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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 states that endorsed the statement were a diverse group from all world regions, and included conflict-affected countries as well as states engaged in the conduct of military operations: Angola, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Central African Republic, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Guatemala, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uganda, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Zambia.

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

 

Statement during the General Debate of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly First Committee, 2018:

“New Zealand is pleased to see the issue of explosive weapons in populated areas getting the attention it deserves and we align ourselves fully with the joint statement on this issue delivered by Ireland earlier in this debate. We remain committed to addressing the humanitarian harm caused by such weapons – recognising, too, that our efforts in this regard complement our long-standing support for many other related initiatives, including, for example, “Safe Schools” and “Healthcare under Attack”. We look forward to working with interested states, organisations and civil society partners across all relevant fora to make progress on this important 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 the General Debate of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly First Committee, 2017:

“There is an increasing and compelling body of evidence highlighting that the downstream consequences of the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas can result in civilian death and injury far outweighing even the immediate civilian casualties caused by such an attack. In keeping with our pledge at the World Humanitarian Summit last year, New Zealand remains committed to addressing this issue, including through a Political Declaration.”

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

“The use of indiscriminate explosive weapons in populated areas is a distressing illustration of the disrespect for international humanitarian law demonstrated by some parties to armed conflict. Explosive weapons in populated areas have destroyed hospitals, schools, places of worship and vital infrastructure. Millions of civilians have been displaced and those who remain struggle to access essential services, including medical care. The consequences can be catastrophic and will be felt long into the future.”

Statement during UN General Assembly First Committee Debate on Conventional Weapons, October 2016:

“Finally, Mr Chair, I wish to register NewZealand’s support for the development of a political declaration as part of an international effort to address the immediate and long-term harm being caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas. We look forward to working with all interested parties to ensure that such a declaration is meaningful and effective, and that it complements the important civilian protections promised – but, regrettably, often violated – under international humanitarian law.”

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

“There are other specific contexts in which the standards of IHL for the protection of civilians must be fully applied and protected. Austria hosted useful discussions in Vienna just last month focused on the harm which civilians face in many conflicts from explosive weapons used in densely populated areas. We must explore ways, as the UNSG has said, to address this issue and minimise this harm.”

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.”

Statement during the February 2013 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“Far too often, those rules are not applied. Let us be blunt — breaches of those rules through the targeting of civilians, the use of high explosive weapons without regard to likely civilian casualties and attacks on medical personnel or facilities are all war crimes.”

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