This is an overview of which states spoke about harm from the use of explosive weapoons in populated areas at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee each week, as published in Reaching Critical Will’s First Committee Monitor.
Throughout September, 3,328 civilians were recorded killed or injured from the use of explosive weapons. This harm was experienced by civilians in twenty countries, with the highest levels of harm in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 2,162 deaths and injuries were civilians, a level equating to 93% of all deaths and injuries.
Despite such high levels of civilian harm, few states have so far raised concern over this pattern of harm in their general statements at First Committee. Those that have, include Austria, Norway (on behalf of the Nordic states—which also includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden), and Switzerland, as well as the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu. Austria emphasised that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas “has become the main reason for harm to civilians in many conflicts.” The Nordic states drew attention to the long-term consequences of bombing towns and cities, stating that “destruction of critical infrastructure such as housing, schools and hospitals also makes post-conflict rehabilitation, peacebuilding and reconstruction more difficult long after the actual fighting is over.”
Austria also reminded states that it is the use of explosive weapons in populated areas that drives people from their homes, becoming internally displaced and contributing to the refugee crisis. This subject was also the central theme of a report launched this week by Handicap International entitled “Everywhere the bombing followed us,” which interviewed Syrian refugees in Lebanon and found that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas drives multiple forced displacements and induces a pattern of displacement that increases the vulnerability of civilians.
“The devastating toll caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has been well documented,” the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs reminded states. “This is why the effort to seek a political commitment is an important step, which should be brought to fruition,” Ms. Nakamitsu said, further suggesting the convening of “expert-level discussions” to consider “concrete measures”.
Austria stressed that the “international community has to address this issue and cannot remain silent,” while the Nordic states said that they “would like to see many more countries participating in the ongoing discussions on how to enhance the protection of civilians in conflict.”
Colombia, Switzerland, and the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs spoke of the harm caused to civilians by the use of improvised explosive devices. Angola and Ukraine raised concern over harm presented to civilian populations after conflicts end as a result of explosive remnants of war. •
In the second week of First Committee and during the general debate, Ireland and San Marino raised concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, alongside the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).
These speakers brought attention to the devastating impacts on civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. San Marino highlighted that civilians bear the brunt of today’s conflicts, resulting in “unnecessary suffering, generating displacement and the death of many civilians.” The impact on vital infrastructure and public services was also highlighted. The ICRC also drew attention to this, saying that from its work on the frontline it observes “disastrous effects of heavy explosive weapons on civilians, and their highly disruptive impacts on services essential to their survival—be it health care or water and electricity supply.” INEW stated that the “bombing and shelling of towns and cities and the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continues to be a major cause of harm to civilians living in conflict situations around the world.”
The ICRC highlighted challenges from wars in cities, urging “civilian protection demands that parties to armed conflicts reassess their choice of means and methods of warfare, in particular the use of explosive weapons, in populated areas.” The ICRC reminded states that it calls on “parties to armed conflicts to avoid using wide-impact explosive weapons in densely populated areas due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.” INEW echoed these concerns and calls to action.
INEW also highlighted that “there is evidence that militaries can, and have, refrained from the use of certain weapons in populated areas, and in doing so have strengthened civilian protection.” Examples can be drawn from policies limiting the use of artillery and other indirect fire weapons in populated areas, such as the African Union Mission. In Afghanistan, the government approved a national policy that recognizes the impact of heavy weapons in populated areas and is working on guidance for its forces to reduce civilian harm from such weapons.
Ireland expressed its support for the recommendation of the UN Secretary-General for States “to engage constructively in efforts to develop a Political Declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of EWIPA.” The ICRC stated that it welcomes “all efforts to address this urgent humanitarian issue, including the Austrian-led initiative to develop a non-binding political declaration identifying good practices.”
INEW laid out concretely how a political declaration could be used as a tool to address harm including: • it could set an important political and operational direction for parties to armed conflict to avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas. • it could provide a framework for states to develop national measures and guidance, and a forum to discuss results and assess effectiveness of such measures. • it could contribute to assisting communities and addressing civilian harm from the effects of explosive weapons.
