INEW

Open menu

UN Secretary-General

  • UN and ICRC

Statements:

Statement during the May 2018 Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:

“The bombing and shelling of towns and cities kills and injures tens of thousands of civilians every year and lays waste to homes and vital infrastructure, including water and power systems. […] Nineteen African states adopted a Communique on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Maputo last November. […] Such initiatives have the potential to translate into concrete change. To that end, my report recommends three actions:
First: All governments should develop national policy frameworks to protect civilians in conflict. These should set out proactive measures that mitigate and respond to civilian harm by national militaries, partner forces and international coalitions. They should make arms exports conditional on respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, in line with the Arms Trade Treaty. And they should improve their ability to protect civilians in urban warfare, including finding alternatives to the use of explosive weapons.”

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

“We will also continue pressing Governments and parties to conflict to uphold their protection responsibilities, comply with international law and take precautions to prevent harm to civilians — for example, by minimizing the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Statement by the Deputy Secretary-General during the January 2016 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

“In 2014, civilians made up 92 per cent of the people killed or injured by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in situations of armed conflict. That carnage of innocent people must not continue…We must all work to achieve solid political commitments to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, in accordance with international humanitarian law, which is now so often neglected”

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

“I am particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas. Roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes can blindly kill and maim with profound humanitarian consequences. I repeat my call to the Security Council and to Member States to also work through the General Assembly to recognize and act on this critical issue. We need to better understand the types of explosive weapons that are most problematic. We need to examine how existing international law can help regulate use. And we need to consider the concrete steps that can be taken to reduce the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

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

“My reports have also recommended steps for enhancing the protection of civilians that I would like to emphasize again.

First, all parties to conflict should avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas. This includes roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes. I urge the Council to recognize and act on this fundamental humanitarian issue. My next report will provide concrete recommendations for consideration.”

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

“…parties to conflict must do more to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law. All violations require our attention and action. But some demand particular scrutiny. Among them: the growing use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

“Meeting these challenges requires political will — the will of the parties to conduct hostilities within the parameters of international law; to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas; to allow engagement with armed groups and open access to those in need of assistance; and to enforce discipline and hold accountable those who perpetrate violations.”

Reports:

2018 UN Secretary-General’s  “Securing Our Future: An Agenda for Disarmament” report

Conventional explosives are being used in cities with devastating impacts on civilians and their surroundings.[…]

DISARMAMENT THAT SAVES LIVES
As armed conflicts grow more deadly, destructive and complex, we need a new focus on disarmament that saves lives. This includes new efforts to rein in the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, through common standards, the collection of data on collateral harm and the sharing of policy and practice.

PROTECTING CIVILIANS AGAINST THE URBANIZATION OF ARMED CONFLICT
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict around the globe. The humanitarian crises that have invariably followed from recent conflicts are a result of a combination of deliberate attacks on the civilian population and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, the inappropriate selection of weapons and a failure by parties to conflict to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects from the impacts of warfare.

The urbanization of armed conflict has resulted in devastating and welldocumented impacts on civilians. A leading concern is the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide-area impacts. These include weapon systems, munitions and tactics used by States and non-State actors, which can be expected to result in a high proportion of incidental civilian harm if employed in areas where there is a concentration of civilians. Problematic types of weapons include indirect fire weapons, such as artillery, rockets and mortars, weapons that fire in salvos, such as multilaunch rocket systems, large air-dropped bombs and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. Such systems variously involve munitions with a large destructive radius, weapons with inaccurate delivery systems or weapon systems that deliver multiple munitions over a wide area.

Humanitarian concerns have been driven in particular by the immediate and, importantly, long-term patterns of harm to civilians and civilian objects in recent and ongoing conflicts, including in, inter alia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, the State of Palestine, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen. According to one non-governmental report based on English-language media sources, in 2017, 92 per cent of those harmed by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians.

The collection of data on civilian casualties is an important practical step that the United Nations, parties to conflict, humanitarian entities and other interested actors should take to effectively address concerns raised by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Disaggregated data onthe category of arms used can contribute to evidence-based dialogue to support the development of practice, policies and norms at the global, regional and national levels aimed at protecting civilians. […]

The sharing of policies and practice is another important measure that armed forces and peace operations can take. Drawing on the tactical directives developed by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the indirect fire policy of the African Union Mission in Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs published last year a compilation of military policy and practice on explosive weapons in populated areas. This compilation demonstrated how responsible and well-trained military actors have strengthened the protection of civilians by limiting the use of explosive weapons in certain circumstances.

