INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW
CONCERNING WEAPONS AND AMMUNITIONS
Dr. 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.
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.
International Law concerning conflicts when weapons are
*Specific branch in international public law which is divided
in three specific fields.
The Law of war.
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
concerning weapons control.
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
principles included in armed Conflicts Law.
A Humanitarian principle.
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.
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.
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.
renouncing the use , in time of war , of explosive projectiles
under 400 grammes weight Saint Petersburg , 29 November/11
international military commission having assembled at Saint
Petersburg …declare as follows :
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
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
at St Petersburg , 29 November(11 December) 1868.
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
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……”
Resolution on Small-Calibre weapon Systems
Geneva 28 September 1979
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.