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Explosive weapons addressed at the International Security Forum (ISF), Zurich

The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) (www.gichd.ch) and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) (www.unidir.org) co-hosted a panel on the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas at the International Security Forum in Zurich (30 May – 1 June 2011).

Barbara Haering (President of GICHD Council of Foundation), who chaired the panel, recalled that the UN Secretary-General and other high-level UN officials, including OCHA Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), Valerie Amos, have repeatedly expressed concern about the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons use in areas populated by civilians. The ERC’s recent statement regarding the situation in Libya and theEU’s statement at the latest UN Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, for example, attest to growing awareness at the international policy level of the serious humanitarian problems associated with explosive violence.

These concerns seemed to resonate with the experiences of Norah Niland, former Chief Human Rights officer and Head of the Human Rights Unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Niland, among other things, stressed the importance of strong data as a basis for effective advocacy in favor of the victims of armed conflict.

Richard Moyes of INEW also underlined the importance of data on victimization. He also emphasized that public policy statements on the acceptability of explosive weapons use in the vicinity of civilians are important for bringing about more user accountability and transparency regarding the impacts of explosive violence.

Erik Tollefsen (GICHD) offered a technical perspective on explosive weapons and raised particular concerns about the ongoing trend towards ever more powerful – and more harmful – improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the hands of non-state actors – devices increasingly assembled from abandoned or unexploded military ammunition.

John Borrie (UNIDIR) noted that an approach focusing on the use of explosive weapons technology in the context of civilian populated areas may raise transversal issues that do not fit neatly into existing policy processes. Borrie called on those seeking to increase the protection of civilians to reflect on the implications of this approach for their operational and policy work.

Maya Brehm, UNIDIR

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