2018 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in conflict

41. Of particular concern is the widespread use in urban areas of air-dropped bombs, artillery, mortars, rockets, improvised explosive devices and other explosive weapons, and the consequences for civilians. It is reported that in 2017, out of a total of 42,972 people killed or injured by explosive weapons, 31,904, or three out of every four victims, were civilians — a 38 per cent increase compared with 2016. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 92 per cent of the casualties were civilians. […]

42. Those statistics are alarming and justify urgent international action to address this problem. It is all the more pressing when one considers the well-documented and devastating reverberating or long-term effects of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas — effects that are largely foreseeable and must be taken into account in the planning and conduct of military operations. As seen in recent years in, inter alia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine, Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, effects of hostilities on civilian objects include the extensive destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, workplaces and essential infrastructure, with reverberating effects on water and electricity systems that increase the risk and spread of disease and food insecurity. Civilians are displaced and may lack access to lifesaving and other assistance and remain exposed to further violence. Residential and other urban areas are contaminated with lethal explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, the identification and removal of which is painstaking and costly and can prevent access to essential services and the return of displaced persons. In the long term, progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals is lost, if not reversed, while reconstruction requirements and the associated costs are overwhelming. I would again call on parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.

43. I welcome the increasing interest in this problem among high contracting parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and on the part of the 19 States that adopted the communiqué of the African regional meeting on the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, held in Maputo in November 2017. In the communiqué, it was acknowledged that there is a need for national, regional and global action, including on avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and the development of a political declaration to address the problem. Multilateral efforts in that regard, including the Austrian-led process to achieve a political declaration on the subject and the German initiative to discuss the problem within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, warrant the constructive engagement of all Member States. Progress on those efforts would provide important recognition of the problem and commit Member States to specific steps to address it.

2017 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in conflict

17. Urban warfare is particularly devastating for civilians when it involves the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects. Many parties to conflict routinely use  heavy artillery, aerial bombardment and improvised explosive devices in urban centres. According to Action on Armed Violence, 45,624 deaths and injuries from explosive weapons were reported; 70 per cent (32,088) were civilians. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, civilians accounted for 92 per cent of reported deaths and injuries.

18. The use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas also has dire long-term consequences for civilians, including the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, electricity grids and water and sanitation systems, the displacement of civilians and the loss of education and livelihood opportunities. […] Globally, this pattern is largely predictable, and its immense scale is undermining efforts to protect civilians, build lasting peace and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

19. The use of explosive weapons also leaves explosive remnants of war, which pose a continuing lethal threat to civilians, especially children, and a major obstacle to reconstruction and the return of displaced persons. The United Nations recorded a sharp rise in global civilian casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war, with contamination affecting more than 80 countries and territories. […]

20. Minimizing the impact of urban combat on civilians is a vitally important task for both attacking and defending forces. This includes taking constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects, avoiding locating military objectives in or near densely populated areas and removing civilians and civilian objects from the vicinity of military objectives. Crucially, I call upon all State and non -State parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide -area effects in populated areas. Parties should also develop and implement operational policies and practical measures on the use of these weapons to avoid civilian harm. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has compiled examples of existing policy and practice to assist parties in this regard. The Austrian-led process to develop a political declaration on the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas provides an important avenue for discussion and action. I encourage Member States to engage constructively in this process.

May 2017 report to the General Assembly on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations:

Reducing the impact of urban hostilities on civilians

56. Armed conflicts are increasingly being fought in towns and cities and other populated areas, such as refugee and displaced persons camps, with particularly devastating effects for civilians when they involve the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects. Globally, 45,603 deaths and injuries by explosive weapons were recorded in 2016; 70 per cent of the victims were civilians. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 92 per cent of deaths and injuries involved civilians.11 The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes predictable, widespread and long-term harm, including the destruction of housing, schools, hospitals, access routes and essential services. It has led to forced and often protracted displacement, the loss of livelihoods and development opportunities and the continuing threat of explosive remnants of war. Parties to conflict should avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, and Member States are encouraged to engage constructively in efforts to develop a political declaration on this issue.

IV. Recommendations

99. On the basis of the foregoing, the Secretary-General recommends the following:

(c) Member States and non-State armed groups should take all measures necessary to enhance their respect for the fundamental international humanitarian law rules of distinction, proportionality and precautions, including by developing operational policies on the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas;

April 2017 report on the Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015) and 2332 (2016):

“50. I remain deeply troubled by the situation on the ground for civilians in many parts of the Syrian Arab Republic. Explosive weapons continue to be fired into populated areas, not only indiscriminately killing and injuring people, but also destroying and damaging housing and vital infrastructure. The building blocks of civilian life upon which ordinary Syrians depend continue to be damaged, destroyed and rendered unusable, including bakeries, water stations, hospitals, schools and places of worship. As a result, civilians continue to bear the brunt of this crisis each and every day.”

June 2016 report on the Implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014) and 2258 (2015):

“67. I am deeply concerned by increased reports of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks by all parties to the conflict, including designated terrorist groups, in particular the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Medical facilities, markets and other public infrastructure continue to be attacked, causing widespread death and destruction. Such attacks must stop immediately. The parties to the conflict are failing to live up to their international legal obligations to protect civilians. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas not only kills and injures on a large scale, but also will have severe long-term humanitarian ramifications resulting from the destruction of the housing and essential infrastructure upon which civilians depend. No corner of the country has been left unscathed. As long as it continues, it will only force more and more people to leave their homes in a desperate search for safety.”

2016 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“3. In the majority of today’s armed conflicts, civilians suffer most severely. Every day, they are deliberately or indiscriminately killed or injured, often with complete impunity. Sexual violence shatters the lives of women, men, girls and boys. Towns and cities are pummelled by heavy artillery or air strikes that kill thousands of civilians, destroy vital infrastructure and trigger mass displacement. Data collected in 2015 by the organization Action on Armed Violence indicated that, when explosive weapons had been used in populated areas, an astonishing 92 per cent of those killed or injured were civilians, including those in playgrounds, hospitals and crowded streets and queuing for food. Behind those figures are families separated and in mourning, entire communities devastated, a cultural heritage lost to the world and a generation of children without an education.

II. State of protection: trends across conflicts

6….Across conflicts, several issues emerged as priorities: improving compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law; ensuring accountability for violations; strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; improving humanitarian access to people in need; protecting humanitarian and health-care personnel and objects; and preventing and better responding to forced displacement.

Greater efforts are needed to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas

24. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas continued to have a devastating impact on civilians. According to global data collected by Action on Armed Violence, 33,307 civilians were reportedly killed or injured by explosive weapons in 2015, representing a slight increase compared with 2014. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 92 per cent of those reportedly killed or injured were civilians. The highest number of civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons was recorded in the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria and Afghanistan. In addition to those horrific figures, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas triggered displacement and caused long- term damage to civilian homes, services and infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and water and energy supply systems. Such effects are largely foreseeable and can often be avoided or minimized.

25. The devastation wrought by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was especially evident in the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. In 2015, Action on Armed Violence recorded almost 9,000 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic and more than 6,000 in Yemen. Approximately half of those deaths and injuries were a result of air strikes. In the Syrian Arab Republic, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported more than 900 instances of the killing and maiming of children in 2015 as a result of explosive weapons being used in populated areas. Throughout Yemen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that water infrastructure serving more than 900,000 people had been damaged or destroyed by explosive weapons and that some 15 mosques and 45 educational and cultural centres had been bombed or shelled.

26. Similar patterns of harm were evident in other conflicts. In Afghanistan, many of the 11,002 civilian deaths and injuries recorded by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in 2015 resulted from ground operations involving explosive weapons, often in populated areas. Explosive weapons continued to cause high civilian casualties in Iraq, in particular in towns and cities. For example, on 13 August 2015, a government air strike hit a hospital in Fallujah, killing at least 22 civilians and wounding up to 39 others. Government aerial bombardments were also reported in several villages in the Sudan, in particular between January and June 2015. In Libya and Ukraine, the parties to conflict continued to use heavy artillery in populated areas. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 150 health-care facilities and 400 schools in Ukraine were damaged or destroyed by explosive weapons in 2015. Nigeria was reportedly the country worst affected by suicide bombings, with 2,181 civilian deaths and injuries from suicide bombings recorded by Action for Armed Violence in 2015, an increase of 190 per cent compared with 2014.

