Statement by the International Network on Explosive Weapons
to the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW)
Mr. Steve Goose, 24 November 2017, Geneva
Thank you Chair,
On behalf of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), I will lay out our concerns over the widespread humanitarian harm that results from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and suggest action required to start to respond to the widespread harm from such weapons.
INEW is an international network of civil society organisations calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We call on states and other actors to recognise the pattern of harm to individuals and communities by explosive weapons, to strive to avoid such harm by reviewing and strengthening national policies and practices including through data-gathering, to work for the full realisation of rights of victims and survivors, and to develop stronger international standards – including restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The bombing and shelling of towns and cities continues to be a major cause of harm to civilians around the world. We have seen this pattern of harm across a range of countries and contexts including in the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as in other contexts over the past few years, such as Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine – to name just a few examples. Data gathered on the harm from explosive weapons over the last five years has shown a consistent pattern: when explosive weapons are used in populated areas a disproportionate number of the victims are civilian, on average this is at a rate of 92%, which is unacceptably high.
In addition to high levels of civilian deaths, injuries and trauma, the use of such weapons causes damage and destruction to essential infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, housing, water and sanitation systems, and it is a key driver of population displacement. The indirect impacts from this destruction are severe, widespread, and long-lasting. But they are also foreseeable when these weapons are used in towns and cities.
INEW is particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, such as multiple-launch rockets, heavy artillery, and large bombs and missiles, and IEDs, which are prone to indiscriminate effects when used in populated areas.
All too often, the impacts of explosive weapons are considered an inevitable result of conflict. Yet there is evidence that militaries can, and have, refrained from the use of certain weapons in populated areas, and in doing so have strengthened civilian protection
For example, some militaries have undertaken policies limiting the use of artillery and other indirect fire weapons in populated areas, such as the African Union Mission in Somalia and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The Afghan government in September approved a national policy that recognizes the impact of heavy weapons in populated areas and is working on guidance for its forces and improved trainings to reduce civilian harm from such weapons.
For nine years, UN Secretary-Generals have expressed concern over the protection of civilians in conflict, identifying the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a significant problem in this regard. Around 80 states have now also recognised explosive weapons in populated areas as a key humanitarian issue of concern. Increasingly calls have been made by states, the UN Secretary-General and the ICRC on states and other actors, to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Earlier this year, UN Secretary General Guterres urged states to develop and implement policies and strategies to avoid civilian harm in military operations and better protect civilians.
INEW has been working with Austria and other interested states on the development of an international political declaration on explosive weapons. We believe a political declaration could accomplish three crucial objectives:
First, it could set an important political standard and operational direction for parties to armed conflict to avoid using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
Second, it could provide a framework for states to develop national measures and guidance, and a forum to discuss results and assess effectiveness of such measures.
Third, it could contribute to assisting affected communities and addressing civilian harm from the effects of explosive weapons.
Whilst not developing new law in itself, it would ultimately contribute to strengthening the framework of international law to protect civilians from harm during armed conflict.
We encourage all states to support the development of a political declaration, with a focus on stopping the worst types of explosive weapons – those with wide area effects – as a tool to drive forward policy and practice to better protect civilians in armed conflict.
Whilst we welcome this discussion today, INEW is not convinced that the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) is the best forum to provide a meaningful response to this issue of urgent humanitarian concern.
To address this issue it requires that States Parties recognize the pattern of humanitarian harm that results from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and willing to discuss this issue, which is not currently the case. But also, the role of this treaty body is to establish new law in relation to conventional weapons, rather than policy – and our current endeavor is the development of an international political declaration. We believe this approach will be most effective at this point in time, as a way to facilitate the development and adoption of operational policies and procedures.
Rather, the development of an international commitment would be best led by a partnership of states and organisations, committed to developing a tool that will reduce the humanitarian suffering that results from this pattern of harm by setting a clear and ambitious standard against this practice.
Thank you Chair.
Photo: Ballistic missile attack in Ard al-Hamra, February 2013. © Hannah Lucinda Smith