Celebrating Feminists’ Voices, Inspiring Global Peace

Incendiary Weapons Leave Victims to Burn in Ukraine and Syria

21 November 2014

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report on the use of and growing opposition against incendiary weapons in Israel, Syria, and Ukraine. The group presented the report at the 2014 meeting of high contracting parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) that convened in Geneva, 10–14 November 2014.

WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will (RCW) attended the meeting to report and engage in the discussions on deadly weapons. For more information, see Reaching Critical Will’s report of this meeting.

The Horrible Effects of Incendiary Weapons

Incendiary weapons are exceptionally horrific weapons that inflict painful burns and require equally painful treatment, leaving survivors with devastating injuries. They are designed to burn people or material, penetrate plate metal, or produce smokescreens or illuminations.

The report presents credible documentation about the use of incendiary weapons in the conflict areas of Ukraine and Syria. HRW has recorded at least 57 attacks during the last two years where the Syrian government used incendiary weapons. In 2013 two incendiary bombs were dropped on a school in Aleppo, Syria, killing at least 37 civilians and wounded 44 others, mostly teenagers.

Dr. Sahleya Ahsan working as a volunteer at Altarib Hospital told HRW: “Three bodies were in a pickup truck outside the hospital courtyard. These bodies, of three female students, were unrecognizable due the severity of their burns. It was also impossible to tell that they were in fact female but I was informed by hospital staff they were. They had been in the hit area of the bomb.”

Incendiary Weapons
Photo Credit: Sasha Maksymenko

During field missions to Ukraine this year, HRW also found evidence that incendiary weapons were used in the town Ilovaisk and the village Luhanskoe, both located near Donetsk in the east of Ukraine, where much of the fighting is taking place.

Because of the exceptionally cruel effects, the report also found growing international opposition and condemnations against the use of incendiary weapons. In addition, this may have led some states to stop using such weapons. Israel, which previously used white phosphorous in Gaza in 2009, did not do so during its bombardment of Gaza in 2014.

The CCW and its Loopholes

The CCW aims to limit the use of certain conventional weapons that cause unnecessary suffering and inhumane injuries. Protocol III of the CCW has limited the use of incendiary weapons in particular. Unfortunately not all states are parties to the Protocol. Furthermore Protocol III still has substantial loopholes discussed in the report by the HRW.

The definition of incendiary weapons as a munition “primarily designed” to set fire to objects or to cause burn injuries to persons is one such loophole. White phosphorous is arguably not covered by the Protocol, even though it has the incendiary effects, as this is not its primary designation.

Another loophole permits certain use of ground-launched incendiary weapons.

What can be done to prevent and support victims of Incendiary Weapons?

In its statement to the CCW meeting, HRW encouraged all states to condemn any use of incendiary weapons and to work to close existing loopholes of the treaty. The human rights group called for an effects-based definition of incendiary weapons and urged states to prohibit the use of all such weapons within populated areas.

Article 36, another civil society organisation working to prevent humanitarian harm from weapons, called on states to prohibit the use of all incendiary weapons. WILPF supports this call and urges CCW parties to address this issue immediately.

In the meantime, states and civil society groups must explore what can be done to prevent and support victims of such tragic events. As shown by the HRW report, it is extremely important to stigmatise and build norms that condemn these horrific weapons.

Raise your voice to participate in the debate against weaponisation and militarisation and join us in The Hague in April 2015 for a global Conference in support of Women’s Power to Stop War!

To learn more about disarmament issues, have a look at Reaching Critical Will’s website.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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