INEW intervention on key elements of a political declaration

This statement was given to the meeting of states held on 4 October 2016 to discuss an international response to the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the elements necessary in a political declaration on this issue.

Delivered by Laura Boillot, INEW coordinator

4 October 2016, New York

Thank you to Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Mozambique for convening this meeting and providing leadership over this initiative to develop a political declaration to reduce harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

These remarks are on behalf of INEW – the international network of NGOs working to address the humanitarian harm from EWIPA.

INEW is particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. This can be because the weapon has a large blast and fragmentation radius, or because they launch multiple warheads across a large area, or because they are inaccurate and so it is uncertain where within a wide area they will detonate.

When heavy explosive weapons that affect wide areas are used in towns and cities, it consistently and predictably results in high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries, causes long-lasting psychological harm, and destroys vital infrastructure including housing, schools, hospitals and other essential services. These immediate and long-term effects are a significant driver of population displacement.

States should find a shared purpose in developing a practical tool that addresses this problem. Such a tool should communicate a new international standard and help to develop and embed improved operational practices at the national level, providing greater protection to civilians in armed conflict.

I will now make some general remarks on the discussion paper on ‘key elements of a declaration’, which in our view, provides a good basis for starting to identify concrete actions that states can undertake. We have produced a paper, available in the room, which provides more detailed comments, and we can also provide suggested text formulations in writing as this process of work develops.

-       The first commitment in this text is, in our view, the centerpiece of a declaration on reducing harm from EWIPA. A commitment by states to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas is the most tangible and effective action states can take that will make a difference to civilians living through armed conflict. Such a commitment should be fulfilled by the development and implementation of operational guidelines and policies at the national level, which should also be part of the commitments states agree to.

-       A declaration could also include a commitment on states to share good operational practice or guidelines, as well as to reach out to others to encourage them to join the declaration, and further strengthen a new standard of practice.

-       A key pillar in this declaration is recognition of the rights of victims, and a commitment to provide assistance to affected communities. Ensuring that the people most affected by the use of EWIPA is at the core of this work. This should include provision of healthcare, including emergency and long-term care, rehabilitation, psychological and psychosocial support, and inclusion.

-       Further to this, we propose an additional commitment on rebuilding damaged and destroyed infrastructure, given the long-term impacts this has on entire communities, hampering post-conflict reconstruction and development. This means allowing return to adequate housing, water and sanitation, education and a safe environment.

-       Data gathering is essential in order to understand the impact of this practice, in order to provide an adequate response. As such, it should be stipulated that data should be disaggregated by gender, and age, and should include those directly and indirectly affected.

-       We see this declaration as an ongoing mechanism and tool to addressing this issue, As such, we think it would be useful to put in place mechanisms encouraging states to raise this issue in all relevant forums to promote the standards it sets, as well as requiring states to meet again and report on efforts to undertake the commitments, reporting on efforts to encourage others to join the declaration, and discuss and further develop operational practice and guidelines.

-       Some of the commitments stated here, for example – on ensuring humanitarian access, and clearance of contaminated areas, are already obligations under international law. Whilst there is value in restating relevant, existing, legal obligations in this declaration, they should enforce the same or stronger standards.

-       Last of all, resourcing such commitments will be necessary, to ensure their effective implementation, and a reduction in harm.

So, to reiterate, we think that this elements paper provides a good framework of practical commitments that can be developed in a political declaration in the future. We believe such a declaration will be an important building block in the long-term work of improving the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and we are committed to working in partnership with states, UN agencies and international organisations towards that goal.

Thank you for your consideration.

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