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This report describes the laws of eight European countries—Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland—that prohibit investment  in certain controversial weapons.

Controversial weapons are those that are either prohibited under international conventions or are deemed particularly controversial because of their humanitarian impact.[1] They include weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and weapons that fail to discriminate between civilians or combatants or cause disproportionate harm, such as cluster munitions or anti-personnel mines.[2]

International conventions that regulate or prohibit controversial weapons include those covering nuclear weapons,[3] chemical weapons,[4] biological weapons,[5] cluster munitions,[6] anti-personnel mines,[7] and inhumane conventional weapons.[8] One of these conventions, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, has language that has been widely interpreted as requiring States Parties to prohibit investment in producing such weapons.[9]  All of the countries surveyed in this report  have enacted legislation on investment in production in cluster munitions. In addition to these countries surveyed here that have enacted legislation, many other States Parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention have issued ministerial or interpretive statements to the effect that investment in production of cluster munitions is prohibited by the Convention.[10]

In addition to prohibiting investments in cluster munitions, some of the surveyed countries prohibit investment in other weapons. Switzerland and Liechtenstein prohibit investment in nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, anti-personnel missiles, and cluster munitions. Ireland’s and Spain’s prohibitions cover cluster munitions, explosive bomblets, and anti- personnel mines. Belgium’s prohibition covers anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions, and munitions or armor plating containing uranium. Luxembourg and Italy currently prohibit investment in cluster munitions, but pending legislation would extend prohibitions to anti- personnel mines.

Most of the surveyed countries prohibit both public and private investment in prohibited weapons, but Ireland’s legislation only covers investment by public entities.

Some of the surveys also provide information on the types of prohibited investment activity, the penalties for violations, lists of companies affected, governmental bodies responsible for overseeing the legislation, and additional relevant information that was located.

No principles were identified within the present international law framework that displace the authority of national governments to regulate investment services and activities within their jurisdictions in areas implicating humanitarian concerns. Likewise, no North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) treaty commitments were found that obligate NATO members to permit investing in weapons they consider contrary to international humanitarian law. Article 5 of the NATO Charter obligates member states to assist with collective defense in the event of armed attack of another member state, but it requires only that each party take “such action as it deems necessary” in such circumstances, permitting members to determine their own forms of participation in collective defense.[11]

Surveyed countries:

Prepared by Luis Acosta
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Division II
November 2016


[1] ETHIX SRI ADVISORS, DEFINING CONTROVERSIAL WEAPONS FOR EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONAL INVESTORS 4 (Mar. 2011), http://www.beama.be/nl/duurzame-icbs/actualiteit/Ehix SRI Advisor - Defining Controversial Weapons for Investors - 2011 03.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/N6PX-M7VP.

[2] Id.

[3] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, July 1, 1968, 729 U.N.T.S. 168, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20729/volume-729-I-10485-English.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/3NFE-CZWM.

[4] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, Jan. 13, 1993, 1974 U.N.T.S. 45, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201974/v1974.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/Z9L9-VLLR.

[5] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, 1015 U.N.T.S. 163, https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/UNTS/Volume%201015/v1015.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4T5F-E4HX.

[6] Convention on Cluster Munitions, Oct. 30, 2008, 2688 U.N.T.S. 39, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/CTC/26-6.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/9L93-Z4VQ,

[7] Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, Sept. 18, 1997, 2056 U.N.T.S. 211, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%202056/v2056.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/75E5-HNT5.

[8] Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects, Oct. 10, 1980, 1342 U.N.T.S. 137, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201342/v1342.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/R46E-ZKJT. Protocols to this Convention cover non-detectible fragments; mines, booby-traps, and similar devices; incendiary weapons; blinding laser weapons; and explosive remnants of war. Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons which may be deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to have Indiscriminate Effects, UNITED NATIONS OFFICE FOR DISARMAMENT AFFAIRS, http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/ccwc (last visited Nov. 15, 2016), archived at https://perma.cc/D2SZ-5STF.

[9] Convention on Cluster Munitions art. 1(1)(c) (“Each Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: . . . (c) Assist [or] encourage . . . anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to any State Party to this Convention.”).
Advocates argue that financing the production of cluster munitions constitutes assistance or encouragement. ROOS BOER ET AL., WORLDWIDE INVESTMENTS IN CLUSTER MUNITIONS: A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY 10 (June 2016), https://www.paxforpeace.nl/media/files/worldwide-investments-in-cluster-munitions-pax-june-2016.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/4957-GCN6.

[10] BOAR ET AL., supra note 8, at 209–16 (listing twenty-eight jurisdictions that have issued statements).

[11] North Atlantic Treaty, art. 5, Apr. 4, 1949, 63 Stat. 2241, 34 U.N.T.S. 243, available at https://www.loc.gov/law/help/us-treaties/bevans/m-ust000004-0828.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/PAN3-5GM9.