In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Law and the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - By Saadula Aqrawi

In­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law con­tains prin­ci­ples and rules gov­ern­ing the choice of weapons and pro­hibit­ing or re­strict­ing the use of cer­tain weapons. The ICRC plays a lead­ing role in the pro­mo­tion and devel­op­ment of law reg­u­lat­ing the use of cer­tain weapons.

In World War I, both sides used poi­son gas to in­flict sig­nif­i­cant bat­tle­field ca­su­al­ties and ag­o­niz­ing suf­fer­ing. Such weapons ba­si­cally con­sisted of well-known com­mer­cial chem­i­cals put into stan­dard mu­ni­tions such as grenades and ar­tillery shells. Chlo­rine, phos­gene (a chok­ing agent) and mus­tard gas (which in­flicts painful burns on the skin) were among the chem­i­cals used. The re­sults were in­dis­crim­i­nate and of­ten dev­as­tat­ing: more than a hun­dred thou­sand deaths re­sulted from their use. Since World War I, chem­i­cal weapons have caused more than one mil­lion ca­su­al­ties glob­ally.

In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian law is gen­er­ally ac­cepted as bind­ing in re­la­tion­ships be­tween states and na­tions. It serves as a frame­work for the prac­tice of sta­ble and or­ga­nized in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. In­ter­na­tional law dif­fers from na­tional le­gal sys­tems in that it is pri­mar­ily con­cerned with na­tions rather than pri­vate cit­i­zens. Na­tional law may be­come in­ter­na­tional law when treaties del­e­gate na­tional ju­ris­dic­tions to supra­na­tional tri­bunals such as the Euro­pean Court of Hu­man Rights or the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court. Treaties such as the Geneva Con­ven­tions may re­quire na­tional law to con­form. In­ter­na­tional law is con­sent-based gov­er­nance. This means that a state mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is not obliged to abide by in­ter­na­tional law un­less it has ex­pressly con­sented to a par­tic­u­lar course of con­duct. This is an is­sue of state sovereignty. The (Geneva) Pro­to­col, which pro­hib­ited the use of chem­i­cal weapons in war­fare, was signed af­ter World War 1. How­ever, the Pro­to­col had a num­ber of short­com­ings, in­clud­ing the fact that it did not pro­hibit the devel­op­ment, pro­duc­tion or stock­pil­ing of chem­i­cal weapons, while it was also prob­lem­atic that many states that rat­i­fied the Pro­to­col re­served the right to use pro­hib­ited weapons against states that were not party to the pro­to­col, or as re­tal­i­a­tion in kind if chem­i­cal weapons were used against them.

Poi­son gasses were used dur­ing World War II in Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps and in Asia, but not on Euro­pean bat­tle­fields. How­ever, the Cold War was a pe­riod of sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment, man­u­fac­ture and stock­pil­ing of chem­i­cal weapons, dur­ing which an es­ti­mated 25 states de­vel­oped chem­i­cal weapon ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Since the end of World War II, chem­i­cal weapons have re­port­edly been used in only rare cases, no­tably by Iraq (Sad­dam Hus­sein’s regime) against Kur­dish civil­ians and Iran 1980-1988.

The Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion is an agree­ment which out­laws the pro­duc­tion, stock­pil­ing and use of chem­i­cal weapons and their pre­cur­sors. Its full name is the Con­ven­tion on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of the Devel­op­ment, Pro­duc­tion, Stock­pil­ing and Use of Chem­i­cal Weapons and on their De­struc­tion. The Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion was adopted by the Dis­ar­ma­ment Con­fer­ence in Geneva on 3 Septem­ber 1992. The Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion al­lows for the strin­gent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of com­pli­ance by State Par­ties.

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