While armed conflict inevitably results in instability and the loss of human life, certain weapons cause such egregious harm that the international community chooses to prohibit or regulate them. The last fifteen years have seen a major change in how international law deals with problematic weapons. Protecting civilians has replaced maintaining national security as the driving force behind weapons treaties. In addition, nongovernmental organizations have played a increasing role in the negotiation and promotion of such instruments. Often described as humanitarian disarmament, this new approach began with the campaign for the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, recently succeeded in banning cluster munitions, and is now being applied to other weapons.
As part of this movement, the Clinic has worked extensively to reduce the civilian suffering caused by specific weapons. Since 2005, we have been actively involved in the campaign to ban cluster munitions, which kill and injure civilians both during attacks and afterwards. Under the leadership of Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty, the Clinic contributed to the negotiation of the groundbreaking Convention on Cluster Munitions and has promoted the convention’s strong implementation and interpretation since its adoption in May 2008.
Docherty, an expert on cluster munitions, is also a senior researcher in the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. Over the past several years, the Clinic has collaborated closely with Human Rights Watch (HRW), a leader in humanitarian disarmament. Students have participated in nearly a dozen advocacy missions to international conferences, where they released numerous publications, and conducted a field mission in Lebanon to investigate Israel’s use of cluster munitions.
More recently, the Clinic and HRW have initiated a campaign to strengthen the international law that governs incendiary weapons. We plan to continue work on both cluster munitions and incendiary weapons for the indefinite future and are in the early stages of expanding our work to encompass other weapons that cause humanitarian problems.