On 24 October at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee in New York, seventy-one countries joined a statement led by Ireland encouraging all states to participate in international efforts to address the impacts of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on civilians – including through working towards an international political declaration in 2020 that could make commitments on this issue.
Following widespread support at the recent Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare for a political declaration on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Ireland will host the first consultations towards drafting the text of this instrument on 18 November in Geneva.
Concern and momentum towards action on this issue has been building considerably over the past years, with fifty states endorsing a similar statement on the humanitarian impacts of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas at last year’s First Committee. This followed two regional conferences in Santiago, Chile and Maputo, Mozambique that resulted in communiqués raising concern and calling for action on the harm to civilians caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Around 80 countries have stated their support for a political declaration on explosive weapons.
This year’s joint statement at First Committee highlighted the states’ grave concerns at the humanitarian impact of how hostilities are conducted in populated areas, and particularly the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects.
The states noted the long-term humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, drawing attention to how these far outlast the conflicts in which these weapons are used. These impacts include immediate harms including deaths, injuries and psychological trauma, as well as damage to critical infrastructure, displacement, and barriers to recovery, development and cultural life.
Highlighting the recent joint appeal by the UN Secretary-General and the International Committee of the Red Cross on this issue, the states also noted that compliance with the law during conflict could be strengthened through the elaboration of a political declaration, and measures to apply, share and strengthen good policies and practices.
They also stated that “the increasing urbanisation of armed conflict raises important questions about how military and civil defence policies and practices address risks to civilians, understand impacts, and mitigate civilian harm, including from explosive weapons used in populated areas.” They stressed the need to learn lessons and adapt policies and practices to minimise civilian harm from urban warfare.
The full statement can be read here.
The countries endorsing this year’s joint statement at First Committee led by Ireland were: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Indonesia, Italy, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia; Malta; Mauritius; Mexico; Monaco; Montenegro; Mozambique; Namibia; Netherlands; New Zealand, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Ukraine, and Uruguay.