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On Part A, section 1 (the preamble, and including the title)

On the Title and Section 1 of the Preamble of the January 2021 Political Declaration text

INEW intervention, delivered by Anna de Courcy Wheeler, on 3 March 2021
Informal consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, 3-5 March 2021

Many thanks to Ireland for preparing this draft declaration text, which provides a good basis for further discussion, and for convening us today.

I’d like to start first with the title which, as it stands, is highly problematic. It is far too permissive of continued use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, running counter to the humanitarian aims and purpose of this initiative, and signalling the wrong direction for future engagement on this issue. As does the use of the qualifier “wide area effects” in the title – it suggests that civilian harm does not arise from explosive weapons that do not have wide area effects, yet we all know this to be untrue. There are also elements of the declaration that merit a broader approach than an unnecessarily narrow focus on wide area effects – such as data collection, assistance to affected communities and the work of civil society to name a few – meaning that the inclusion of “wide area effects” in the title just does not work.

The title also includes the phrase “can arise from” – which downplays the extent and severity of civilian harm that has been widely documented and experienced by many.

This use of “can” to qualify or hedge is an affliction much of the preamble unfortunately suffers from. It is said that “explosive weapons with wide area effects can have a devastating impact on civilians”, that the civilian populations can be exposed to severe and long-lasting effects, they can suffer psychological and psychosocial harm, that the environment can be affected, and unexploded ordinance can impede returns…

Explosive weapons with wide area effects do have a devastating impact on civilians – we would not all be here today if this was just a hypothetical. This pattern of harm has been extremely well-documented. To adopt such unnecessary qualifying language is not only dismissive of the efforts of many actors to gather and share data and evidence on this, but more importantly dismisses the lived experience of the millions suffering through conflict, and who this declaration aims to help. We would therefore strongly suggest the replacement of “can” with “have” or “have had”.

More broadly on the preamble, stronger, more comprehensive and accurate descriptions and acknowledgement of the civilian harm and suffering that has resulted and continues to result from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas would promote better understandings and responses. The text should better recognise the direct impacts of explosive weapons. That tens of thousands of civilians are killed each year from bombing and shelling of towns and cities. That yet more people suffer life-changing injuries and impairments. That many also suffer psychological and psychosocial harm from living under bombing. That children are especially vulnerable. And that impacts can differ according to age, gender and ability.

We should also be wary of conflating in the text indirect and reverberating effects, which are different categories of harm, and provide more comprehensive descriptions of each. This should include longer-term, compounded impacts, such as on livelihoods, social and economic inclusion, and employment. Displacement should be recognised as a standalone point, with any one of the myriad harms caused by explosive weapons acknowledged as enough to alone trigger flight or drive people to leave their homes.

In part to facilitate this increased clarity and detail, the preamble would greatly benefit from some restructuring.

Additional and more detailed suggestions for Section 1 can be found in INEW’s written submission to Ireland.

Download the text here


On the Preamble of the January 2021 Political Declaration text – A survivor’s perspective

INEW intervention, delivered by Mahpekay Sidiqi, on 3 March 2021
Informal consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, 3-5 March 2021

Good afternoon Ambassador, States Delegates,

Thank you for this opportunity to address you on behalf of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).

This is probably the second or third time we meet virtually, but it’s the first time I participate in the diplomatic discussions to shape a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

I’m conscious that over these three days, you’ll look at many details in the text. Now I will share reflections more generally on what these consultations and the future political declaration needs to do.

When I was 6, the bombing of my village forced my family to leave. Bombing was happening everywhere and we had no other choice. Let me tell you: it was terrifying.

We reached Kabul but the city was not safe. I lost both my legs in an explosion. After that, going to school became difficult as it was not accessible. I felt excluded because I was not able to walk like the others and I was depressed.

My family and I have had a long journey to safety, and through my recovery which was far from easy, both mentally and practically.

