INEW event: Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
The humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the action that states should take towards improving civilian protection from the grave humanitarian harm caused, were discussed at an INEW side event to the Mine Ban Treaty intersessional meetings on 26 June, chaired by Richard Moyes of INEW and Article 36.
Rob Perkins from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) presented the latest global humanitarian impact data from AOAV’s Explosive Weapon Survey. The project, which uses English-langugage media sources to record deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons worldwide, reported that there were at least 41,847 casualties in 2014, up 5% on 2013. 92% of casualties in populated areas were reported to be civilians, compared to 34% in other areas. AOAV recorded casualties from explosive weapons in 58 countries and territories around the world in 2014. Perkins noted an increase in casualties from state use of explosive weapons in 2014, as well as major humanitarian impacts from IEDs.
Christina Wille from Insecurity Insight presented on the multiple problems that explosive weapon use in populated areas causes to humanitarian aid delivery. Data from Insecurity Insight’s Aid in Danger project Security in Numbers Database shows that explosive weapons are increasingly a cause of aid worker fatalities. Virtually unheard of 15 years ago, 36.2% of aid worker fatalities were from explosive weapons between 2006-10. The vast majority of aid is delivered by local staff, meaning aid workers are affected by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as other civilians are, including by loss and trauma. As well as impacts on people, tactics such as airstrikes in urban areas hamper agencies’ abilities to carry out work, by for example destroying offices and damaging other civilian infrastructure used for aid delivery. A severe challenge to aid work is also presented by barriers to re-supply created by destruction.
Frederic Maio of Handicap International (HI) discussed HI’s documentation of the devastating impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Syria. HI has worked in Syria since 2012 providing physical rehabilitation, psychosocial support, assistive and mobility devices and emergency risk education. HI has also systematically collected information on the use and impact of explosive weapons including data on victims, type of injuries, type of weapons used and locations. In three reports, on the types of injuries sustained by explosive weapon victims in Syria, on the impact across Syria as a whole, and on the particular devastation in Kobane, HI has documented a massive use of explosive weapons by all parties to the conflict. 75% of bombing and shelling recorded was in populated areas, putting 5.1 million Syrians at continuing risk.
Anna Crowe of the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch reviewed the options for form and process to achieve an international political commitment on stopping the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Crowe highlighted that political commitments are not legally binding, but represent political tools for improving conduct and standards. Commitments can be institutionalised to involve reviews of progress and reporting by states that endorse them, facilitating such processes of change. They can be developed quite rapidly – an advantage given explosive weapons represent an urgent problem. However, in order for political commitments to be successfully developed and implemented, political will and resources are crucial.
Austria will be hosting a meeting this September in Vienna on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. During the discussion, Austria highlighted this meeting as an opportunity for interested states, UN actors and civil society to reflect and engage on the issues surrounding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to consider the options to address this pressing humanitarian concern.
Explosive weapons at the Human Rights Council
At the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June, INEW steering committee member WILPF made a statement focused on the use of explosive weapons in Syria, calling for the development of an international commitment to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
Strong recommendations on limiting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were also last week included in the report of the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council in relation to the 2014 conflict in Gaza, released on the 22 June. The commission called on the international community “to accelerate and intensify efforts to develop legal and policy standards that would limit the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas with a view to strengthening the protection of civilians during hostilities.”
ECOSOC Humanitarian Segment
On 19 June Austria and UN OCHA hosted a side event to the ECOSOC Humanitarian Segment titled “Devastating Consequences: The use of exploisve weapons in populated areas”. Evidence about the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, including long-term effects and damage to infrastructure, was discussed. Panelists also examined how the protection of civilians from this harm could be improved through changing policy and practice, and how dialogue amongst humanitarian actors on this issue could be enhanced. Chaired by Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi of Austria, the event included presentations from Hansjörg Strohmeyer of UN OCHA, Anne Héry of Handicap International, Col. Jacques Baud from NATO, and Maya Brehm on behalf of INEW and Article 36.
Maya Brehm outlined the humanitarian impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, from direct casualties to infrastructure damage and displacement. Explosive weapons with a wide area effect – which might be caused by a large amount of explosives, the use of multiple munitions, inaccurate weapons, or a combination of these factors – were highlighted as particularly problematic for their impacts on civilians when used in populated areas. Brehm noted the increasing recognition this problem is receiving from states, the UN, the ICRC and civil society. She welcomed Austria’s convening of a meeting in September in Vienna to commence discussions towards a new international commitment on stopping the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas. Such a commitment, building on existing law, could enhance the protection of civilians in armed conflict. All states should support the development of such an international commitment and work constructively towards it.
A Commitment to Act: New INEW Briefing Booklet
Action on Armed Violence’s report reviewing explosive violence in 2014
Handicap International’s briefings on types of injuries sustained by explosive weapon victims in Syria, the impact of explosive weapons across Syria as a whole, and the particular devastation in Kobane
Insecurity Insight on the impact of explosive weapons on humanitarian aid delivery
Human Rights Watch/Harvard International Human Rights Clinic briefing paper on options for achieving a political commitment
WILPF statement to the Human Rights Council
UN Commission of Inquiry on Gaza calls for international action on explosive weapons
International recognition of the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas