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

 

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, on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden):

“We would like to see many more countries participating in the ongoing discussions on how to enhance the protection of civilians in conflict, and thereby improve compliance with international humanitarian law. There is a clear obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in conflict. We have witnessed in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine how the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas has caused a degree of civilian loss of life that is clearly disproportionate and in violation of international humanitarian law. The 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.”

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

“We must enhance respect for international law by the parties to armed conflict. This requires that we understand the changing nature of conflict. Armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in urban areas with devastating consequences for civilians. We share the concern of the Secretary-General and call on State and non-State parties to armed conflicts to prevent civilian harm resulting from the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas.”

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

“We have noted the call from the Secretary-General to ‘refrain from the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide-area effect’ and to engage in ongoing efforts to develop ‘a political declaration addressing the issue’.

We would like to see many more countries participating in the ongoing discussions on how to enhance protection of civilians in conflict, and thereby improve compliance with international humanitarian law. There is a clear obligation to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants in conflict.

We have witnessed in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine how the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas has contributed to a degree of civilian loss of life that is clearly disproportionate and in violation of international humanitarian law.

The destruction of critical infrastructure such as housing, schools and hospitals affects the prospects for post-conflict rehabilitation, peace-building and reconstruction long after the actual fighting is over.

In our view, it makes sense to discuss this issue with a focus on actual situations and practical experience. What we are aiming for is to influence practice and set standards for conduct by all parties to conflicts.”

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

“Recent data shows that global civilian deaths and injuries from the use of explosive weapons continue to increase. This is one of the pressing humanitarian issues of our time. The UN Secretary-General has called on all parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. We strongly support his call.”

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 by H.E. Ms. Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, to the UN General Assembly September 2015:

“The UN Secretary-General has called on parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. We support his call.”

Statement during the May 2011 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“Today’s armed conflicts usually take place in densely populated areas, with extensive civilian losses and damage to civilian buildings and infrastructure as a result. In our view, international humanitarian law also includes the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Norway supports the Secretary-General’s call for more work by the international community to better understand the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas and to develop mechanisms for improving civilian protection in that regard.”

As part of the Nordic group:

Statement during the January 2016 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) delivered by Sweden:

“We also support the call of the Secretary-General on parties in conflict to avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.”

Statement during the June 2015 Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on behalf of Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, delivered by Sweden:

“We are also concerned by the severe impact on children of the continued use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Such indiscriminate use of weapons is prohibited under international humanitarian law and we would support practical steps to stop it.”

Statement during the February 2014 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) delivered by Sweden:

“The use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas puts the civilian population at grave risk of death and injury and increases the destruction of vital infrastructure. The indiscriminate and disproportionate use of explosive weapons that we witness in many situations today must never be accepted. The need to ensure appropriate restrictions on warfare in such areas remains one of the central challenges of contemporary armed conflict.

At the same time, experience from Afghanistan and Somalia demonstrates how armed forces may, if the will is there, in fact restrain the use of explosive weapons in populated areas without impeding military effectiveness. We support the Secretary-General’s call for States to share information on policy and practice regarding that matter. We stand ready to contribute in developing practical measures and guidance on the basis of lessons learned.”

Statement during the February 2013 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) delivered by Sweden:

“We share the concerns of the Secretary-General with regard to the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas. We recognize the need to gather data on the use and impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, including recording civilian casualties. We request the Secretary-General to include in his next report to the Council recommendations and analysis on the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as the practice of United Nations bodies, States and other actors on civilian casualty recording.”

Statement during the June 2012 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict by Finland on behalf of the Nordic Countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) delivered by Finland:

“In Syria we have seen medical doctors and surgeons directly targeted, wounded and killed. Ambulances are attacked and hospitals are damaged by explosive weapons.”

As part of the Human Security Network:

Statement during February 2014 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on behalf of the Human Security Network (Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, Thailand, Slovenia & South Africa as an observer) delivered by Slovenia:

“The Network reiterates its call on all parties to an armed conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas. It stresses the importance of establishing mechanisms to track civilian casualties so as to understand the impact of military operations on civilian populations and adjust such action. An important step was taken in April 2013 with the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty and that agreement’s prohibition of transfers of arms or items covered by it if the transferring State knows, at the time of authorization, that the arms or items will be used to commit serious crimes. We remain especially concerned about the use of explosive weapons, in particular improvised explosive devices, and stress the need to enhance compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Statement during the August 2013 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict on behalf of the Human Security Network (Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Panama, Switzerland, Thailand, Slovenia & South Africa as an observer) delivered by Chile:

“Let me also stress the Network’s strong concern over use of explosive weapons in populated areas which causes severe harm to individuals and communities. These weapons are indiscriminate within their zones of detonation and therefore can pose unacceptable risks to civilians. We call for all relevant actors to refrain from using such weapons in densely populated areas. We believe that more systematic data collection would be important in this respect.”

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