The use of explosive force in urban areas in the recent conflict in Georgia has been cited by different sides as evidence of disregard for the safety of civilian populations. In media reports, a substantial proportion of civilian casualties have been attribute to the use of explosive munitions in urban areas (whether delivered by aircraft, artillery or rockets). These phenomena are building blocks for the further stigmatisation of explosive violence that international organisations and governments are failing to fully exploit.

According to reports of UN Security Council proceedings, the representative of the Russian Federation specifically pointed to the use of “heavy artillery and materiel” in criticism of Georgia’s use of force. Subsequent Russian bombings of urban areas such as Poti, Gori and elsewhere were reported as killing and injuring large numbers of civilians and leaving those that remained without basic amenities. These actions were in turn described in a G7 joint statement as an “excessive use of military force.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report of 12th August were quoted speaking against the use of certain multiple launch rocket systems in populated areas – by implication because such attacks would be indiscriminate. HRW also drew attention to the use of cluster munitions (by both Russia and Georgia), and have stated in general terms that “indiscriminate shelling by Georgian and Russian military forces killed and injured civilians and left many homeless.”

Altogether, numerous press reports described the civilian death, injury, displacement and deprivation that resulted from the patterns of explosive violence employed; numerous political statements described the violence by one side or the other (or both) as “excessive” or “disproportionate;” and a few specialist commentators focused on specific types of explosive weapons as being of particular concern (though with a recognition of the general problems caused by artillery and air attacks.)

Implicitly, throughout all of these discussions, the appropriateness of explosive force in populated areas is being articulated and contested. It would take relatively little for international organisations and policy makers to address this issue explicitly and directly. If they did, it could have a substantial impact on how the morality of armed violence is framed and evaluated.

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