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Statement on Incendiary Weapons, CCW Fourth Review Conference Preparatory Meeting

Delivered by Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director

Thank you, Mr. President.

Human Rights Watch is asking states parties to support the adoption of a mandate during the Review Conference in November 2011 to negotiate amendments to CCW Protocol III on incendiary weapons. The aim should be to improve the protocol so that humanitarian concerns caused by the use of incendiary weapons are alleviated and civilians are better protected.

Nearly three decades of state practice have shown how Protocol III has failed to meet its promise of protecting civilians in a number of respects:

1. The protocol’s definition of incendiary weapons as those “primarily designed” to set fire to objects or cause burn injuries to persons is too narrow, allowing multi-purpose and widely used incendiary munitions such as white phosphorus to escape regulation;

2. The restrictions on use are insufficiently rigorous, with exceptions that too often permit the use of incendiary weapons in ways that could be dangerous to civilians; and,

3. The continued use of incendiary weapons, and their proliferation to non-state armed groups, reflects the failure of Protocol III to generate stigma against such weapons.

These inadequacies are described in more detail in a memorandum distributed by Human Rights Watch last November. Our memorandum also explains how the protocol’s problems have been further exacerbated by a reservation to Protocol III submitted by the United States in January 2009. This reservation challenges the normative force of the existing rules and motivated 17 other High Contracting Parties to issue formal objections to the reservation as contrary to the object and purpose of Protocol III.

So we believe it is time to amend Protocol III and eliminate the flaws that undermine its humanitarian objective. Mr. President, these inadequacies should be addressed as part of a thorough review of the general status and operation of Protocol III. States parties have not revisited the protocol in thirty years, and the Fourth Review Conference offers an excellent opportunity for them to do so.

Human Rights Watch calls on the review conference to adopt a mandate to amend Protocol III, with the goal of addressing the protocol's present inadequacies with a view to completing such negotiations in 2012.

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