aided in the stigmatization of using incendiary weapons resulting in their limited use.

Protocol IV on the prohibition of weapons specifically designed to cause permanent blindness or damage to vision, is one of the few instances of banning a weapons before its introduction to the battlefield. There was an interest from certain states in the late 80s and early 90s who had programs developing blinding laser weapons. States also have an obligation to “take all feasible precautions” to prevent permanent blindness of other weapon systems. Attempts have been made to create temporary blinding weapons, however, the line between permanent and temporary blindness is too small. The norm created with Protocol IV against such weapons has resulted in no further creation of blinding weapons.

The Spanish delegate as President of the Annual Conference of High Contracting Parties to Protocol V of the CCW presented on Protocol V. The President mentioned his active efforts in advocating for the Protocol through his meeting with 24 of 29 states currently not adhering to Protocol V. The main obligation for states is the clearance of unexploded and abandoned explosive ordinance after a conflict in the affected territory under its control, including the protection of civilians through warnings and education similar to humanitarian demining. The President highlights for potential states seeking to join that explosive remnants of war (ERW) already on the ground are exempt and thus are not obligated to be cleared upon the Protocols entry into force. The similar aspects of Protocol V to other international humanitarian demining instruments presents no additional burden to states already party to such demining instruments.

The side event concluded with presentations from a delegate from the Philippines who recently ratified Amendment to Article 1 and Protocol V as well as a delegate from Malawi which acceded to the CCW on 23 September 2022. The information gained from the process by which the Philippines and Malawi went through is valuable for those states who have yet to accede to certain Protocols or the CCW. The domestic legal process, while unique for both states, helps to provide a path for other states to follow. Malawi requires domestication for the CCW to have the fullest effect under the law in Malawi. To achieve domestication, the delegate from Malawi requested assistance from the Secretariat and partners. The presentation of the Protocols by the panelists and the experiences from the Philippines and Malawi helped those in attendance gain valuable information and expertise in the adoption of CCW and its Protocols.