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States set to adopt first international agreement to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas

  • More than 70 states are expected to sign the first international declaration on explosive weapons to protect civilians in populated areas, at Dublin Castle on Friday, November 18, 2022.
  • Activists from around the world will come together after a decade-long campaign – a civil society forum on Thursday, November 17, 2022, will plan how the Declaration can help make civilians safer in conflict.
  • The Declaration commits states to impose restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in order to reduce civilian harm, and also to assist victims and affected communities.
  • When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of casualties are civilians.

The States will meet at Dublin Castle this Friday (November 17, 2022) to sign the “Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas“.

The historic agreement addresses the widespread civilian suffering and devastation resulting from the shelling and shelling of cities, towns and other populated areas. The International Explosive Weapons Network (INEW) welcomes the declaration and calls on all states to sign and implement it.

“This declaration sends a clear message that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes unacceptable suffering and devastation to civilians and must end. It is time for all states to endorse and implement the Declaration to help civilians and their communities during and after conflict”, said Laura Boillot, coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).

The Declaration requires states to impose limits on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which is the primary cause of harm to civilians in today’s conflicts.

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, more than a decade of AOAV data has shown that civilians will be by far the most affected. About nine out of ten people injured by the use of such explosive weapons in towns and cities are civilians – a consistent finding seen in all conflicts in recent years.“said Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which runs a global annual tracker.

It also requires states to assist victims and affected communities during and after conflict and to address the long-term suffering that results from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Civilians suffer physical and psychological injuries. Damage to and destruction of critical civilian infrastructure interferes with health care, education and other services. People are forced to flee the towns and villages in which they live and work.

“No one thinks of people like me, with no place to hide. This leads to psychological trauma. I was 12 years old, in a wheelchair and terrified, but no one could do anything. When civilians are bombed, this are not only lives, cities and homes that are lost but also their future. I hope that the signing of the declaration will not be just a piece of paper, but the beginning of real change. The people who suffer in wars around the world need it”, said Nujeen Mustafa, who fled Aleppo, Syria, to Germany.

On the morning of the conference on Friday, activists and participating states will unveil a “Memorial to the Unknown Civilian”, in recognition of the heavy toll inflicted on civilians by bombings and bombings in cities around the world, in the garden of the castle of Dublin. Participants will also be able to visit a unique replica of a ‘bombed school’ in the castle.

There is a general pattern of damage: when towns and villages are bombed, civilians suffer the most“said Alma Taslidzan Al-Osta of Humanity and Inclusion.

Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine (Gaza), Syria, Ukraine and Yemen are recent examples of affected countries.

Ahead of the conference, activists and survivors of armed conflict will also come together at a Global Civil Society Forum in Dublin on Thursday 17 November, to discuss the civil and humanitarian problems caused by explosive weapons and to ensure that the international declaration has a significant impact.

“Children suffer disproportionately from the consequences of today’s armed conflict as inner cities are turned into battlefields. This could be a significant step forward in stopping the war on children, but the statement does not will mean nothing without robust and urgent implementation”, said James Denselow, conflict manager at Save the Children, UK.

Explosive weapons were designed for use in open battlefields and are often deadly choices when used in cities and other areas where civilians are concentrated.

“Heavy explosive weapons, which are inaccurate, have a wide blast or fragmentation radius, or are launched in groups, are a deadly choice for civilians,” said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch. “The use of explosive weapons with such widespread effects should always be avoided in populated areas.”

The text of the Declaration was finalized at the United Nations in Geneva on June 17, 2022, through a diplomatic process led by the Irish government.

States signing the declaration must act quickly to begin the process of implementation. This includes developing policies and practices that limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and ensure that the protection of civilians is a priority in the planning and conduct of military operations.

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) is a partnership of NGOs calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It includes more than 40 organizations from 25 countries. The steering committee includes Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Article 36, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Humanity and Inclusion (HI), Human Rights Watch, PAX, Norwegian People’s Aid, Oxfam, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom , Save the Children and SEHLAC

About the Dublin Adoption Conference, Dublin Castle on Friday 18th November 2022

A new international Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas opens for States’ approval, at a conference in Dublin on Friday, November 18, 2022.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney will open the meeting, along with other high-level representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations and the International Explosive Weapons Network, as well as the survivor of the Syrian armed conflict and activist Nujeen Mustafa.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the leading cause of civilian casualties in contemporary armed conflicts, and the Declaration is the first formal international recognition that this problem must be addressed urgently and directly. The declaration commits endorsing states to take steps to implement it by making changes to their national policy and practice, including military policies and operational rules of engagement.

The Declaration was finalized by States on June 17, 2022 during a meeting at the UN in Geneva. It is the culmination of almost three years of diplomatic negotiations led by Ireland between States, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and civil society organizations, including the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).

The declaration promotes higher standards to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and commits endorsing states to take steps to implement it by changing their national policies and practices, including military policies and operational rules of engagement.

The statement should be seen as a starting point—not an end point. A key area will be changing military practice away from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Much remains to be done to strengthen the protection of civilians, and developing higher standards and implementing significant changes takes time.

Why strengthen the protection of civilians against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas?

  • As the world urbanizes, conflicts also increase. Civilians face shelling and shelling where they live and work. The way wars are fought has also changed: fighting and bombardments often take place in busy populated centers, with weapons designed for use on open battlefields.
  • A century ago, civilians represented 10 to 15% of the victims of armed conflicts. By World War II, that figure had risen to almost 50%. In the 1990s, civilians accounted for 80-85% of casualties in armed conflict, a rising trend that has continued/intensified into the 21st century. (Kaldor, 2013, quoted in ODI).
  • Today, when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of casualties are civilians – a trend that has been consistently documented for over a decade (AOAV). Over the past decade, more than 511,000 civilians have reportedly been directly killed and/or injured by explosive weapons (AOAV)
  • The UN Secretary-General has described the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as “the number one killer of civilians in conflict. Attacks and the loss of housing and essential services – combined with residual contamination from unexploded ordnance – are causing many civilians to flee or leave their homes (see more ICRC).

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