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UN Secretary General calls on states to engage in process to develop a political declaration on explosive weapons

In his first report to the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted the devastating impacts for civilians when explosive weapons are used in populated areas during conflict, and called on states to engage constructively in the process being led by Austria to develop a political declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The report builds on concerns expressed and recommendations given on this issue by the previous Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon.

Destruction in Aleppo, Syria © Hannah Smith/INEW

Destruction in Aleppo, Syria © Hannah Smith/INEW

Quoting data from INEW member Action on Armed Violence, the report notes that war in urban centres is “particularly devastating” for civilians when explosive weapons with wide area effects are used, highlighting that parties to conflict often use heavy artillery and aerial bombardment in populated areas. The consequences the Secretary-General reports as resulting from such actions include not only deaths and injuries, but impacts with long term consequences including the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, electricity grids, and water and sanitation systems as well as displacement and the loss of livelihoods. The humanitarian impact of explosive remnants of war left by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is also discussed, given the lethal threat and obstacles to return and reconstruction that these pose.

The report emphasises that this pattern of harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is “largely predictable”, and its “immense scale” is undermining the protection of civilians and efforts to build peace and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Consequently, the Secretary-General calls on all state and non-state parties to conflict to “avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide‐area effects in populated areas” as a crucial step. He also notes that parties should “develop and implement operational policies and practical measures on the use of these weapons to avoid civilian harm”, highlighting that UN OCHA has conducted a compilation of current examples that will be published soon to assist states and others in this task. The report also calls on states to support the collection of information on the protection of civilians, including “sex and age desegregated data and gender analysis.” Finally, he encourages states to participate in the process to develop a political declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting that this “provides an important avenue for discussion and action.”

On 25 May, states will discuss the protection of civilians and healthcare in armed conflict at a UN Security Council open debate. This provides an opportunity to recognise the urgent humanitarian problem that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas represents, as emphasised by the UN Secretary-General in this latest report, and to express support for a political declaration on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a step towards addressing this issue with concrete commitments and action.

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