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 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (CCW) and three initial protocols to the Convention were adopted:
The Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (Protocol IV) was adopted on 13 October 1995, at the First Review conference of the CCW. At the same Review Conference, the states parties adopted an amended version of Protocol II, the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended on 3 May 1996 (Amended Protocol II).
At the Second Review Conference, which took place in Geneva from 11 to 21 December 2001, the states parties adopted an Amendment to Article 1 of the Convention, extending the scope of application of the Convention to non-international armed conflicts. (See 'Provisions and scope' for more detail.)
On 28 November 2003, states parties to the CCW adopted the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War (Protocol V).
The Fourth Review Conference of 14 to 25 November 2011 failed to reach consensus on a draft protocol on cluster munitions.By that time, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, a more comprehensive and restrictive treaty than the CCW draft protocol on cluster munitions, had already entered into force.
During the 1970s, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) convened a series of governmental expert meetings on the reaffirmation and development of international humanitarian law (IHL). Meetings were held at Geneva in 1971 and 1972, at Lucerne in 1974 and at Lugano in 1976.
This process informed the convening, between 1974 and 1977, of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts was held in Geneva. In 1977, the Conference adopted Additional Protocol I and Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. Additional Protocol I sets out general rules of IHL on the conduct of hostilities. A section on 'Methods and Means of Warfare' (Part III, Section I) sets out three 'Basic rules' on the choice and use of weapons (Art. 35) and a rule on 'New weapons' (Art. 36), but it does not contain rules on specific weapon types that may be of a nature to cause unnecessary suffering or have indiscriminate effects. For this reason, the Conference adopted Resolution 22 (IV), entitled 'Follow-up regarding prohibition or restriction of use of certain conventional weapons', on 9 June 1977, recommending that another conference of governments be convened with a view to reaching agreements on prohibitions or restrictions of the use of specific conventional weapons.
This conference was held under the auspices of the UN in Geneva from 10 to 28 September 1979 and from 15 September to 10 October 1980 and led to the adoption, on 10 October 1980, of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
The CCW is a treaty situated at the intersection of international humanitarian law, disarmament, and international peace and security. It aims to prohibit or restrict further the use of certain conventional weapons, not only for immediate humanitarian reasons, but also with a view to contributing to disarmament and peace.
The preamble attests to the mixed heritage of the treaty and the diverse aspirations it embodies. Among other things, the preamble recalls the prohibition on the threat or use of force under the UN Charter, refers to the 'general principle of the protection of the civilian population against the effects of hostilities', recalls that 'the right of the parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited', and that it is prohibited to use weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.
In the preamble, States Parties also 'confirm their determination that in cases not covered by this Convention and its annexed Protocols or by other international agreements, the civilian population and the combatants shall at all times remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience' - recalling the so-called 'Martens clause', which made its first appearance in the preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention (II) with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
Article 1 of the CCW specifies that the Convention and its annexed Protocols apply in international armed conflicts, referred to in Article 2 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Article 1(4) of 1977 Additional Protocol I. For States Parties to the Convention that have ratified the Amendment to Article 1 adopted on 21 December 2001, the CCW, as amended, also applies in situations of non-international armed conflict, referred to in Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Paragraph 3 of Amended Article 1 makes it clear that in case of a non-international armed conflict in the territory of a State Party to the CCW, as amended, 'each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply the prohibitions and restrictions of this Convention and its annexed Protocols'. Consequently, the CCW, as amended, as well as its protocols, are directly applicable to non-state actors that are parties to a non-international armed conflict on the territory of a state that has ratified the Amendment to Article 1.Article 1(2 and 3) of 1996 Amended Protocol II already extended the scope of application of that protocol to non-international armed conflicts. See Art. 7(4) of the CCW concerning relations between a High Contracting Party and an authority representing a people referred to t in Art. 96(3) of 1977 Additional Protocol I.
Article 8 provides the modalities for the review and amendment of the Convention and for the adoption of additional protocols. The structure of the treaty regime, composed of an umbrella treaty containing general provisions and specific prohibitions or restrictions on particular weapons contained in additional protocols allows for a flexible response to future concerns through the adoption of new protocols.Already the 1868 Saint Petersburg Declaration attests to the challenge posed to international legal regulation by the evolution of military technology. (See the last paragraph of the Declaration.)
In addition, an open-ended Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), established by the Second Review Conference of the CCW in 2001, can be mandated by the Meeting of States Parties to consider new issues relating to conventional weapons. In the past, the GGE has been mandated to consider explosive remnants of war (ERW), mines other than anti-personnel mines (MOTAPM), small calibre weapons and ammunition, cluster munitions, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and autonomous weapons systems. Not all of these discussions have yielded tangible results.More information can be found on the website of the United Nations Office in Geneva.
Last updated on: 28 October 2015