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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

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 the June 2016 Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:

“The recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul has allowed us to affirm the importance of complying with international humanitarian law. Conduct in hostilities is subject to a number of rules that cannot and should not be violated with impunity. I refer to the use of explosives in densely populated areas, barrel bombs and cluster munitions, among others.”

Statement during January 2016 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“Over the past several years, we have also seen an increasing trend in the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, such as the use of barrel bombs in Syria, which has resulted in over 30,000 deaths this past year. Spain categorically condemns those actions. It is important that States express their support for an international commitment in order to put an end to the use of those explosive weapons in populated areas and better protect civilian populations in the future.”

Statement during June 2015 Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict:

“The latest report of the Secretary-General refers extensively to the shelling in densely populated areas. Those actions are difficult to justify in the light of international law and result in a number of child victims so high that they can only lead to outrage.”

Statement during February 2014 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“In today’s debate, my delegation would like to call attention to three very special situations concerning the protection of civilians: first, the use of cluster bombs and explosives in urban centres; secondly, the severe impact of conflicts on the elderly, women and persons with disabilities, but especially children; and, thirdly, attacks against medical facilities and personnel and humanitarian personnel.”

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

I would like to express particular concern about three facts that represent serious obstacles to the application of the modern concept of the protection of civilians. First is the use of bombs and explosives in urban areas to kill or maim civilians, destroy basic infrastructures such as hospitals, schools and water-storage facilities, and displace huge numbers of civilians. Spain deplores this grave violation of international humanitarian law, especially when it is used deliberately as a way of waging psychological warfare on the civilian population, and believes that the Council must continue to focus on this practice and to explore and exploit all possible means to put an end to it.

As a member of the European Union (EU):

EU statement during the General Debate of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly First Committee, 2017:

“We recognise the challenges associated with the use of explosive weapons and munitions in densely populated areas and their potential impact on civilians and call on all parties to armed conflict to fully comply with International Humanitarian Law.”

The EU 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.”

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

“We continue to be very preoccupied by the humanitarian impact of the use of weapons in densely populated areas. We take note of the view expressed by the ICRC that the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area must be avoided in densely populated areas.”

EU Statement during the June 2012 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“…we furthermore continue to be very preoccupied by the humanitarian impact of the use of weapons in densely populated areas. We take note of the view expressed by the ICRC that the use of explosive weapons with a wide area impact should be avoided in densely populated areas. This issue should be addressed in a more systematic and proactive way.”

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

“Despite all efforts, civilians continue to be victims of disproportionate attacks, deliberate targeting and the indiscriminate use of weapons. Explosive weapons used in populated areas have a high humanitarian impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

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