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First Committee 2019 update – week 3

A particular highlight of the conventional weapons debate was the joint statement on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), coordinated by Ireland and endorsed by 71 states.[1] The statement expressed that states “remain gravely concerned at the humanitarian impact resulting from the way active hostilities are conducted in populated areas and in particular by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects.” These 71 states said they “believe that there are a number of complementary ways through which compliance” with international humanitarian law may be strengthened, “notably through the elaboration of a political declaration, the application and where necessary, the development of operational policies more responsive to the challenges of protecting civilians and civilian objects during urban conflict and through the sharing of good policies and practice.”

There was also a significant increase since last year in the number of states raising the issue of EWIPA in their national statements. Around 20 states addressed EWIPA in national statements including Austria, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Spain, and Switzerland. It was also raised in a group statement by the European Union.

These delegations raised concerns over armed conflicts increasingly taking place in urban areas, posing serious challenged for the protection of civilians and high levels of humanitarian harm including civilian deaths and injury, and destruction to civilian infrastructure (including Austria, Bangladesh, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the EU, and the joint statement). Austria, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and the joint statement voiced particular concern with the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.

Calls from states in both the joint statement and in their national capacity, including Austria, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, supported efforts towards the development of an international political declaration to address the humanitarian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas including developing military policies and improving military practice. Austria, France, Guatemala, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the EU, and the joint statement by 71 states placed an emphasis on the need to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law.

The US and Russian delegations expressed scepticism about the issue, with the US arguing that banning or stigmatising the use of explosive weapons in populated areas would allow “bad actors” to use human shields.

The growing interest and engagement in EWIPA follows regional meetings in Mozambique and Chile and more recently an international conference in Vienna, Austria. Open consultations to start developing an international political declaration on EWIPA are now scheduled in Geneva on 18 November; registration to participate has opened.

[1] Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Monaco; Montenegro; Mozambique; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay.

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