Today, I work as an orthopedic technologist and I provide physical rehabilitation services for

persons with disabilities. I witness on a daily basis the impact explosive weapons have on women and men, boys and girls – on civilians who have nothing to do with the war.

As if this was not enough, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas destroys homes, and infrastructures, among many other things. It forces us to live without shelter, without food, without essential services.

Bombing and shelling causes unacceptable suffering.

Today’s discussion, and this text, should start from this understanding: explosive weapons do cause extensive harm to civilians. There is no ‘can’ about it.

This text needs to better reflect that, and do justice to the experiences of so many who have already suffered.

This declaration also needs to aim for the strongest protections to people as possible. A strong commitment against continued use of explosive weapons in towns and cities, and a title that shows that this is what we are working towards.

How many other stories like mine, those of my patients, neighbors and friends do we need to hear to recognize the risk to civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities, and human suffering that follows for weeks, months and years to follow?

It’s time to acknowledge this. It’s time to stop causing more suffering and to remediate to those already affected.

Thank you

Download the text here


On the Title and Section 1 of the Preamble of the January 2021 Political Declaration tekst, specifically concerning wide area effects and military operations

INEW intervention, delivered by Roos Boer, on 3 March 2021
Informal consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, 3-5 March 2021

Thank you Chair,

I am speaking on behalf of INEW, the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

The concept of explosive weapons with wide area effects is not sufficiently addressed or described in the text of the political declaration. Its scope is too narrow, and the operative commitments to address wide area effects should be strengthened.

The factors that produce ‘wide area effects’ need to be better described in the preamble to promote understanding of this concept. ‘Wide area effects’ should include not only blast and fragmentation effects, but also inaccuracy of delivery, and / or the projection of multiple warheads or multiple firings across an area. The preamble should also stipulate that these factors result in the significant likelihood that the effects of the weapon will extend beyond, or occur outside the specific military objective, which presents a significant risk of harm to civilians when these weapon are used in populated areas. A strong commitment in 3.3. against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas should be central to the declaration. Adding a description of wide area effects in section 1 will promote understanding of what this commitment entails, and prevents potentially blurring the central commitment in 3.3 with qualifiers.

Second. By inserting ‘wide area effects’ in the title and other places throughout the document, the scope of the declaration is unnecessarily narrowed. Some elements of the declaration should indeed focus on ALL use of explosive weapons in populated areas rather than a narrow focus on just those with wide area effects, such as data collection and assistance to victims. I refer here to our INEW commentary where we have specified where the addition of “with wide area effects” is and is not of added value from the perspective to better protect civilians.

Third. On 1.6 – we express caution in overstating the extent that militaries have effective operational policies to address the high levels of civilian harm from use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The first sentence of 1.6 should therefore be more qualified – and read “some” rather than “many” militaries; and “including efforts to anticipate” rather than “which include a detailed understanding of”.  To introduce operative section 3 on military policies and practice it should be moved to the end of section 2 furthermore.

It is also unclear the extent to which collateral damage estimation methodologies, allow militaries to properly anticipate the expected impact of the use of explosive weapons in urban areas; and the extent to which battle damage assessments consider the effects of an attack on civilians and the accuracy, therefore, of any estimate of collateral damage. Greater focus needs to be places on assessing and understanding the area effects of weapons, and scale of effects, including how they interact with the urban environment.

Section 1.7 should emphasise the importance of establishing mechanisms to track civilian harm by militaries in operations which can inform understandings of the impacts and responses – not just mitigation strategies. As such, and as this is language in the preamble, it should not include caveats and qualifiers.  It should make principled points, and avoid weak language and should include:

— The importance of tracking civilian harm in military operations.

— Collecting data on civilian harm, including data on civilian casualties disaggregated by sex, age and disability, and data on explosive weapons use including locations, types and quantities.

— Sharing data and reporting on civilian harm.

— Conducting investigations into all credible allegations of civilian harm.

Thank you Chair.

Download the text here

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