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INEW briefing: A declaration to prevent harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas has been identified as a significant cause of harm to civilians in conflicts around the world by states, international organisations, civil society and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The use in populated areas of explosive weapons, particularly those with wide-area effects, consistently causes high levels of civilian death and injury, and psychological distress. Damage to essential infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, housing, and water and sanitation systems affects a still larger population. Explosive weapon use is a key driver of displacement.

Tal Dar hospital in Aleppo, Syria. © Hannah Lucinda Smith

Tal Dar hospital in Aleppo, Syria. © Hannah Lucinda Smith

Too often, this situation is considered the inevitable result of conflict, yet experience shows that at an operational level, militaries can, and have, curbed or halted the use of certain weapons, and in doing so can strengthen civilian protection.

Reflecting the urgent nature of this humanitarian problem, the UN Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross last year issued an unprecedented warning, calling on states to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas. Over the past several years, this issue has been identified as a top priority for states concerned with the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly called on states to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and to engage constructively in efforts towards developing a political declaration.

International discussions are starting towards developing a political instrument to address the humanitarian problem posed by explosive weapons, and to set a political and operational direction against the use in populated areas of those explosive weapons that expose civilians to the gravest risks.

In this context, INEW has issued this briefing paper discussing they key elements that such a political declaration should contain. The development of an international political declaration must promote actions that will reduce humanitarian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and increase the protection of civilians living through conflict. A political declaration signed by a group of states must be seen not as a stand-alone document, but as a tool that promotes operational policy and practice better to protect civilians, and as a framework for states to work together to achieve that purpose.

Download this briefing paper

A declaration to prevent harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

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