In addition to weapons of mass destruction, the international community also needs to pay attention to the issue of conventional weapons. The uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and the use of indiscriminate weapons take a heavy toll on society. Conventional weapons result in many victims. Organised crime, terrorism, child soldiers and civilian casualties during or long after a conflict: each of these problems is closely related to the use of conventional weapons.
In many countries, particularly in Africa and Central America, the use of conventional arms has a severe impact on the personal security of citizens, often the most vulnerable ones.
In this light, Belgium’s diplomacy endeavors to keep the issues of human security and disarmament that saves lives on top of the agenda of the main international institutions.. Belgium played a pioneering role in the creation of the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines and the Oslo Convention on cluster munitions. Belgium is also committed to the fight against illegal arms trafficking.
Listed below are the main conventions that prohibit or restrict the use of certain categories of conventional weapons. For more background and information on Belgian policy, you can consult:
- The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)
- The Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines (APMBC)
- The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM)
On the following pages, you can read more about:
The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was adopted in 1980 and entered into force in 1983. The Convention prohibits or restricts the use of certain conventional weapons that cause excessive suffering or that do not distinguish between civilians and military personnel.
It is a framework convention that sets out general principles. The Protocols to the Convention specifically address the different types of weapons:
- Protocol I restricts weapons with non-detectable fragments;
- Protocol II restricts landmines, booby traps and other devices;
- Protocol III restricts incendiary weapons.
- Protocol IV restricts blinding laser weapons;
- Protocol V concerns explosive remnants of war.
The increasing use of artificial intelligence and robotics in weapons systems is also addressed in the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
This Convention and its protocols inspired other initiatives in the field of conventional weapons, such as the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention (for which there is more information on this page).
The Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) prohibits the production and use of anti-personnel mines. It was signed in 1997 and entered into force two years later. The Convention currently has 164 contracting parties, including all the EU Member States.
The Convention has four fundamental objectives:
- prohibition of anti-personnel landmines;
- destruction of stockpiles,
- clearance of mined areas,
- assistance to the victims.
In 1995, Belgium was the first country to enact national legislation banning anti-personnel landmines. At the international level, Belgium is committed to the full implementation of the Ottawa Convention. HRH Princess Astrid is Special Envoy for universalization. In this capacity she reach out to authorities around the world to convince them to join the Convention.
The document approach to mine action outlines the principles of the Belgian policy.
Belgium supports the use of innovative techniques for the detection and removal of mines. In 2020, two unique projects received awards: Odyssey 2025 and Apopo.
The project Odyssey 2025 of Humanity and Inclusion (HI) received the "Horizon for Affordable High-Tech on Humanitarian Aid" award from the EU. By deploying drones to locate mines, the duration of mine clearance operations is significantly reduced, as are the costs. The deminers can work in a safer and more focused way.
The pioneering Belgian organisation Apopo introduced the African giant pouched rat as a tool for landmine detection. One of these HeroRATS was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal. Magawa received the award for his work in Apopo's demining operation in Cambodia.
At the end of 2020, Belgium also awarded funding to Apopo for their demining work in Angola, where the presence of landmines still is an obstacle to the normalisation of life.
At the end of 2019 and again at the end of 2020, Belgium gave EUR 2 million to UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) for programmes in Iraq and Syria. This support is part of Belgium's commitment to stabilizing the territories that have been liberated from the terrorist group Islamic State (IS). The large-scale contamination of these territories with improvised anti-personnel mines prevents the safe return of refugees, the cultivation of the land, the restoration of the basic infrastructure and the restart of economic activities. In Iraq, UNMAS uses the Belgian funding for, among other things, demining in the Sinjar region, where IS committed mass killings against the Yezidi population and carried out a systematic campaign of sexual violence against women. UNMAS uses mixed demining teams, with the participation of both women and men, both Yezidi and Muslim.
In Iraq, Belgium provides funding in 2021 for the work of Halo Trust in the Salah-al-Din province, where humanitarian needs are particularly important. Demining efforts in this strategically important region contribute significantly to the reconstruction and stabilization of the country.
© HALO Trust
The Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was signed in 2008 and entered into force two years later. The Convention currently counts 110 States Parties. The Convention prohibits the use and the production of cluster munitions and requires the States Parties to:
- destroy their stockpiles;
- clear the contaminated areas within given delays;
- provide assistance to the victims of cluster munitions.
Cluster munitions are designed to disperse or release explosive sub-munitions each weighing less than 20 kilograms. The humanitarian consequences of cluster munitions are disastrous for two reasons:
- indiscriminate effect: during an attack, an entire area can be contaminated without a distinction made between civilians and military targets.
