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, free of charge.
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 academics, government officials, humanitarian practitioners, legal experts and members of security or armed forces.
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 rules pertaining to weapons covering 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:
Weapon 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, including in terms of death, injury and material damage.
Instrument entries summarize the evolution of international regulatory instruments (treaties and other standard-setting instruments) governing the conduct of hostilities or the use of force for law enforcement purposes, and discuss provisions relating to the regulation of weapons (with focus on their use).
Case entries detail how judgments, decisions and other documents issued by international or regional judicial or quasi-judicial bodies contribute to international weapons regulation.
Glossary entries aim to present key concepts of weapons law, to clarify the meaning of weapons law related notions under 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 explicit 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 law enforcement purposes, 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. The 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 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 the 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.
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 was Maya Brehm, Researcher at the Geneva Academy until April 2017. Anna Chiapello assisted with research for the Encyclopedia in 2015. Gabrielle Chalk, Syuyumbika Galimova, Aimee Giguere, Morgan Hauck, Victorya Hernandez, Maggie McNish, Tiffany Moton, Emily Rochefort, Priya Sakaria, Brooke Schneider and Jason Vargas, students at the International Disarmament Institute (Pace University) conducted background research for the Encyclopedia in 2016, under the direction of Matthew Bolton.
Other contributors include:
Last updated on: 19 April 2017