Incendiary Weapons Have Taken Horrific Toll on Civilians

Human Rights Watch calls for the closing of treaty loopholes
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 9, 2020 3:42 PM CST
Report Exposes Horrific Toll of Incendiary Weapons
In this Jan. 19, 2009 photo, children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, on a street in the town of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza strip. WARNING: The next photo is graphic.   (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

A new report released Monday documents the use of incendiary weapons and their horrific human cost on civilians over the past decade in conflict zones like Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, and Syria, with Human Rights Watch and Harvard’s human rights clinic calling on nations to close loopholes in international law and stigmatize their use, the AP reports. The report says the weapons—which may include white phosphorus—inflict excruciating burns and can lead to infection, shock, and organ failure. Medics often do not have adequate resources in war zones to assist victims with serious burns. White phosphorus burns until it’s gone and can burn right down to the bone, leaving victims in chronic pain and with permanent disabilities and scarring.

The report by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic notes that burn victims sometimes need to be intubated in order for intensive wounds to be treated and dead skin scraped away. They may also require multiple surgeries and intense physical therapy to regain mobility. One incident detailed in the report:

  • An 8-year-old Afghan girl named Razia sustained burns on up to 45% of her body from a white phosphorus attack outside of Kabul in 2009. Razia's family had just finished breakfast when two white phosphorus shells crashed into their mud-brick home, immediately killing two of Razia’s sisters as they slept side by side. She was rushed to a local Afghan army base and then to a nearby French base; neither was able to provide the needed medical assistance. A medivac helicopter eventually transported her to a US-run hospital at Bagram Air Base. She ultimately survived but lives with physical pain and is embarrassed to be seen in public and is reluctant to leave the house. US and NATO troops used white phosphorus to illuminate targets in Afghanistan, but military officials said at the time they could not be certain whether it was their own round behind that attack.
(More Human Rights Watch stories.)

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