From the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW):

In the context of recent violence in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Sudan and Syria, the UN Secretary-General’s 2012 Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict recognises the humanitarian problem of explosive weapons in populated areas as one of the main challenges for civilian protection.  The report builds on the position already taken by the International Committee of the Red Cross and provides four concrete recommendations that serve as a road map to reduce the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated areas:

While the use of certain explosive weapons in populated areas may, in some circumstances, fall within the confines of the law, the humanitarian impact, both short and long-term, can be disastrous for civilians.  I urge:

(a)  Parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide-area impact in densely populated areas.

(b)  The Security Council, whenever relevant, to call on parties to conflict to refrain from using such weapons in densely populated areas.

(c)   Member States, United Nations actors, international organizations and NGOs to intensify their consideration of this issue, including through more focused discussion and by undertaking or supporting further data collection and analysis.

(d) Member States to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in collecting and making available information to the United Nations and other relevant actors on harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons and in issuing policy statements outlining the conditions under which certain explosive weapons may or may not be used in populated areas.

The report also highlights that recent Security Council action on Côte d’Ivoire and Syria has recognized and explicitly responded to the humanitarian concerns posed by heavy explosive weapons in populated areas:

The Council specifically authorized UNOCI to take action to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians in Côte d’Ivoire and called upon the Government of Syria to immediately end the use of heavy weapons in population centres (resolutions 2042 and 2043).

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), for which Article 36 provides coordination, is working with states to use the opportunity provided by the upcoming UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (26 June) to take forward the report’s recommendations.

This theme is also raised in the 31 May 2012 Cross-Cutting Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict issued by Security Council Report, which provides options for further state engagement on this issue.

Against a background of severe humanitarian harm, the consensus amongst UN actors, the ICRC and NGOs in responding to this humanitarian problem reflects the urgent need for focused national action and multi-lateral discussions towards the establishment of stronger international standards.

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Text of the report’s references to explosive weapons in populated areas:

 11. In the Syrian Arab Republic, since March 2011, the excessive use of force by national security forces has reportedly claimed the lives of over 9,000 people, while thousands more have fled their homes. Extrajudicial killings have been reported, as has the widespread use of torture of civilians by security forces. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, as blockades and curfews have been imposed on cities such as Homs, Hama, Dar`a and Idlib. During blockades, residents have been unable to obtain water, food and medical supplies and national security forces reportedly have targeted residential water supply systems. The blockades have often made it impossible to get the injured to hospitals. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as in Homs and Idlib, has had profound humanitarian consequences, including in terms of damage to buildings and essential infrastructure and the ongoing threat posed by explosive remnants of war. I am also gravely concerned at bomb attacks reportedly carried out by armed opposition groups in Damascus and Idlib, which have also claimed civilian lives.

18. In the past 18 months, there have been important developments in the Security Council’s actions to enhance the protection of civilians. In March 2011 the Council responded decisively to the escalating violence and use of explosive weapons in populated areas of Côte d’Ivoire. In its resolution 1975 (2011), the Council recalled its authorization for the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians, including preventing the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.

35. The ICRC study found that explosive weapons caused more deaths, injuries and damage than any other weapon in attacks on healthcare facilities.  I have repeatedly expressed concern at the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons use in densely populated areas.  Explosive weapons include artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, mortars, aircraft bombs, grenades and IEDs.  Their common feature is that they are indiscriminate within their zones of blast and fragmentation effect, which makes their use highly problematic in populated areas.

36. My 2010 report called for more systematic data collection and analysis of this problem.  I welcome research by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).[1]  Using data gathered on explosive weapons use around the world in 2011, AOAV found that at least 21,499 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons and that civilians account for 71 per cent of all casualties.  87 per cent of civilian deaths and injuries occurred in populated areas, including markets, schools, places of worship and private homes.

37.  This research underlines the gravity of the problem. My Emergency Relief Coordinator highlighted the issue in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Sudan and Syria and called upon parties to refrain from using explosive weapons in densely populated areas.  The Council specifically authorized UNOCI to take action to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians in Côte d’Ivoire and called upon the Government of Syria to immediately end the use of heavy weapons in population centres (resolutions 2042 and 2043).  In October 2011, the ICRC noted that due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects and despite the absence of an express legal prohibition for specific types of weapons, explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in densely populated areas.[2]  Civil society has also mobilized around the issue, including the establishment in March 2011 of an NGO coalition, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).  INEW calls on States and other actors to strive to avoid the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated areas, to gather and make available relevant data, to realize the rights of victims, and to develop stronger international standards.

38. In many conflicts, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of displacement. There are other triggers: people flee in fear of violence and other violations, or are forced from their homes at gunpoint or by other means. Whatever the cause, I am concerned that displacement is accepted too readily as an inevitable consequence of conflict. In some situations, displacement can be a protective response for communities under threat, and it often lasts as long as the threat exists, after which time people return to their homes. Moreover, the right to freedom of movement and to leave one’s country and seek asylum must always be respected. The acceptance of displacement as inevitable, however, risks the condemnation of millions of people to lasting misery and degradation. Short of preventing conflict, more must be done to prevent the circumstances that lead to displacement.

41. Non-State armed groups play a role — albeit not an exclusive one — in perpetrating such violations against civilians as attacking health-care services, using explosive weapons in populated areas and causing forced displacement. I have, therefore, emphasized repeatedly the need for consistent engagement with those groups to seek improved compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law and to gain safe access to those in need.

72. Ensuring the necessary degree of compliance and thereby strengthening the protection of civilians is essentially a matter of political will: the will to conduct hostilities within the parameters of international law, to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, to allow engagement with non-State armed groups and open access to those in need of assistance and to enforce discipline and hold accountable those who perpetrate violations. It also implies the will, on the part of the Council, to consistently use the tools at its disposal and to proactively consider new approaches to prevent and respond to violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

75. While the use of certain explosive weapons in populated areas may, in some circumstances, fall within the confines of the law, the humanitarian impact, both short- and long-term, can be disastrous for civilians. I therefore urge:

(a) Parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a widearea impact in densely populated areas;

(b) The Security Council, whenever relevant, to call upon parties to conflict to refrain from using such weapons in densely populated areas;

(c) Member States, United Nations actors and international and non-governmental organizations to intensify their consideration of this issue, including through more focused discussion and by undertaking or supporting the further collection and analysis of data;

(d) Member States to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in collecting and making available to the United Nations and other relevant actors information on harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons and in issuing policy statements outlining the conditions under which certain explosive weapons may and may not be used in populated areas.


[1] AOAV, Monitoring Explosive Violence:  The EVMP Dataset 2011 (2012)

[2] ICRC,  International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Conflicts – Report prepared for the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (October 2011) 42

 

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