The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.
The project was initiated in December 2012 with the generous support of the Austrian Foreign Ministry and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The Encyclopedia was launched on 2 December 2013. The content of the Encyclopedia is available online for free and can be downloaded via a paid iPhone/iPad 'app', the development of which was funded by the Austrian Foreign Ministry.
The Encyclopedia is still under development and entries are subject to ongoing revision. Significant efforts have been made to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and represents a diversity of views. We welcome feedback on the content of this site, including proposed corrections and suggestions for additions. For more information, please see the Disclaimer.
The Weapons Law Enyclopedia aims to provide information about
technical characteristics of weapons and their intended or typical use
impacts of weapon use, especially the humanitarian impact
international legal norms governing the use of weapons
The Encyclopedia is primarily intended as a legal reference source appealing to a broad audience interested in questions relating to the legality of weapons under international law, including government officials, humanitarian practitioners, legal experts, members of security or armed forces, and academics.
Like other encyclopedic endeavours, the Weapons Law Encyclopedia project is motivated by the idea of integrating a body of knowledge and making specialised knowledge accessible to a broad public. By compiling and summarizing information on legal rules pertaining to weapons from different fields of international law (international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal, among others), and by making information about weapon technologies, their applications for military and policing purposes, and their humanitarian impact accessible to non-specialists, the Encyclopedia hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the legal regulation of weapons under international law. In time, this can help to promote a more coherent approach to international weapons regulation, more faithful implementation of international legal obligations regarding weapons, and to reduce the humanitarian impact of armed violence.
The Weapons Law Encyclopedia contains four types of entries:
Weapons entries provide information about the history of weapons, their technical characteristics and intended uses in combat and law enforcement situations, and about the documented humanitarian impact of their use in terms of death, injury and material damage. Entries on weapons can be browsed according to the status of their regulation under public international law and according to their primary injury or damage mechanism.
Instruments entries summarize the evolution of international regulatory instruments (treaties and other standard-setting instruments) governing the conduct of hostilities or the use of force in law enforcement, and discuss their provisions relating to weapons regulation. These entries are divided into groups according to the area of international law or policy they are commonly associated with, such as international human rights law, international humanitarian law or international criminal law.
Cases entries detail how judgments, decisions and other documents issued by international or regional judicial and quasi-judicial bodies contribute to international weapons regulation. These entries are grouped according to the issuing body and include cases by regional human rights courts, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Glossary entries aim to present key concepts of weapons law, to clarify the meaning of weapons law related notions under public international law, and to explain technical terms used in the Encyclopedia.
The Weapons Law Enyclopedia can be explored in different ways:
For the purposes of the Encyclopedia a weapon is broadly defined as a tool that is by design, use or intended use capable of causing injury or death of persons, or damage to or destruction of objects. Weapons can be part of a weapon system, together with other devices, materials, instruments, mechanisms, equipment, or software.
The set of weapon entries initially included in the Encyclopedia dealt with weapons whose use is subject to specific restrictions or prohibitions under international treaties. The Enyclopedia is being gradually expanded to include information about other types of weapons with a focus on weapons that are commonly used in the conduct of hostilities or for the purposes of law enforcement, as well as weapons that are at the centre of controversy, give rise to particular humanitarian concerns, or raise novel legal questions.
To enable users to easily find relevant information about weapons, the designation of weapons in the Encyclopedia orients itself at the names and categories used in key international legal and policy instruments.
Weapon entries are grouped together for ease of reference and in order to establish connections among weapons across recognised legal and policy categories. Classification of weapons according to their status under international law and according to their primary injury or damage mechanism is intended to help identify potential inconsistencies in the international regulation of weapons whose use, albeit subject to different legal restrictions, may raise similar humanitarian concerns in practice.
The information in the Weapons Law Encyclopedia is the result of desk research drawing on publicly accessible texts, mostly in English, including medical literature, military publications and weapon specifications, as well as texts reflecting the primary and secondary sources of law (such as a multilateral treaty or a legal treaties).
For the purposes of the Encyclopedia, international weapons law comprises international legal rules and norms regulating acts involving weapons, particularly those found in international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international criminal law, disarmament law, and law governing the inter-state use of force (jus ad bellum).
Research for the Weapons Law Encyclopedia is carried out by staff at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and by external experts in disarmament, international law, military science, wound ballistics, and related fields.
If you are an expert in one of these domains and would like to contribute to the Weapons Law Encyclopedia as an author or as a reviewer, please contact us: wle(at)geneva-academy.ch.
The Weapons Law Encyclopedia project was initiated and led by Stuart Casey-Maslen, Head of Research at the Geneva Academy (until August 2014). The primary contributor to the Encyclopedia is Maya Brehm, Researcher at the Geneva Academy. Anna Chiapello assists with research for the Encyclopedia. Other contributors include:
Last updated on: 07 December 2015