Afghanistan expressed concern over the harm being caused from improvised explosive devices. Slovenia spoke on the dangers presented to civilians from explosive remnants of war. •
In the conventional weapons debate. Austria, Canada, Guatemala, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the European Union all recognised the harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The European Union stated that it recognises “the challenges associated with the use of explosive weapons and munitions in densely populated areas and their potential impact on civilians.”
Austria noted that in 2016, more than 32,000 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons, and also emphasised that most refugees and internally displaced people fleeing conflict today are driven out by the humanitarian impacts of explosive weapons. Guatemala stated that when explosive weapons with wide area effects are used in populated areas, the effects are indiscriminate. Germany described the harm from this practice as “huge” and Ireland spoke about the long-term impacts on recovery and development, as well as gendered impacts.
Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand all spoke of the importance engaging in a process of work that will result in the development of an international political declaration, as a tool to address this harm. Austria stressed that there was a moral obligation to tackle this issue, with over 90% of the casualties being civilian. It outlined that this process of work is best undertaken with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), civil society, and likeminded states. New Zealand recalled its commitment on this theme at the World Humanitarian Summit.
At a side event last week, Austria, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) described how operational policies and practices have been developed by militaries to restrict the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in order to better protect civilians. OCHA also launched its Compilation of Military Policy and Practice on this issue (see: http://bit.ly/2yWw7KW). INEW described its vision of a political declaration including a commitment that will stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas (see: http://bit. ly/2vhFbot). A separate report on this event is included in this edition of the First Committee Monitor.
Several states spoke about the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and resulting challenges around compliance with international humanitarian law. Canada suggested that civilian harm results from indiscriminate attacks using explosive weapons. However, as the ICRC has stated, even when attacks are launched against legitimate military objectives in populated areas, the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas has devastating effects on civilians and should be avoided. •
Several states raised concern over the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas at First Committee. These included: Austria, Botswana, Canada, Germany, Guatemala, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, and Switzerland, as well as the European Union and the Nordic states. It was also raised as a key issue of concern by the UN High Level Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).
States drew attention to the disproportionate impact that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has on civilians, with 92% of the casualties on average being civilian. Beyond deaths and injuries, which amounted to around 32,000 civilians last year, this practice causes psycho-social harm and trauma, and drives people to flee from towns and cities where these weapons are being used. Commenting states also placed significant emphasis on the humanitarian consequences that result from the damage and destruction to the built environment, including residential property, and critical infrastructure including hospitals, schools, water, sanitation, and power supplies.
INEW, the ICRC, and some states drew particular attention explosive weapons with wide area effects (which are due to warheads with a large blast and fragmentation radius, inaccuracy, and/or those which scatter explosives over a wide area) and problems arising from their use in civilian populated areas such as towns and cities. States and other parties to conflict have been advised by the UN Secretary-General and the ICRC to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. Such weapons include: air-delivered bombs, artillery projectiles, missiles and rockets, mortar bombs, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The UN High Level Representative for Disarmament Affairs, some states, and civil society also reiterated the calls of the UN Secretary-General—past and present—to develop an international political declaration as a tool to address harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the urgency of getting to work on this instrument.
On the margins of the First Committee, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched its Compilation of military policy and practice: Reducing the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which highlights excontinued on next page WILPF 14 amples by militaries to provide better protection to civilians in armed conflict. Whilst there were no resolutions relating to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas more broadly, states adopted by consensus a resolution on “Countering the threat posed by improvised explosive devices” (A/C.1/72/L.15/Rev.1), a type of explosive weapon. Austria and Lichtenstein, reminded states that some IEDs are anti-personnel mines as defined and prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty, and should be addressed accordingly. This resolution, and a version of it from 2016, has also been subject to criticism for its focus on the users of these weapons and related security concerns, more so than the effects of these weapons and the humanitarian impacts they pose to civilians. •