Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians Under IHL
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a global conference on the protection of civilians under International Humanitarian Law in Oslo from 23-24 May 2013, inviting states, international organisations and civil society. The conference built on a series of regional workshops that have taken place as part of this initiative, and some 300 people participated including from 94 states.
A key theme that emerged from these meetings is the protection civilians from the effects of explosive weapons. The background paper for the initiative “Reclaiming the Protection of Civilians Under IHL” commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, identified use of “high explosive weapons in populated areas” as one of the factors that contribute to civilian harm in armed conflict, not least because such weapons “are difficult to employ in accordance with IHL” in these environments.
The Co-Chairs’ summary of the meeting notes that “the use of explosive force in military operations in densely populated areas has devastating humanitarian consequences for civilians. In particular, the use of explosive weapons with a wide area effect should be avoided.”
In advance of the meeting, INEW circulated an advocacy sheet on the problem of explosive weapons in populated areas urging states to engage in discussion in order to:
* Acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas frequently causes unacceptably high levels of harm to civilians and communities, and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure;
* Commit to further work on this issue – including focused discussions to develop responses that will improve civilian protection;
* Recognise the need to end the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and endorse the Conference’s draft recommendation to this effect.
During the first session of the conference, Richard Moyes gave a presentation on behalf of INEW, as part of a panel that heard presentations from CIVIC on reform of indirect-fire policy in the AMISOM mission to Somalia, and the Norwegian military on efforts to avoid civilian casualties in recent operations.
The conference also saw a joint side-event where Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and Human Rights Watch presented their recent research on the impact of explosive weapons internationally in 2012 and in Syria specifically.
The Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs announced during the conference that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs plans to host an expert meeting on the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas later in 2013.
* Acknowledge that casualty recording provides a vital contribution to the protection of civilians, in particular, its capacity to provide information that allows:
– the appropriate planning of humanitarian responses;
– an enhanced compliance with the law;
– the recognition of patterns of harm and accountability for violations; and
– an assessment of protection missions’ effectiveness.
* Recognise the current lack of casualty recording practice in protection missions, whilst highlighting successful precedents such as UNAMA; and
* Commit to discussions towards improved casualty recording in situations of armed conflict.