Since the mid-1990s, the humanitarian approach to disarmament has been applied to a range of arms-related issues. These issues exemplify the humanitarian impacts of arms and how humanitarian disarmament can address them. The problems associated with most of the specific weapons and activities discussed here have inspired the creation of global civil society coalitions. Efforts to strengthen norms against other arms, such as incendiary weapons and armed drones, however, have also been guided by humanitarian disarmament.
For more detailed information on each of these issues, please click the links below:
Antipersonnel landmines, which are designed to explode “by the presence, proximity or contact of a person,” kill and maim civilians, interfere with economic development, and contribute to forced displacement. The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty prohibits these weapons and requires stockpile destruction, clearance of mined areas, and international support to assist victims.
Armed drones have gained notoriety, and their use, development, and proliferation has risen significantly over the last decade. While some states are developing international standards for drones, civil society is pushing for broader, human rights-based discussions within the UN framework.
Poor regulation of the global arms trade has led to the death, injury, and rape of countless individuals as well as to violence, displacement, and human rights abuses. The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty regulates the transfer of conventional arms, requiring states parties to assess the risks of proposed arms exports and not to authorize transfers if the risks cannot be mitigated.
Cluster munitions, large weapons that disperse smaller submunitions over a wide area, pose a humanitarian threat because they cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants during attacks and they leave behind many unexploded submunitions. The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions bans these weapons and requires states parties to destroy stockpiles, clear contaminated areas, and assist victims.
Conflict and the Environment
Armed conflicts and military activities produce serious humanitarian and ecological consequences and leave behind toxic remnants of war. Responding to pressure from civil society and international organizations, the International Law Commission in 2019 adopted draft principles outlining measures to prevent and remediate conflict-related environmental damage.
Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes large numbers of civilian casualties and damages homes and infrastructure, infringing on health care, education, and other services and leading to displacement. In 2022, after three years of consultations and negotiations, states agreed to the final text of a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Incendiary weapons produce heat and fire through the chemical reaction of a flammable substance, causing excruciating burns and destruction. Although incendiary weapons are regulated by Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, many states and civil society are calling to strengthen international law.
Autonomous weapons systems that would select and engage targets without meaningful human control raise a host of moral, legal, accountability, technological, and security concerns. Support for a treaty with prohibitions and regulations to address these concerns is growing, but more action is needed to keep pace with the rapid development of technology.
Nuclear weapons produce catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences that spread across time and space. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons bans activities related to nuclear weapons, requires states parties to destroy their nuclear arsenals, and includes obligations to assist victims and remediate contaminated environments.