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Prohibition of Certain Weapons

All is (not) fair in love and war.1

At school, of the many talented classmates and friends I was privileged to have, one was exceptional. Bruce Burrell was the Head Prefect of his boarding house,2 he was handsome and clever. He also was captain of the (then) Rhodesian Schools rugby team, played for the Rhodesian Schools squash team, and his nickname ‘Strong’ was for a reason. As it happened, we shared an affection for the same pretty Bulawayo girl, and would joke about how all is fair and love and war, and that the best man wins. Of course, in Kate’s case, it was Bruce.

But all is not fair in love and war. On 16 December 1976, serving his conscripted national service in the elite SAS regiment, Bruce was on patrol near the Mozambican border. He stepped on a buried anti-personnel mine – which are designed, at least, to maim. However, it boosted, in turn, an anti-tank mine – and these are designed to destroy tanks. He was 19 at the time. The world lost an outstanding citizen, and this page is dedicated in his memory.

The Prohibition or Restriction of Certain Conventional Weapons Act 20083 puts into force, in the Republic, an international Convention4 outlawing that kind of thing,5 and many other methods and weapons of warfare. It falls under the authority of the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans.

A. Non-detectable fragments

This means any device, or material the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which, in the human body, escape detection by X-rays.6

  1. It is a criminal offence to use, place, possess, procure, manufacture, stockpile, transfer, deal in, import or export any non-detectable fragments.7

  2. It is also a crime to possess, procure, manufacture, stockpile, transfer, deal in, import or export a component part of such a device or material.8

B. Mines, booby traps and other devices

First, let’s understand what these are:

  1. It is a criminal offence to use, or direct any mine, booby trap or other device which is designed, or is of a nature, to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.12

  2. If you employ a mechanism or device specifically designed to detonate an explosive by the presence of common mine detectors during normal use in mine-detection operations, you commit an offence.13

  3. It is a crime to use or direct any mine, booby trap or other device in any place where there is a concentration of civilians, in which combat between ground forces is not taking place or does not appear to be imminent, unless either:14
    • it is placed on or directed against a military objective; or
    • measures are taken to protect civilians from the effect.
  4. It is a crime to use or direct any mine, booby trap or other device:
    • against civilians or civilian objects;15
    • in an indiscriminate manner which is not on or directed against a military objective;16
    • which employs a method or means of delivery which cannot be directed at a specific military objective;17
    • in a manner which may be expected to cause incidental civilian death or injury, or damage to civilian objects and which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.18
  5. It is a criminal offence to use booby traps or other devices which are in any way attached to or associated with:
    • internationally recognised protective emblems, signs or signals;
    • sick, wounded or dead persons;
    • burial or cremation sites or graves;
    • medical facilities, medical equipment, medical supplies or medical transportation;
    • children’s toys;
    • other portable objects or products specially designed for the feeding, health, hygiene, clothing or education of children;
    • food or drink;
    • kitchen utensils or appliances (except in military establishments and locations);
    • objects of a religious nature;
    • historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples; and
    • animals or their carcasses.19
  6. It is a crime to use booby traps and other devices in the form of apparently harmless portable objects but which are specifically designed and constructed to contain explosive material.20

C. Incendiary weapons

This is any weapon or explosive device which is designed to set fire to objects, or to cause burn injury by heat or flame, and which is produced by a chemical reaction at the target.21

  1. It is a criminal offence to make the civilian population, individual civilians or civilian objects the object of attack by incendiary weapons.22

  2. It is also prohibited to make any military objective the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons if it is located within a concentration of civilians.23

  3. It is a crime to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons (delivered otherwise than by air) except if it is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions to limit the incendiary effects and to avoiding loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.24

  4. Anyone who makes forests or other kinds of plant cover the object of attack by incendiary weapons commits an offence.25

D. Blinding laser weapons

  1. It is a criminal offence to use, possess, procure, manufacture, stockpile, transfer, deal in, import or export laser weapons specifically designed to cause irreversible and uncorrectible loss of vision which is seriously disabling.26

  2. It is also an offence to possess, procure, manufacture, stockpile, transfer, deal in, import or export a component part of such laser weapons.27

  1. The proverb ‘all is fair in love and war’ is attributed to the English 16th Century poet John Lyly in his work Euphues 1 at 236. See Wikipedia – ‘John Lyly’ at reference 8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lyly

  2. George Grey at Falcon College. 

  3. As amended; the latest amendments are effected by Act 18 of 2008. 

  4. The ‘Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the User of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects’ of 10 October 1980, and its Protocols. The Republic acceded to the Convention on 13 September 1995. 

  5. Technically, anti-personnel mines are prohibited by the Anti-Personnel Mines Prohibition Act 2003. The Certain Conventional Weapons Act does not apply to anti-personnel mines. 

  6. Section 1 of the Act. 

  7. Section 5(a) read with section 9. 

  8. Section 5(b) read with section 9. 

  9. See section 1, the definition. 

  10. There are also anti-ship mines but this Act does not concern them. 

  11. See Section 1, the definition. 

  12. Section 6(1)(a) read with section 9. 

  13. Section 6(1)(c) read with section 9. 

  14. Section 6(1)(c) read with section 9. 

  15. Section 6(1)(d) read with section 9. 

  16. Section 6(1)(e)i read with section 9. 

  17. Section 6(1)(e)ii read with section 9. 

  18. Section 6(1)(e)iii read with section 9. 

  19. Section 6(2)(a) read with section 9. 

  20. Section 6(2)(b) read with section 9. 

  21. Napalm is a good example. See the definition in section 1 of the Act. 

  22. Section 7(a) read with section 9. 

  23. Section 7(b) read with section 9. 

  24. Section 7(c) read with section 9. 

  25. Except when such natural elements are used to cover, conceal or camouflage combatants or other military objectives, or are themselves military objectives. 

  26. Section 8(a) read with section 9. 

  27. Section 8(b) read with section 9.