Autonomous weapons are military systems which are able to select and attack targets autonomously. Already the use of military robots, including drones is increasingly widespread, but a line must be drawn at the use of fully autonomous weapons.
Cluster munitions are large explosive weapons that function by scattering many smaller submunitions over a wide area. They can be fired from rockets and artillery or dropped in aircraft bombs. They are prohibited under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Drones are remotely-operated aircraft used for surveillance and, increasingly, for missile strikes. Drones can operate at very long range and can circle high above an area for very long periods of time. The use of armed drones raises wider concerns around extrajudicial killings, the lack of casualty recording, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the increasing use of remote-controlled weapons and military robots.
Incendiary weapons, such as napalm, white phosphorous and flamethrowers, use fire and burning to destroy materiel and kill personnel. They generally have area effects, meaning that they strike civilians and combatants alike when used in populated areas.
Landmines are weapons that are placed or scattered on or under the ground and are designed to kill or injure people or destroy vehicles that come into contact with them. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Anti-vehicle mines are subject to minimal restrictions under the CCW.
The term pain weapons refers to weapons designed to fall short of applying lethal force. They include tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons and, more recently, chemical sprays and electroshock devices such as tasers. New generation pain weapons include acoustic weapons and electromagnetic pulse beams.
Small arms are weapons that can be carried by individual infantry soldiers – essentially firearms. They include handguns; rifles and shotguns; and machine guns. Gun violence is widespread in many countries and causes high levels of deaths and injuries. Hundreds of millions of small arms are in circulation worldwide and the lack of controls on their transfer, possession and use helps fuel armed violence.
Depleted Uranium (DU) is a chemically toxic and radioactive compound, which is used in armour piercing munitions because of its very high density. The DU oxide dust produced when DU munitions burn is toxic and radioactive and readily inhaled into and retained by the lungs. It can travel many kilometres and then be inhaled or ingested by civilians and the military alike.
Processes and Policy
Armed violence is the use or threatened use of weapons to inflict injury, death or psychosocial harm. It spans a range of situations of violence from crime to conflict and it fuels and is fuelled by poverty. States, civil society and international organisations are working together to undertake practical work to prevent armed violence and to tackle it at the international diplomatic level.
States, civil society and international organisations have been involved in a process to develop an international treaty to govern the arms trade. To be effective and meaningful this treaty must cover all types of weapons and must prohibit transfers to governments that will use them to abuse human rights, commit war crimes and undermine development.
The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is an international framework for banning and restricting weapons that are indiscriminate or cause excessive injury. Rules are added through individual protocols, of which there are five, including a ban on blinding lasers and a restriction on the use of incendiary weapons. The CCW's consensus decision-making has made ambitious humanitarian results difficult to achieve.
Twice a year the United Nations Security Council holds a debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Every 18 months the UN Secretary General issues a report on the protection of civilians. Topics discussed include casualty recording, displaced persons, attacks on civilians, including schools and hospitals and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Toxic remnants of war are caused by the use of hazardous materials in conflict. This can include contamination from uranium weapons, chemical agents, dumped fuel and explosives. Toxic remnants of war may have significant negative effects on people and the environment, including over the long term.