On 15 June 2015 the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) released an animated infographic showing exactly why the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas is particularly devastating to civilians, for the immediate death, injury and destruction caused but also for the longer-term damage to vital infrastructure and displacement that ensues.
The ICRC notes that “Increasingly, explosive weapons designed for warfare on open battlefields are being used in towns and cities. The effects on civilians are often devastating, even when these weapons are aimed at legitimate military targets.” It is not only attacks targeting civilians or that are clearly indiscriminate that cause severe humanitarian harm: any use of weapons that affect wide areas in densely populated urban centres has a predictable pattern of harm to surrounding civilians, their homes and their vital services.
The ICRC also released a report of an expert meeting held on 24 and 25 February 2015 in Switzerland, titled ‘Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Humanitarian, Legal, Technical and Military Aspects‘. The meeting included experts from 17 governments, with 11 other weapons experts, representatives of UN agencies NGOs. Since 2011, the ICRC has stated that the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in densely populated areas, due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.
The meeting discussed the humanitarian issue of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, intending to look at the opportunities for minimising harm to civilians when attacking legitimate targets in populated areas through choices in means and methods of warfare. The presentations given by experts, elaborating the evidence on these questions, are summarised in the report.
Austria will be hosting a meeting for states in September in Vienna on explosive weapons in populated areas, which will follow up on previous expert meetings hosted by Norway in Oslo in 2014, by Chatham House with OCHA in 2013.
INEW considers the Vienna meeting as an opportunity to focus discussions on the idea of an international commitment to stop the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide area effects. Building on existing international law, the development and endorsement by states of such a commitment would articulate a clearer standard of practice, and provide an opportunity to significantly enhance the protection of civilians. INEW urges states to build on the growing awareness and momentum around the issue to take action this September.