UK Uranium Weapons Network

Campaigning for a ban on Depleted Uranium weapons

Protocol V – what it is and how it relates to Depleted Uranium weapons


What is Protocol V of the CCW?

In 1859 a 31 year old Swiss business man called Henry Dunat witnessed the aftermath of a battle between French, Italian and Austrian forces in Solferino, northern Italy during the second Italian war of independence. 38,000 dead, dying or wounded soldiers were lying across the battlefield, unattended and uncared for. Some opposing forces were shooting or bayoneting the enemy wounded where they had fallen. In response, Dunat quickly assembled locals to help aid the wounded in makeshift tents and aid stations.

The 1864 Geneva Convention Treaty

The 1864 Geneva Convention Treaty

The lack of humanitarian care for the wounded soldiers inspired Dunat to establish the International Committee of the Red Cross, which he did so in 1863. The Red Cross then successfully campaigned for the first Geneva Convention, which was signed by 14 states only a year later in 1864. His humanitarian efforts were recognised in 1901 when he became the first co-recipient of the Noble Peace Prize.

The first Geneva Convention protected wounded soldiers and those Red Cross staff treating them. A further three conventions and two additional protocols have been added to protect the welfare of prisoners of war and civilians in conflict areas.

The fourth and most recent convention in 1949 (GCIV) outlaws ‘total war’. This is an important international commitment as states now limit their overall capacity to wage war and how much damage and destruction they inflict upon civilian populations. The bombing of Coventry or Dresden would not be lawful under this convention, which would have also significantly reduced the estimated 27 million Soviet citizens who died as a result of the warfare on the eastern front.

The fourth convention also represents a significant shift in military strategy as the signatories recognised there should be limits to war as civilian suffering was recognised as avoidable and undesirable on humanitarian grounds. Over time, other agreements have been added to international law within the context of the humanitarian aims of the fourth convention, such as those that prohibit the use of certain weapons and military tactics and protect certain categories of people and goods.

One of those additional conventions is the Certain Conventional Weapons Convention (CCW).The CCW seeks to prohibit or restrict the use of certain conventional weapons which are considered excessively injurious or whose effects are indiscriminate. The CCW was concluded at Geneva on October 10, 1980 and entered into force in December 1983. It is annexed to the 1949 Geneva Convention, and as such forms part of international humanitarian law and is seen as customary law – that is, as general rules by which all States are bound. The convention has five protocols:

  • Protocol I restricts weapons with non-detectable fragments
  • Protocol II restricts land-mines, booby traps, etc (amended 1996)
  • Protocol III restricts incendiary weapons
  • Protocol IV restricts blinding laser weapons (adopted 1995)
  • Protocol V obligations to clear explosive remnants of war (adopted 2003)

What is Protocol V and the UK Governments position?

Landmine Action were behind Protocol V, which is the most recent addition to the CCW in November 2003. Protocol V is seen alongside the other four protocols of the CCW as a humanitarian instrument to minimise civilian harm in the aftermath of warfare by obliging states to clear and remove explosive remnants of war (cluster munitions and other unexploded ordinance) from battlefields. It is particularly relevant to land-mines and cluster munitions. It is worth bearing in mind that that DU is seen as a ‘toxic’ remnant of war, rather than an ‘explosive’ remnant, so protocol V does not cover DU.

The government announced the adoption of Protocol V in December 2003, but has yet to ratify it despite indicating it would do “soon” in 2004. It is thought that HM Treasury Lawyers are concerned over financial implications of the protocol, principally over the clear up costs, as the UK has extensively used cluster munitions.

Why should the UK ratify Protocol V

The outcome of ratifying this humanitarian protocol would be two-fold:

  1. Establishing international restrictions on warfare offers some protection for citizens of nations suffering from invasion.
  2. By treating civilians in enemy territory as innocent bystanders, rather than enemy targets, would probably result in a decrease the likelihood of the native population joining resistance movements or an insurgency against occupying powers.

The UK has a long history of supporting humanitarian efforts across the globe. We can be proud that the UK was one of the first 16 states to ratify the first Geneva Convention, one of the first 32 states to ratify the convention on cluster munitions and one of the first 45 states to ratify the Ottawa Treaty (banning land-mines).

The Government has rightly signalled its intent to ratify protocol V, and should do so on humanitarian grounds to protect both its own citizens and those of other states, from unacceptable harm.

How DU relates to protocol V

Although Depleted Uranium would qualify as a ‘toxic remnant of war’ rather than an explosive remnant, the norms of protocol V could neatly apply to decontamination of battlefields littered with DU rounds. If the UK ratified protocol V, it is only a small step to argue that the principles and norms of Protocol V should be applied to DU for the same humanitarian reasons.

Whilst we would welcome any international effort to apply Protocol V norms to DU, the Uranium Weapons Network would not want the UK government to wait until such a process is complete before adopting these principles and norms into its own battlefield clearance procedures. We therefore urge the government to ratify protocol V and apply these norms when it uses DU in combat, without delay.

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