27. The use of explosive weapons leaves explosive remnants of war, which can kill and injure civilians for decades after hostilities have ended. For example, according to the Mine Action Service, Ninawa and south Kirkuk in Iraq remained heavily contaminated by explosive hazards, which impeded humanitarian action and prevented displaced civilians from returning to their homes. In the occupied Palestinian territory, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that only 30 per cent of the 7,000 explosive remnants of war estimated to remain from the hostilities in Gaza in the second quarter of 2014 had been confirmed as removed.

28. I repeat my call for parties to conflict to refrain from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, owing to the widespread and predictable pattern of harm that results from such use. I encourage Member States to develop policy guidance aimed at reducing the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, to engage constructively in continuing efforts to develop a political declaration to address the issue and to support efforts to protect civilians from contamination arising from explosive remnants of war.

IV. Recommendations

Strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

67. Parties to conflict should refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.

68. Member States should raise awareness of the widespread and predictable pattern of harm that results from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, collect and share practice and policy on minimizing such harm and engage constructively in the ongoing process to develop a political declaration addressing the issue.”

2016 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict:

“7. Attacks on schools and hospitals were prevalent in 2015, linked to the increasing use of air strikes and explosive weapons in populated areas. Armed groups particularly targeted girls’ access to education, although attacks on schools and hospitals were also carried out by government forces. Member States should consider, where necessary, changes in policies, military procedures and legislation to protect schools and hospitals.

Recommendations

217. I urge Member States to ensure that their engagement in hostilities and responses to all threats to peace and security, including in efforts to counter violent extremism, are conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law. It is unacceptable that the failure to do so has resulted in numerous violations of children’s rights. Member States should include specific mitigating measures for the protection of children in their responses, in particular when conducting aerial bombing campaigns or ground operations. I also call upon all parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, and to consider making a commitment to this effect.”

“One Humanity: Shared Responsibility Report of the Secretary-General for the World Humanitarian Summit” (Feb 2016):

“B. Core Responsibility Two: Uphold the norms that safeguard humanity…

47. Urban areas have become death traps for thousands of civilians. Airstrikes labelled “surgical” end up causing indiscriminate casualties and destruction. An appalling 92 per cent of people killed or injured by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians…
…Stop bombing and shelling populated areas
52. Whether by shelling or aerial bombardment, suicide or car bombs, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the primary killer of civilians in conflict. The effects of these weapons are widely known. Those who plan or decide to launch barrel bombs, mortars, rockets, or other explosives with wide-area effects into urban areas can easily anticipate that they will cause excessive harm and destruction by killing large numbers of civilians, destroying homes, severely hindering critical services, and leaving behind explosive remnants of war for years. While the use of many of these weapons is not per se prohibited by international law, the cardinal rules of distinction, proportionality and precautions circumscribe the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and must always inform military planning and decision-making.
53. Firm political commitments to constrain the use of these weapons are an essential step. States should improve, collect and exchange good policies, practices and lessons learned on minimizing impacts on civilians, and on practical measures civilians in exposed areas can take to protect against explosive weapons. Experts should simulate their effects in urban areas and make the results available for all military forces. Targets and indicators are needed to monitor progress in reducing their humanitarian impact in populated areas. The reckless bombardment and shelling of civilian neighbourhoods must be consistently recorded, investigated, and referred to relevant national and international courts…
Annex: Agenda for humanity:
…Refrain from bombing and shelling populated areas
– Commit to refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas due to their likelihood of causing indiscriminate effects.
– Collect and share good practices on minimizing impacts on civilians when using explosive weapons in populated areas.
– Identify targets and indicators to monitor progress in reducing the humanitarian impacts of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

2015 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“Afghanistan…

There was also a sharp rise in civilian casualties resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas…

Iraq…

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas remains a major cause of civilian deaths, injuries and displacement…

Libya…

The widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas has taken a heavy toll on civilians, causing death, injury, displacement and the destruction of homes and essential infrastructure, while also leaving dangerous explosive remnants of war…

Nigeria…

In January 2015, in the run-up to the national elections, Boko Haram attacks on communities in the three most affected states (Borno, Yobe and Adamawa) occurred almost daily, including through the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, causing civilian deaths, injuries and displacement….

