More than 70 states engage in discussions on political declaration

Report on the second round of consultations in Geneva, 10 February 2020

States were actively engaged in the second round of consultations in Geneva, convened by Ireland and aimed at gathering input ahead of drafting an international political declaration to address the humanitarian impact from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. That engagement sets the scene for a challenging round of final negotiations in March, which mark a significant humanitarian milestone.

More than seventy countries participated[1] in the day-long consultation, where many states and organisations provided input on the text – so much so that time ran out before all delegations were able to deliver their remarks and instead submitted their input in writing.

The discussions were structured around the draft ‘elements text’ which suggested possible descriptions of the humanitarian issue and action-oriented commitments for a political declaration. State delegates participating in the consultation were broadly appreciative of the elements paper Ireland had put together, which drew on input given by a broad range of states – some with quite divergent views – as well as organisations at the first consultation held in November 2019

Whilst the paper was fairly comprehensive, covering most key issues related to humanitarian and protection concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, INEW suggested three key changes be made as Ireland now moves towards drafting a political declaration which will be discussed at the next and final consultation in the end of March. The key changes INEW wants to see reflected in a draft political declaration are:

  • a clearer and stricter commitment against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas;
  • a clear recognition of, and commitment to address indirect or ‘reverberating effects’, meaning the humanitarian impacts resulting from the destruction of interconnected infrastructure and services (e.g. water and power supplies, which impacts the functioning of hospitals and provision of medical care) and can negatively impact a much larger proportion of the civilian population over a period of time; and
  • a stronger provision to assist victims, including those directly affected, their families and communities.

In the consultations, several states pushed for a stronger commitment to establish a clear presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, including Angola on behalf of the African Group, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, as well as INEW, the ICRC and OCHA.

Whilst no states spoke directly against the initiative, some – including the USA, gave comments that suggested removing all focus from the issue in question, including removing all references to ‘explosive weapons’.

France, Belgium, Canada, and a few other states proposed that the text focus on “indiscriminate use” of explosive weapons in populated areas – though indiscriminate use of any weapon is already illegal. This would not result in the establishment of any new standards on civilian protection in armed conflict, or clearer guidance to militaries on assessing the appropriate choice of weapons in urban operations, but rather simply restate the need to comply with the law.  Their claims that harm only results from indiscriminate use were not backed up by evidence or any explanation of how their proposed limitation of the declaration’s scope would better strengthen the protection of civilians.

Some delegations spoke to the repeated references to international humanitarian law in the elements paper, suggesting a clearer separation between existing legal commitments, and new policy commitments under this political declaration – both to risk incorrectly paraphrasing the law, and to make clear the new policy commitments and actions under a political declaration on EWIPA.

Several states (including Austria, Chile, Ecuador, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, Uruguay) suggested a greater focus on the consequences of using heavy explosive weapons in towns and cities, and the destruction of vital infrastructure and the knock-on effects on the provision of vital services which are often interconnected. For example, the destruction of power and water supplies will prevent the provision of medical services and functioning of hospitals. These ‘reverberating effects’ can impact a much larger section of the population and can cause more civilian harm than the initial attack, including on people far away from the site of the initial attack. The ICRC and other states including the Netherlands have called for foreseeable reverberating effects to be factored into the planning military operations.

Data collection was raised by several delegations, some suggestion a commitment to collect and share data can help to guide understanding of the harm caused, the people affected, including to understand the effects of different weapons used, and to know how to provide the most effective response. Other delegations spoke to point out challenges in gathering data on civilian deaths and harm in conflict situations – even in the conduct of their own military operations.

The next round of consultations will take place in Geneva on 23-24, and 26-27 March, and will be convened on the basis of a draft political declaration text which will be issued in early March.  These consultations have been expanded to take up almost a full week (four days with a day free in the middle for informal discussions and redrafting).  This is a reflection of the extent of engagement in the February session, but also a recognition that an intense round of negotiations is needed in order to develop a text that has both political support and humanitarian purpose.  This March session will be critical in determining the strength of the final text.

A more detailed overview of what participating states said is available in the WILPF/RCW report here: http://reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/14658-impacts-not-intentionality-the-imperative-of-focusing-on-the-effects-of-explosive-weapons-in-a-political-declaration

Written input and many statements are also available online here: https://www.dfa.ie/our-role-policies/international-priorities/peace-and-security/disarmament/ewipa-consultations/informalconsultationswrittensubmissions/written-submissions—10-february-2020-consultations.php

 

[1] We noted the following states and state groups in the room: Albania, Angola, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holy See, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Togo, Turkey, UK, Uruguay, USA, the African Union and the European Union.

 

Featured image: People stand on rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria Janauary 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh 

 

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