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Santiago Regional Meeting on Protecting Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

Santiago Communiqué

Representatives of 23 Latin American and Caribbean states[1],the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Network on Explosive Weapons and other civil society organizations, met in Santiago, Chile, from 5-6 December 2018, to share knowledge and evidence on the distinctive pattern of harm caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to explore steps to address this harm at a political and operational level.

Representatives expressed concern that explosive weapons used in populated areas cause deaths, injuries and traumas to civilians, damage and destroy essential infrastructure and critical services, drive involuntary displacement, leave explosive remnants of war that pose a threat in the long term, disrupt social coexistence, economic activities and compromise human security.

In their exchanges, the representatives concluded that Latin American and Caribbean states as well as civil society can play a pivotal role in enhancing the protection of civilians from the harm caused by explosive weapons in a time when armed conflicts are increasingly fought in population centres.

Furthermore, State representatives acknowledged the need for further actions to address this issue at national, regional and international levels, in particular, but not limited to, the following:
–        Encourage collection of data and information to increase awareness and enhance knowledge about the impact of explosive weapons on civilians in populated areas;
–        Avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas;
–        Act to enhance compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, including school and hospitals during armed conflict and to contribute to alleviating humanitarian harm resulting from the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas;
–        Develop effective measures to prevent attacks in contravention of applicable international law against hospitals and schools and protected persons in relation to them;
–        Fully support the process that will lead to the negotiation and adoption of an international political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas;
–        Promote bilateral and regional cooperation through sharing experiences, good practices and expertise on reducing the harm caused by explosive weapons to civilians;
–        Constructively engage in discussions and initiatives at international level that could effectively provide greater protection to civilians in armed conflicts;
–        Foster deeper and further engagement from Latin American and the Caribbean states and facilitate increased involvement as a group of States;
–        Continue and strengthen cooperation and partnerships with international organizations and civil society organizations to draw upon their relevant expertise and support;
–        Channel contributions to the draft international political declaration on the matter, as well as engage in advocacy, at national, regional and international levels.

Santiago, Chile, December 2018

[1] Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Uruguay.

 

Joint Statement on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) during the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee – October 2018

In an unprecedented joint statement at the meeting of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, fifty states expressed grave concern over the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The statement, delivered by Ireland, noted the “overwhelming evidence” of the humanitarian impact and devastating harm to civilians caused by use of explosive weapons which “far outlasts the conflicts in which they are used”, and highlighted in particular concerns over the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. States also emphasised that this devastation in turn “acts as a catalyst for the displacement of people within and across borders, rendering displaced persons and refugees vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.”

The statement called for efforts to reverse the trend of high levels of civilian harm, and to enhance respect for and compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL), whilst at the same time noting that in many conflict situations, questions remain over how the existing rules are being interpreted and translated into policies and practice on the ground. Over the past several years the UN Secretary-Generals have made repeated calls on states to develop measures to address this problem, including, as the statement notes, “the development of a political declaration, the development of common standards and operational policies or through the sharing of policies and practices.” The endorsing states expressed continued support for civil society which has worked effectively over the past several years to address the challenges posed by EWIPA and committed to “remain seized of efforts to address the humanitarian harm caused […] through the achievement of a possible future political declaration and by maintaining support for other relevant initiatives, including regional conferences.”

The full joint statement is available here: https://bit.ly/2OusrmP

 

Statement during the May 2017 UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“Similarly, given the devastating consequences of the use of explosives in densely populated areas, because of the difficulty of fully predicting and controlling their effects in the area around a detonation point — and therefore on people living there — we support efforts to adopt a political declaration on the issue. It is necessary and urgent to agree on a comprehensive response, since the consequences of the use of explosives in densely populated areas are experienced over the long term. We must prevent explosive weapons from destroying entire infrastructures, including hospitals and health centres.”

Aligned with World Humanitarian Summit Core Commitments to ‘Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity’, May 2016, including:

“Commit to promote and enhance the protection of civilians and civilian objects, especially in the conduct of hostilities, for instance by working to prevent civilian harm resulting from the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas, and by sparing civilian infrastructure from military use in the conduct of military operations.”

Joint Commitment 123002 to the World Humanitarian Summit led by Austria, with Costa Rica, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, Mozambique, Spain, and Zambia, May 2016:

“Austria pledges to continue to engage in raising international awareness about the challenge for the protection of civilians in armed conflict posed by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. It commits to support the collection of data on the direct civilian harm and the reverberating effects on civilians and civilian objects resulting from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and to contribute to the collection and exchange of information on good practices and lessons learned in minimizing impacts on civilians when using such weapons in populated areas. It further pledges to continue to look for effective measures to strengthen the respect for international humanitarian law in this regard, among them an international political declaration on the issue.”

Statement by Austria to the World Humanitarian Summit Roundtable on Upholding the Norms that Safeguard Humanity, May 2016:

“Given the horrendous and often long-lasting consequences for civilians as a result of the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas Austria will raise international awareness, support the collection of data on direct civilian harm and the exchange of good practices and lessons as well as look for effective measures to strengthen the respect for international humanitarian law, including an international political declaration. So far this pledge is supported by Costa Rica, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Mozambique and Spain.”

Statement during UN General Assembly First Committee Debate on Conventional Weapons, October 2015:

“Deseo llamar la atencion sobre las consecuencias humanitarias del uso de armas explosivas en zonas pobladas, que requiere de una accion decidida de la comunidad internacional a fin de contribuir a la mejoria de las condiciones en que viven 38 millones de personas desplazadas internamente para tener acceso a la ayuda humanitaria y 13 millones de personas que han buscado refugio en el extranjero, a lo que se suma la destruccion masiva de viviendas, escuelas, hospitales e infraestructura dificultando todavia mas el acceso a esos servicios, ademas de un aumento de victimas mortales, principalmente niños y ancianos.

El gran número de victimas civiles se debe a la falta de respeto a principios del Derecho lnternacional Humanitario por parte de beligerantes en un conflicto, llevando las hostilidades a areas pobladas, y tipo de armamento que se usa con efectos indiscriminado con terribles consecuencias y amplio impacto entre civiles.”

Statement during the January 2015 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“Civilians remain the primary victims in situations of armed conflict, in large part because of the use of weapons in densely populated areas. Not solely collateral damage, civilians are increasingly targets groups or factions involved in conflict.”

Statement during the November 2010 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

Mexico

Mexico delivering a statement to the January 2015 UNSC protection of civilians debate

“We are especially concerned with two specific aspects, given their impact on civilian populations — first, the denial of humanitarian assistance, and second, the use of explosives in densely populated zones. Regarding the use of explosives, the fact that there is no specific ban on the use of certain weapons does not mean that those weapons are permitted. We must condemn the use of explosives in areas where civilian populations are concentrated because of their indiscriminate effects and the attendant risks.”

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