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International Humanitarian Law

concerning weapons and ammunitions.


Dominique TESTUD

 


Eversince the beginning of Humanity, conflicts have occurred between the different communities. They alternately were dominant or dominated, to finally compromise and live in a pacific cohabitation.
Along the generations, customs slowly legitimized laws to finally set the rules in the conflicts. At first, those conflicts had the possession of restricted territories as a purpose, then they progressively spread out to larger areas, to finally reach continents and threaten the peace over the whole world.
The laws that had formerly ruled the local conflicts according to ancient customs, had to be given up, and it seemed necessary to conceive and establish new international ones that could be accepted in the whole world.
To do so, important obstacles had to be faced :
- the disparity of the involved countries
- the importance of the stakes
- the difference in matter of civilization , in matter of fight conception and above all , of how high a price a human life was valued
- the use of weapons and munitions constantly changing and evolving into more and more sophisticated ones.


Emissaries representing the Nations met several times to try to work out new texts based upon consensual principles ,but only involving the countries giving their agreement by signing them. By that fact and by the way they were formulated, they already included the ambiguous side that was to make them difficult to apply.

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Historic and essential steps concerning wound ballistics.

During the second part of the XIX° century, a real process to set and elaborate international legal standards was initiated. It was finally achieved during the First Convention of Genève in 1864, then, by the turn of the XX° century, during the Convention of Genève in 1906, the Conventions of La Hague in 1899 and in 1907. They gave birth to Humanitarian Laws protecting the rights of the victims, and to War Rules in order to establish a code the combatants had to follow during the conflicts.


The Second World War has pointed out the need of a more comprehensive set of rules to protect more effectively the victims of war. On August 1949 , the four Conventions of Genève were held, and, currently, the Humanitarian Law is still based on what was decided then.
It is only later on, during the second half of the XX° century, that the Armed Conflicts Law have been defined by the United Nations.

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International Law concerning conflicts when weapons are involved.


*Specific branch in international public law which is divided in three specific fields.


The Law of war.

Which is grouping together the La Hague Conventions, intending to protect combatants from the most murderous effects of war and to define some rules able to be enforced during the combat, such as, for instance, forbidding perfidious behaviour or forbidding to declare there will not be any mercy.


Humanitarian Law.

 

Law concerning weapons control.

Giving limits to international conventions.
Forbidding, fixing limits or ruling the use of some ammunitions.
Forbidding, in particular, chemical and biological weapons, Dum bullets, not localizable exploding weapons, blinding lasers.

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*Fundamental principles included in armed Conflicts Law.

A Humanitarian principle.

Humanitarian principle is based on the will to avoid as much as possible the superfluous damage resulting from the use of force. Based on that fact, the choice of the ways and the methods used to fight is limited ; it must be decided according to the standards defined in the Armed Conflicts Law in order to limit the harmful effects following from the use of violence.


A discriminatory principle.

Discriminatory principle also known as the caution principle imposes to the combatants to make the difference between military targets to be attacked, and civilian properties and people supposed to be protected from a deliberate attack. One of the main difficulties in applying this principle is… how to distinguish military targets from civilian properties.


A principle of proportionality.

Applying that principle generates questions about howappropriate are the means which have been chosen compared to the results the combatants are counting on.
Applying that principle does not exclude that some objectives, particularly protected according to the international convention, become targets when that convention is expressly mentioning the ability for the attacker to refer to the necessity, in a military point of view, to inflict such a damage.

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Declaration renouncing the use , in time of war , of explosive projectiles under 400 grammes weight. Saint Petersburg , 29 November/11 December 1868.

…an international military commission having assembled at Saint Petersburg …declare as follows :

“Considering the progress of civilization should have the effect of alleviating as much as possible the calamities of war.
That the only legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy.
That for this purpose it is sufficient to disable the greatest possible number of men.
That this object would be exceeded by the employment of arms which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable.
That the employment of such arms would, therefore, be contrary to the laws of humanity.
Contracting parties engage mutually to renounce, in case of war among themselves, the employment by their military or naval troops of any projectile of weight below 400 grammes, which is either explosive or charged with fulminating or inflammable substances.
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This engagement is compulsory only upon the contracting or acceding parties thereto in case of war between two or more of themselves, it is applicable to non-contracting parties, or parties who shall not have acceded to it.
It will also cease to be compulsory from the moment when, in a war between contracting or acceding parties, a non-contracting party or a non-acceding party shall join one of the belligerents.
The contracting or acceding parties reserve to themselves to come hereafter to an understanding whenever a precise proposition shall be drawn up in view of future improvements which science may effect in the armament of troops, in order to maintain the principles which they have established, and to conciliate the necessities of war with the laws of humanity ”.

Done at St Petersburg , 29 November(11 December) 1868.
Signatures

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Declaration concerning the prohibition of the use of bullets expanding or flattening easily in the human body such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core.
Declaration concerning small calibre weapon systems.
La Hague 29 July 1899.

The undersigned, Plenipotentiaries of the Powers represented at the International Peace Conference at The Hague, duly authorized to that effect by their Governments,……
Declare as follows:
” The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions.
The present Declaration is only binding for the Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them.
It shall cease to be binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Powers, one of the belligerents is joined by a non-Contracting Power……”

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Resolution on Small-Calibre weapon Systems.
Geneva 28 September 1979.

The United Nations Conference on Prohibitions or Restrictions of Use of Certain conventional weapons.

Aware of the continuous development of small-calibre weapon systems (i.e. arms and projectiles).
Anxious to prevent an unnecessary increase of the injurious effects of such weapon systems
Recalling the agreement embodied in The Hague Declaration of 29 July 1899 to abstain, in international armed conflicts, from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body.

Convinced that it is desirable to establish accurately the wounding effects of current and new generations of small calibre weapon systems including the various parameters that affect the energy transfer and the wounding mechanism of such systems.

1. Takes note with appreciation of the intensive research carried out nationally and internationally in the area of wound ballistics, in particular relating to small-calibre weapon systems, as documented during the Conference.

2. Considers that this research and the international discussion on the subject have led to an increased understanding of the wounding effects of small-calibre weapon systems and of the parameters involved.

3. Believes that such research, including testing of small-calibre weapon systems, should be continued with a view to developing standardized assessment methodology relative to ballistic parameters and medical effects of such systems.

4. Invites Governments to carry out further research, jointly or individually on the wounding effects of small-calibre weapon systems and to communicate, where possible, their findings and conclusions.

5. Welcomes the announcement that an international scientific symposium on wound ballistics will be held in Gothenburg, Swede , in late 1980 or in 1981 and hopes that the results of the symposium will be made available to the United Nations Disarmament Commission, the Committee on Disarmament and other interested fora.
Appeals to all Governments to exercise the utmost care in the development of small-calibre weapon systems, so as to avoid an unnecessary escalation of the injurious effects of such systems.

 

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Dr. Dominique TESTUT