The UN Secretary-General and the UN Special Representative to the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict have highlighted the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a key issue of concern for the protection of children in reports this year.

They have called on parties to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and for systematic data collection on the use and impact of explosive weapons and analysis of the human cost.

An increasing number of states have also highlighted explosive weapons as a concern in open debates at the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council.

Report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (26 April 2012)

The Secretary-General has highlighted his concern over the impact on children if the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting that: “reports of child casualties in the course of military operations, including the use of explosive weapons, aerial bombardments and drones, continue to be of concern, and I remind all parties of their obligation under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality and the duty to protect children and prevent violations, to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties.”

More broadly, in his reports on Protection of Civilians, the Secretary-General has called upon states to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide- area impact in densely populated areas; for the Security Council, whenever relevant, to call upon parties to conflict to refrain from using such weapons in densely populated areas; urged greater data collection and called on Member States to issue policy statements outlining conditions under which certain explosive weapons may and may not be used in populated areas.

Annual Report of the Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council (28 June 2012)

In her report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Representative highlights the growing trend of killing and maiming children through the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as an emerging concern.

She notes that a particular cause for concern has been the use of heavy explosive weapons that can have wide-area effects, such as multiple-launch rockets, high-explosive artillery and mortars, car bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

The Special Representative explains that “Explosive weapons touch on four of the six grave violations against children and armed conflict, including killing or maiming. They are also used for direct and physical attacks on schools and hospitals, where they may result in forced closure or compromised functioning. Children recruited and used as suicide bombers and victim bombers both carry explosive weapons. In some country situations, children are denied humanitarian access because of the presence of explosive remnants of war. Recent developments in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic, where thousands of children have been killed and maimed, have confirmed the gravity of the issue.”

The SRSG notes that recognition of the distinct and specific problems associated with explosive weapons is growing. However, acknowledgment that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes severe harm to civilians and is a serious concern for the protection of children in armed conflict has to be further strengthened.

The SRSG calls for systematic data collection and analysis of the human cost of these weapons and notes that the humanitarian principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution must always guide the use of explosive weapons in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

Report of the Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly (6 August 2012)

In her annual report, the SRSG has noted that explosive weapons “have a devastating impact on civilians, including children, especially when used in highly populated areas”. She also notes that explosive weapons “cause long-lasting harm by damaging children’s emotional stability, education and future opportunities.

The report shows that in Libya, Somalia and Syria, the use of mortar and artillery shells have killed and injured children. In Afghanistan and Iraq the use of explosive weapons by armed groups has caused numerous child casualties, and in Pakistan and Yemen aerial bombardment and drone attacks have killed and injured children. There were 22 incidents documented of children being used to carry out suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of those children were victim bombers, unknowingly carrying explosive remnants of war.

In most of the 23 countries reported on, explosive weapons have been used in direct physical attacks against schools and hospitals, constituting grave violation of children’s rights and killing and injuring children as well as medical and educational personnel and preventing access to these facilities.

The report makes three strong recommendations on states with regard with regard to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, calling on them to: 1) refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas including by revising and strengthening military policies and procedures; 2) support the collection of data on the impact of explosive weapons on children; and 3) hold to account those using explosive weapons in contravention of international law.

Links:

Report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict (26 April 2012)

Report of the Secretary General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (22 May 2012)

Report of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to the General Assembly (6 August 2012)

Annual Report of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to the Human Rights Council (28 June 2012)

INEW advocacy sheet on children and armed conflict

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