Explosive weapons raised as key issue in Security Council debate on protection of civilians
The UN Security Council held a debate on the protection of civilians on 12 February 2013. During the debate 15 states made reference to the problem of explosive weapons in populated areas. Of these, Qatar spoke on behalf of the Arab Group and Sweden spoke on behalf of the Nordic countries. In addition the EU noted the issue in its statement on behalf of EU member states and others aligning with the statement. Guatemala included the issue in its longer statement that was distributed but not read out. Similarly, Jordan on behalf of the Human Security Network referred to the issue in its written statement that was distributed but not read out. The UN Secretary General made a prominent reference to the issue in his opening remarks. The debate was the first time that Bangladesh, Benin, Chile, Guatemala, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar and Sweden had themselves mentioned the issue.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
My reports have also recommended steps for enhancing the protection of civilians that I would like to emphasize again.
First, all parties to conflict should avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas. This includes roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes. I urge the Council to recognize and act on this fundamental humanitarian issue. My next report will provide concrete recommendations for consideration.
All too often, as we know, we see explosive weapons being used in densely populated areas. Again, Syria is a particularly egregious example. Parties to conflict must abide by international law, and we support the Secretary-General’s recommendation and further action on those issues.
Austria shares the recommendation of the Secretary-General that explosive weapons with a wide area impact should be avoided in densely populated areas due to the appalling civilian suffering that they cause. We believe that there must be more systematic data collection in that respect. On the issue of civilian casualty recording by parties to armed conflict, Austria would like to reiterate the suggestion made in the statement by the Group of Friends on the Protection of Civilians last year that the next report of the Secretary-General provide an overview of existing practices (see S/PV.6790).
We are deeply concerned by the availability and use of arms and explosive weapons in populated areas as a violation of international law, by increasing threats against the security of health care facilities and the delivery of health care services, and by the failure to comply with international humanitarian law.
The Council should address the question of the use of explosive devices by warring parties in densely populated areas, which have a disproportionate effect on the civilian population. We should also pursue the efforts under way to criminalize the use of such weapons.
We also urge parties to a conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons in densely populated areas, given both the number of victims they cause and their indiscriminate nature and because we believe that that is a significant factor in the displacement of persons and the serious consequences that arise from that.
We furthermore continue to be very preoccupied by the humanitarian impact of the use of weapons in densely populated areas. We take note of the view expressed by the International Committee of the Red Cross that the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area must be avoided in densely populated areas. That issue should be addressed in a more systematic and proactive way.
The civil war in Syria is intensifying and, as we heard from the High Commissioner for Human Rights today, the pain and suffering it inflicts on the civilian population continue to increase in scale and scope. The war has moved into the major cities. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians, especially women and children, often caused by the use of explosive weapons with broad impact in densely populated areas, remain the most appalling aspect of the Syrian conflict.
Guatemala (in longer statement distributed but not read out)
However, we continue to be concerned with many specific issues. Among these, I would mention the following: […] the increasing use of explosives of ample coverage in dense populations centers or areas where populations converge, such as markets, schools and religious places of worship […].
Jordan (on behalf of Human Security Network; statement distributed but not read out)
** Statement to follow when available **
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the existence of remnants of explosive ordnance pose a deadly threat to civilians.
We also call for stronger action in response to the growing use of explosive weapons in high-density population areas, in defiance of the international humanitarian law principles of distinction and proportionality.
Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to condemn the use of explosive weapons, including cluster munitions, in densely populated areas. According to data collected by non-governmental organizations in 2012, at least 25,000 civilians died or were injured by the use of explosive weapons in such areas, with 42 per cent of civilian victims of explosive weapons being children.
It has been reported that, as a rule, 84 per cent of casualties resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians. As we deplore the killing of civilians, the Council should ask if we have done enough to protect them. The world will judge us on both counts — that is, what we have done and what we have not done to protect innocent civilians.
We also call on the parties to conflicts to honour their obligations in refraining from the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas.
Far too often, those rules are not applied. Let us be blunt — breaches of those rules through the targeting of civilians, the use of high explosive weapons without regard to likely civilian casualties and attacks on medical personnel or facilities are all war crimes.
Qatar (on behalf of the Arab Group):
Despite the progress that has been made in strengthening the protection of civilians in cases of armed conflict, the issue continues to pose a challenge to international law and humanitarian law and requires us to do more to compel parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons in densely populated areas.
I would like to express particular concern about three facts that represent serious obstacles to the application of the modern concept of the protection of civilians. First is the use of bombs and explosives in urban areas to kill or maim civilians, destroy basic infrastructures such as hospitals, schools and water-storage facilities, and displace huge numbers of civilians. Spain deplores this grave violation of international humanitarian law, especially when it is used deliberately as a way of waging psychological warfare on the civilian population, and believes that the Council must continue to focus on this practice and to explore and exploit all possible means to put an end to it.
Sweden (on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway):
We share the concerns of the Secretary-General with regard to the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas. We recognize the need to gather data on the use and impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, including recording civilian casualties. We request the Secretary-General to include in his next report to the Council recommendations and analysis on the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the practice of United Nations bodies, States and other actors on civilian casualty recording.
To see a full list of states that have expressed concern of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, click here.