Occupied Palestinian territory…

Explosive weapons were widely used in populated areas, and explosive remnants of war remain widely dispersed across Gaza. The hostilities also had a serious impact on Israeli civilians owing to indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire from armed groups in Gaza, which killed five Israeli civilians and caused displacement in southern Israel…

Syrian Arab Republic…

Civilians throughout the country have been subjected to direct or indiscriminate attacks, including the widespread use of barrel bombs and other explosive weapons in populated areas…

Ukraine…

The fighting has been characterized by the widespread use of explosive weapons, including cluster munitions, in populated areas…

Yemen…

The impact on civilian infrastructure has been devastating, with widespread air strikes and use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as attacks on health-care facilities, schools and other essential infrastructure…

Widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas

30. Since 2009, I have consistently highlighted the devastating humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. I have called upon parties to conflict to refrain from the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. I have recommended that the Security Council, whenever relevant, expressly call upon parties to conflict to refrain from the use of such weapons.

31. The reasons for doing so are abundantly clear. In Afghanistan, Libya, the occupied Palestinian territory, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of civilian deaths, injury and displacement. According to the non-governmental organization Action on Armed Violence, 41,847 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons in 2014, of whom 78 per cent were civilians. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 92 per cent of the casualties were civilians. While explosive weapons are not explicitly prohibited under international humanitarian law, in many cases their use in populated areas constitutes unlawful conduct because of their indiscriminate impact. Since the wide-area effects of many explosive weapons are well known, their likely impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure is foreseeable. This raises serious moral and, in some cases, legal questions.

32. Many types of explosive weapons are currently in use. They include air- dropped bombs, artillery shells, missiles and rockets, mortar bombs and improvised explosive devices. While they differ in their design, composition and method of use, such weapons share certain basic features. They generally use explosive force to create a zone of blast and fragmentation with the potential to kill or injure anyone or damage anything within that zone. In other words, such weapons have indiscriminate effects. This makes their use in populated areas, such as towns, cities, markets and camps for internally displaced persons, particularly problematic, and more so if the weapons’ effects extend across a wide area.

33. Given the indiscriminate impact of explosive weapons, their use in populated areas exacts an unacceptable toll on civilians. Many civilians are killed or suffer life-changing injuries. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also has a significant long-term humanitarian impact. Housing and essential infrastructure, such as water and electricity supply systems, are damaged or destroyed. Livelihoods are devastated as commercial property and means of production are damaged or destroyed. Access to health care is often hampered because hospitals and clinics have been damaged, destroyed or rendered inaccessible, or because health-care personnel have been killed or supplies cut off. Children’s education is interrupted, either as a result of damage to facilities or direct harm or fear of harm to teaching personnel. The Syrian conflict has put 2.6 million children out of school, some for three years or more. In Gaza, 66 per cent of schools were damaged or destroyed during the hostilities in July and August 2014, including some that were sheltering internally displaced persons, resulting in further loss of life.

34. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major driver of displacement as people are forced to flee owing to attacks that damage or destroy their homes or livelihoods or fear of such attacks. It also has a tremendous impact on post-conflict reconstruction requirements and costs. Explosive weapons leave explosive remnants of war, which continue to pose a serious threat to civilians, in particular children, often for decades after the conflict has ended.

35. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas, in particular those weapons with wide-area effects, raises serious concerns about respect for the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in international humanitarian law. Full compliance with international humanitarian law by all parties to conflict would significantly strengthen the protection of civilians from the effects of explosive weapons. In addition, the development of policy standards to curb or limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, in particular those weapons with wide-area effects, could significantly strengthen the protection of civilians.

36. Important precedents exist in this regard. Of particular note, the International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan, and the African Union Mission in Somalia instituted policy and practice that place limits on the use of certain explosive weapons in certain locations where civilians tend to be present, in order to minimize the impact of military operations on civilians. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is compiling examples of such practice and will make them available to Member States and partners with a view to promoting a change in practice by parties to conflict. In October 2014, I sent a note verbale to all Member States requesting that they provide examples of relevant policy and practice. Some have responded to my request, and I encourage others to do so without delay. I also welcome the decision of Austria to convene an expert meeting later in 2015, in cooperation with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to begin discussing the possible scope and content of a declaration on the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas. I strongly encourage Member States to engage constructively in that initiative.

Recommendations

Use of explosive weapons in populated areas

63. Parties to conflict should refrain from the use of explosive weapons with wide- area effects in populated areas. In addition, Member States should consider making a commitment to this effect.

64. Member States should improve the exchange of information and lessons learned on the use and impact of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. In particular, as called for in my note verbale of October 2014, Member States should support the ongoing efforts of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to collect examples of good practice and develop guidance to enhance the protection of civilians and reduce the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.

