On 21-22 September in Vienna, a group of states, international organisations and civil society met on the subject of preventing the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In a significant and positive development, a number of states expressed their support for the idea of developing a political commitment that would start to address this issue, on which work will be carried out in the coming months. Civil society, through the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), have consistently called for a commitment to end the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide-area effects. In June, the UN Secretary-General again called on states to address this urgent issue in his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. More than 40 states have recognised the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a humanitarian problem.

The development of a political commitment will be a significant step towards addressing the inevitable humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons, in particular those with wide-area effects, in populated areas. Data from London-based NGO Action on Armed Violence shows that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over 90% of the people killed or injured will be civilians. Evidence was presented in Vienna from a range of organisations as well as a survivor of explosive violence on the devastating short and long-term impact on people and communities of bombing and bombardment in towns and cities. The lack of a clear boundary in International Humanitarian Law with regard to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was also noted, and the need for a political instrument to be developed as a result.

INEW has called on all states to commit to stop the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide-area effects. In doing so, states should review national policy and practice and make changes that will strengthen the protection of civilians. States should also support stronger data-gathering on the use and impact of explosive weapons, including age-, sex-, and disability-disaggregated recording of casualties. They should recognise the rights of survivors, families of those killed or injured, and affected communities, and ensure a response to their short- and long-term needs.

The development of a political commitment will represent a key step towards better protection of civilians, and addressing of the human suffering caused by explosive weapons worldwide.

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Posted in: Explosive weapons, Protection of civilians,