On 14 June 2018, the Mission of Germany convened at the UN in Geneva the first of two planned workshops on “Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: humanitarian, technical, legal and military considerations”. Germany plans to report on these in the form of a Chair’s paper that will be tabled at the 2018 annual meeting of the High Contracting State Parties to the CCW.
Held with the support of the GICHD and the ICRC, the workshop was well attended, with around 30 states and the EU represented as well as a broad range of civil society. The format included several expert panels on a range of issues, with active engagement from the floor by states and civil society.
In the opening session on the humanitarian impact of EWIPA, representatives from GICHD and the ICRC spoke on the wide range of detrimental impacts the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has on civilians, including the reverberating effects, with particular concerns over the wide area effects of certain weapons raised by several participants including GICHD. In the second session, participants discussed the legal framework applicable to the use of EWIPA, with the ICRC restating its support for an “avoidance principle” – a presumption of non-use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Article 36 intervened from the floor to emphasise that simply asserting a need for greater compliance with the law does not represent effective action to address the harms EWIPA causes and that an effective response must entail the elaboration of a common understanding of these norms.
The third – and key – session on the adaptation of military practices for urban operations saw representatives from UN OCHA, Germany, and Article 36 discuss operational policies, procedures and doctrines aimed at avoiding harm. This marked the first time states had discussed this issue collectively and substantively. OCHA presented their recent “Compilation of Military Policy and Practice: Reducing the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”, which documents examples where military forces have deliberately avoided or limited the use of certain explosive weapons on certain contexts to ensure greater protection for civilians. Germany’s representative covered how states operate under NATO’s broad directions and doctrines, noting that each state interprets and characterises the international framework on its own when making operational or technical decisions. Article 36’s presentation focussed on current military policies and procedures and the limitations they have in addressing harm from EWIPA. In particular, the discussion covered the ways in which recognition of the direct relationship between the area effects of explosive weapons and the risk of harm to civilians can be seen in general military operating processes and tools that seek to restrict these effects to prevent harm (for example collateral damage estimation methodologies); how military policy can place restrictions or controls on areas where explosive weapons can and cannot be used in order to protect civilians, and the need to understand, monitor and mitigate civilian harm.