The integration of advanced computational techniques into weapons systems poses a host of legal, ethical and moral concerns. New legally-binding rules must be developed to preserve ethical standards and enable meaningful human control over systems that apply force on the basis of sensors.
Biological and toxin weapons are bacteria, diseases and poisons that are produced and spread for military purposes, including to kill and incapacitate adversaries. They are prohibited for use under the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
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. 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.
Overview of statements on drones at UNGA First Committee 2018, and mapping of international activity
The harm caused to civilians and civilian infrastructure by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas - particularly those with wide area effects - has been repeatedly highlighted as a major humanitarian priority over the past decade. States must amend their rules of engagement, policies and practice to prevent and address such harm.
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.
New paper: Humanitarian mine action and protecting education – making links through the Safe Schools Declaration
The continuous process of development in science and technology has implications for the emergence of new practices and technologies of armed violence, including new weapons. States also have obligations under Article 36 of API of the Geneva Conventions to review new weapons, means and methods of warfare.
Nuclear weapons have catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences, rendering their possession by any state fundamentally unacceptable. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, agreed in 2017, responds to these facts and creates an international framework for action.
Small arms are weapons that can be carried by individual infantry soldiers – essentially firearms. 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 transfer, possession and use fuels armed violence.
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.
Processes and Policy
Armed violence is the use or threatened use of weapons to inflict injury, death or psychosocial harm. It includes violence from crime to conflict. Armed violence prevention has been the subject of international diplomatic initiatives.
States, civil society and international organisations have been involved in a process to develop an international treaty to govern the arms trade, resulting in the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013.
The transparent and systematic recording of every casualty of armed violence as an individual is crucial from a perspective of human dignity. Casualty recording has also played a critical role in processes to curb weapons.
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.
“Cyber security” constitutes a broad spectrum of activity and concerns that may hinder individuals, private industry, society, and governments. In approaching these issues, it is important to be wary of responses that overinflate the threat, and in doing so promote militarisation and facilitate escalation.
Disarmament is a global concern, but global representation at multilateral disarmament forums is far from equal. Article 36 undertook a project in 2015-16 to map and analyse low-income country participation across a number of processes.
Gender and disarmament intersect in several ways. Gendered discourses on violence and weapons can affect how disarmament issues are addressed, whilst women, men, boys and girls can also be exposed to different patterns of violence, and affected differently by specific weapons and practices.
Attacks on educational institutions, personnel and people accessing education, as well as the military use of schools are a civilian protection issue and may violate international humanitarian and criminal law, as well as the right to education. The Safe Schools Declaration is an international instrument addressing these issues.
The United Nations Security Council periodically holds an open debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, and the UN Secretary General issues a report on the protection of civilians every year. Topics discussed include casualty recording, displaced persons, attacks on civilians, including schools and hospitals and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Article 36 previously provided the secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Weapons and the Protection of Civilians, which worked to promote practices, policies and laws that better prevent civilian harm from weapons.
Article 36 is collaborating with ethnomethodologists at the University of Liverpool on a project looking at the changing character of law in war, and the role that legal considerations play in decisions around targeting and the use of force