“Indiscriminate harm”: explosive weapons raised at UN, expert meeting announced
On 30 January 2015, the UN Security Council held an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. At the debate, Austria announced that this September, in Vienna, it would be holding a meeting on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This follows previous expert discussions to consider the issue hosted by Norway and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Article 36 encourages discussion in Vienna to focus on working towards an international commitment to stop the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide area effects. The development and endorsement of such an international commitment, building on existing international law, would significantly enhance the protection of civilians.
At the debate, a number of other delegations raised concerns about the humanitarian harm caused by the use explosive weapons in populated areas, the threat to civilian protection that such actions pose, and the new international standards that are needed as a result. Afghanistan, Austria, Burundi, Costa Rica, Germany, and Mexico drew attention to the devastating impacts of explosive weapons in populated areas in their statements, with Russia also condemning the shelling of cities in Ukraine. The Emergency Relief Coordinator highlighted the threat that explosive weapons pose to civilians, and the need for states to heed the UN Secretary-General’s previous call to refrain from their use in populated areas. For the first time, an NGO statement was given at the debate, in which Somalian activist Ilwad Elman of the NGO Working Group on Women Peace and Security gave a first-hand account of why this issue must be addressed. The focus of the open debate was women, peace and security.
More on the statements:
In their statement to the debate, Afghanistan highlighted the ongoing threat to civilians from explosive remnants of war and the use of IEDs by non-state armed groups in towns and cities.
As well as announcing the Vienna expert meeting, Austria specifically noted explosive weapons in populated areas as an issue of particular concern, welcoming efforts from the UN Secretary-General and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to raise awareness of their devastating effects, and to “restrict their use in populated areas, where they cause indiscriminate harm”. Austria welcomed the call on states by the Secretary-General for information about their policies and practices on explosive weapons, and the UN Secretariat’s effort to produce practical measures and guidance on mitigating the humanitarian impact.
Burundi raised the “threat created by mines and other explosive devices, which lead to heightened civilian casualties and a broader displacement of populations.”
Costa Rica, following from their commitment to end the use of cluster munitions, expressed their support for a further “international commitment to ending the use of explosive munitions in densely populated areas”.
Germany spoke on the harm caused by aerial attacks and shelling in Syria in particular, including casualties and the barriers such attacks pose to access to healthcare and education. The representative noted that better monitoring and reporting was needed.
Mexico also stressed how the use of weapons in populated areas harms civilians, both when civilians are the target of attacks and when they represent ‘collateral damage’.
The statement on behalf of the Emergency Relief Coordinator noted that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was a matter of widespread concern to the protection of civilians, and that 93% of casualties caused by explosive weapons in 2013 were civilians. Assistant Secretary-General Kang, delivering the statement, also pointed out that the UN Secretary-General’s call to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has not been heeded.
In the NGO statement, Ilwad Elman stated that:
“Protecting civilians is also about ensuring that people can live without fear. In Somalia, as in places such as Syria, Gaza, Nigeria and Ukraine, we have witnessed civilians in populated areas being targeted, injured and killed by explosive weapons. The impact of explosive weapons in populated areas must be addressed, and international cooperation is needed to set stronger standards to protect civilians. The experience of AMISOM has shown that policies to limit the use of mortars or other indirect fire explosive weapons can help save civilian lives.”
It is expected that the UN Secretary-General will release his next report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict in May, with an open debate on the report in July.
Visit the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), the NGO coalition working to address this issue
See which forty states have recognised the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
Read our publications on explosive weapons
See the briefing issued to states by INEW members before the January protection of civilians debate