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
For the purposes of the 1980 Protocol on Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III to the 1980 Convention on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, CCW), Article 1 defines an incendiary weapon as
any weapon or munition which is primarily designed to set fire to objects or to cause burn injury to persons through the action of flame, heat, or combination thereof, produced by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.
The Protocol provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of incendiary weapons, which includes ‘flame throwers, fougasses, shells, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and other containers of incendiary substances’.Article 1(1).
The definition’s scope is limited by the requirement that the weapon or munition be ‘primarily designed’ to act through flame and/or heat, but it is broad in that it applies to a wide variety of weapons, including flamethrowers, shells, rockets, grenades, mines, bombs and ‘other containers of incendiary substances’. The latter notion suggests that improvised incendiary devices primarily designed to act trough fire or heat are also covered.
Explicitly excluded from the definition of an incendiary weapon, and hence from the ambit of the Protocol, pursuant to Article 1(b), are
Thus, some ambiguity exists as to whether weapons or munitions that are not primarily designed to have incendiary effects, but which will likely or certainly produce ‘incidental incendiary effects’, and combined effects munitions that have ‘an additional incendiary effect’ that is specifically designed to cause burn injury to persons are included in the definition’s scope. Debate about the scope of the definition of an incendiary weapon under CCW Protocol III has notably arisen in connection with the use of white phosphorous munitions in concentrations of civilians.
Last updated on: 07 December 2015