The civilian suffering caused by incendiary weapons has attracted attention in recent years due to the use of white phosphorus munitions. White phosphorus reaches temperatures of 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, burns easily through human flesh, and can reignite when bandages are removed. Israel used the munitions in Gaza in 2009 and the United States in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004.
Protocol III to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) regulates the use of incendiary weapons, but it has significant loopholes. Its definition creates an exception for dual-use weapons, including white phosphorus, which is designed primarily to serve as a smoke screen but causes death, disfigurement, and severe and painful injuries when used in populated areas. In addition, the protocol’s rules governing ground-launched incendiary weapons are weaker than those for air-dropped ones.
The Clinic and Human Rights Watch have launched an initiative to minimize the harmful effects of incendiary weapons. In a paper released in November 2010, they called on CCW states parties to reevaluate the adequacy of Protocol III from a humanitarian perspective. They are urging states parties to approve in 2011 a mandate to amend the protocol and to finalize an amended protocol that closes the loopholes by the end of 2012.
For more information on this issue, see:
The Human Suffering Caused by Incendiary Munitions (March 2011)
The Need to Re-Visit Protocol III on Incendiary Weapons (November 2010)