- effects of cluster munitions remnants on post-conflict situations: after hostilities have ended, explosive remnants remain in the ground, that can kill or wound civilians. These unexploded munitions hinder the return of the residents and the resumption of social and economic activities.
Cluster munitions were used in World War II and during various other military operations. The legitimacy of their use has more and more come under discussion, because of the unacceptable suffering to civilians.
In 2006 Belgium was the first country to ban cluster munitions in its legislation. The Weapons Law places cluster munitions, as well as anti-personnel mines, in the category of prohibited weapons.
Belgium actively participated in the international negotiations on these weapons that were launched in 2006. The Belgian negotiation objectives were largely met. A legally binding international instrument was approved, supported by a large group of countries, including countries producing and possessing these weapons. The Convention also has several practical provisions on organising victim assistance in an efficient way.
Belgium is committed to the universalisation and the full implementation of the Convention. Moreover, Belgium provides financing to organisations that are active in mine action in the field. The document Belgian approach to mine action describes the principles of the Belgian policy.
At the level of the European Union
The EU adopted a Common Position (2008/944/PESC) with the goal of:
- setting high standards for the management of weapon exports;
- improving the exchange of relevant information to the benefit of intra-European coherence.
This Common Position, applicable to all exports of military technology and equipment, from ammunition to tanks, contains the following dispositions:
- criteria that all Member States shall take into consideration before granting an arms export licence;
- a procedure to notify the other Member States when an export licence was denied;
- an obligation to consult the Member State which denied an export when confronted with a similar export demand.
The Common Position was updated in 2019. Provisions on gender based violence were included and the reporting rules strengthened. A database was created to better visualize the information presented in the annual reports of the Member States.
At the global level
The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was concluded in 2013. It is the main international instrument that regulates legal arms trade. Belgium signed the treaty in 2013 and ratified it a year later. In 2020, a new mechanism was created in the context of the ATT, the Diversion Information Exchange Forum, to exchange information on diversion methods used by traffickers. This is a mechanism to exchange operational information on the methods used by smugglers.
Right from the beginning of the negotiations for the ATT, Belgium worked for an ambitious treaty, with strict criteria regarding human rights and international humanitarian law.
The action of our country was focused on the following:
- to define the broadest possible scope regarding the categories of arms as well as the types of transfers;
- to advocate more transparency;
- to integrate into the Treaty a reference to gender-based violence and violence against civilians, especially women and children.
Belgium supports the universalisation of the ATT, so that the largest arms exporters apply the same criteria when granting a licence.
Our country is also actively involved in the fight against the diversion of arms.
The term 'Small Arms & Light Weapons' (SALW) refers to two categories of weapons:
- Small Arms are individual weapons such as revolvers, pistols, rifles and submachine guns;
- Light Weapons are collective weapons, conceived to be used by two or three persons, even if some of them can be operated by a single person (for example heavy machine guns or portable rocket launchers).
Every year, millions of small arms and light weapons are manufactured and traded. Through illegal arms trafficking large numbers of weapons fall into the wrong hands. The spread of SALW is at the root of substantial problems. It contributes to increased instability, prolongation of conflicts and violations of human rights, including gender-based violence. Because these weapons are light and easy to use, they are often used to arm child soldiers.
A number of international instruments and initiatives aim at regulating these weapons, to ensure that they remain under control throughout their life cycle:
- The UN Programme of Action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (2001).
- The EU strategy against illicit firearms, small arms and light weapons (SALW) and their ammunition (2018).
- The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence & Development (adopted in 2006, signed by BE in 2011)
- The International Tracing instrument (adopted by the UNGA in 2005)
- The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) (2013)
- Several resolutions of the UN Security Council, inter alia Resolutions 2117 (2013), 2220 (2015) and 2370 (2017).
The FPS Foreign Affairs is represented at the Interfederal Consultation Committee to Combat the Production and Trade of Illegal Weapons(IOBIW). This committee was created at the end of 2015 in order to allow all the relevant Belgian authorities to exchange information, coordinate and take appropriate measures to combat illegal arms trade.
Belgium supports several initiatives that help to strengthen SALW control and to combat illegal arms trade and diversion, both at European Union and United Nations level:
- the tracing of illicit weapons found in conflict zones by peacekeeping missions in order to identify the sources and functioning of illicit arms trafficking;
- the exchange of information on illicit arms trade in order to allow a better diversion risk analysis;
- the adaptation of the International Tracing Instrument to new technologies in the field of SALW (polymer weapons, modular weapons).
Belgium supports initiatives aimed at providing support to countries affected by illicit arms trade through a better control of arms flows, the securing of stockpiles, better border control and the strengthening of administrative capacities.
Finally, Belgium calls for strict international regulation of ammunition in order to counter its illicit trade.