Article 36 opening statement at the UN CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties, 22 Nov 2017
Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, 22 November 2017 – General exchange of views
Statement delivered by Maya Brehm
Thank you, Chair, and thank you for your preparations for this meeting.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Every day, reports reach us of grave human suffering; stories of human tragedies unfolding in Yemen and in Syria. In previous years, we’ve heard equally devastating stories from Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sri Lanka, Somalia and many other places. Over time, patterns of violence and harm emerge: some are specific to a certain region or conflict setting, or even to a type of actor. Others are specific to certain classes of weapons and associated practices of violence.
The CCW was created to address the latter. To protect civilians against the effects of hostilities and fighters against suffering or injury not justified by military necessity, the CCW seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of conventional weapons, and to codify and progressively develop the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.
The progressive development of legal restrictions and prohibitions is key to ensuring that emerging weapon technologies, including autonomous weapon systems, accord with the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience. We were encouraged to see so many states and organizations, last week, demonstrating the political will to find ways of drawing an explicit, legally binding, line against the development of weapon systems that operate without meaningful control. In the view of many, such weapon systems would fall foul of international law.
We urge HCPs to confirm the mandate of the GGE as recommended last week and to take all necessary financial steps to ensure a meeting can be convened as early as possible in 2018. In our view, an interactive, focused discussion on the characteristics of the necessary human control would be most productive.
Artificial intelligence and robotics are not the only areas of science and technology where developments have potential implications for the emergence of new weapons, means or methods of warfare. Such applications may raise concerns regarding human wellbeing and international peace and security, and questions about the adequacy of multilateral mechanisms for the control of conventional weapons, including the CCW. This is why we believe that scrutiny, even at a general level, of developments in science and technology with implications for conventional weapons is of considerable significance.
Article 36 has published discussion papers on directed energy weapons and on nanoweapons, as well as a summary report setting out some general conceptual challenges and questions regarding the review of science and technology developments. (These are available in the back of the room.) We hope that many HCPs will voice support for continued consideration of this issue under Agenda item 11.
The CCW’s effectiveness and relevance will be measured by its capacity to keep abreast of emerging issues and respond to novel challenges, but concern about potential future weapons must not distract from addressing existing weapons whose use causes devastation and suffering in conflicts every day.
Weapons with incendiary effects inflict horrendous suffering. Burn injuries are extremely painful and very difficult to treat. Fire is notoriously hard to control. The CCW has long recognized that the use of incendiary weapons in or near concentrations of civilians is deeply problematic. In spite of this, incendiary weapons are still used today with devastating consequences. We are pleased that the HCPs decided to set aside time this week to examine the adequacy of Protocol III and we hope for a productive and sustained debate. We call on HCPs to strengthen the Protocol – to make it clear that burning people to death is not an acceptable mode of violence.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also remains an issue of urgent humanitarian concern. As a founding member of INEW, Article 36 believes that all States should acknowledge the severe harm caused by such use – and should commit to avoid the use of explosive weapons that have wide-area effects in populated areas. Based on evidence of harm and technical reports, it is possible to identify certain broad types of weapons that are particularly problematic when used in populated areas, including multiple-barrel rocket launchers, large air-dropped bombs or cluster munitions. The latter are already prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and their serious humanitarian concern within concentrations of civilians has previously been recognized in a multilateral declaration in this forum.
Whilst we will follow closely discussions on explosive weapons in populated areas in this fundamentally law-oriented forum, we believe that States committed to addressing this humanitarian concern should drive the adoption of strong national policy and procedures through the development of a political declaration that sets an international standard.
The CCW provides a standing forum for states to undertake open discussions and to pursue concrete outcomes that express our collective humanity. At a time of extensive civilian suffering in conflict, and of challenges to multilateralism, we hope that delegates here will work together to ensure that this institutional framework is used to best effect.
Thank you, Chair.
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