The use of weapons is regulated by a range of bodies of international law. Arms control, disarmament law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international criminal justice standards, in particular the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and rules governing the use of force, including jus ad bellum, all govern certain weapons or aspects of their use. Some weapons are used widely within or outside armed conflict, such as firearms or explosive weapons fired from unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”). They thus cut across rules governing law enforcement and jus in bello. Other weapons, such as anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions, are outlawed at all times, including peacetime, at least for States Parties to the relevant treaties.
The Academy is developing an online Weapons Law Encyclopaedia, which will review every weapon’s technical characteristics and human and material impact, and detail the applicable international and national law. In addition, each weapons law treaty — whether humanitarian or disarmament — is summarised along with standards governing the use of force in law enforcement. A glossary of relevant international law terms will complete the Encyclopedia.
A detailed analysis, Weapons under International Human Rights Law, is being drafted by international experts and will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. Edited by Dr. Stuart Casey-Maslen, it covers a range of weapons law issues, including the use of firearms, “less-lethal” weapons, drones, and chemical agents; cyberwarfare; the use of weapons in prisons or for riot control; weapons in peace operations and armed conflict; the transfer of weapons; the use of weapons by non-state actors; corporate responsibility for the use of weapons; weapons and economic, social, and cultural rights; and remedies for the unlawful use of weapons.
Ongoing research includes a focus on weapons termed “non-lethal” or “less-lethal”, those that operate using either kinetic or non-kinetic energy. Non-kinetic-energy weapons encompass devices or agents that act as a weapon through the emission of different forms of radiation or sound, diffusion of chemical or biological agents, or the transmission of electricity. (See, for example, “Non-kinetic-energy weapons termed ‘non-lethal’, A Preliminary Assessment under International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law”, a report by the Geneva Academy following a meeting of experts held in May 2010.)
The project has been supported by the Public International Law Section of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.