65. Member States, with the support of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and relevant organizations, should develop targets and indicators to monitor progress in reducing the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

2014 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

“6. Armed conflict continued to have a disproportionate impact on children. Indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas or attacks directly targeting civilians, through explosive weapons, air strikes or the use of terror tactics, took a worrisome toll on children.”

2013 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“21 [On Syria] Thousands of civilians have been subject to direct and indiscriminate attacks, including the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the illegal use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August. Hospitals, schools, places of worship and other public buildings have been damaged, destroyed or taken over by combatants. More than 1.2 million houses — one third of the country’s housing stock — have been destroyed…

34. I have consistently drawn attention to the mounting concern on the part of the United Nations, ICRC, civil society and an increasing number of Member States at the need to further strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In my previous report, I recommended that parties to conflict should refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effect in such areas and that Member States and other relevant actors should intensify their consideration of the issue.

35. In response to the latter recommendation, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in partnership with Chatham House, convened a meeting of governmental and other experts in September 2013 to discuss options for strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The participants noted that reducing harm to civilians from explosive weapons could be divided into the following three separate but mutually reinforcing areas: a presumption against the use of explosive weapons in law enforcement; the development of a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas in situations of armed conflict; and a focus on improvised explosive devices from the perspective of the harm that they cause civilians. Those in turn could be approached through the following three work streams: further research into different aspects of the problem; the collection of operational good practice to form the basis for guidance to parties to conflict; and formal recognition of the problem by Member States and a commitment to addressing it, including through the adoption of operational guidance…

38. The participants in the meeting organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Chatham House noted the significant use by non-State armed groups of explosive weapons, in particular improvised explosive devices. Research shows that, of the more than 34,700 people killed and injured by explosive weapons in 2012, 60 per cent of the casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices. A total of 81 per cent of casualties were civilians. Such findings underscore the continuing importance of enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law by non-State armed groups and the corresponding need for humanitarian actors to engage with such groups to that end and to gain safe access to people in need of assistance…

Use of explosive weapons in populated areas

69. There is increased understanding of the disastrous short-term and long-term impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. I have instructed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to continue to engage with interested Member States, United Nations actors, ICRC, civil society and other actors to increase awareness of the issue and the need to address it, and to develop practical measures, including a political commitment by Member States to addressing the problem and producing operational guidance. Such guidance should draw on existing good practice and existing and future research, including that identified at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-Chatham House expert meeting and at future consultations. In addition:

(a) Member States are strongly encouraged to engage proactively in these efforts, including by supporting organizations undertaking research in this area and engaging in a process aimed at developing a political commitment and guidance with regard to reducing the short-term and longer-term impact on civilians of explosive weapons in populated areas;

(b) More immediately, parties to conflict should refrain from the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide-area effect and the Security Council, whenever relevant, should call upon parties to conflict to refrain from such use.”

2013 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

“29. [On Afghanistan] Children were also victims of explosive weapons in populated areas, including mortar attacks, shelling and shooting between pro-Government forces and various armed groups (397 child casualties), explosive remnants of war (162 child casualties) and air strikes by the international military forces (74 child casualties).”

2012 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

“242. Reports of child casualties in the course of military operations, including the use of explosive weapons, aerial bombardments and drones, continue to be of concern, and I remind all parties of their obligation under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality and the duty to protect children and prevent violations, to take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties.”

2012 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“11…The use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as in Homs and Idlib, has had profound humanitarian consequences, including in terms of damage to buildings and essential infrastructure and the ongoing threat posed by explosive remnants of war…

35. The ICRC study [Healthcare in Danger] found that explosive weapons caused more deaths, injuries and damage than any other weapon in attacks on health-care facilities. I have repeatedly expressed concern about the humanitarian impact of using explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Explosive weapons include artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, mortars, aircraft bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices. Their common feature is that they are indiscriminate within their zones of blast and fragmentation effect, which makes their use highly problematic in populated areas.

36. In my 2010 report I called for more systematic collection of data on and analysis of this problem. I welcome the research carried out by Action on Armed Violence. Using data gathered on the use of explosive weapons around the world in 2011, Action on Armed Violence found that at least 21,499 civilians had been killed or injured by such weapons and that civilians accounted for 71 per cent of all casualties. Most civilian deaths and injuries — 87 per cent — occurred in populated areas, including markets, schools, places of worship and private homes.

37. This research underlines the gravity of the problem. My Emergency Relief Coordinator highlighted the issue in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, the Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic and called upon parties to refrain from using explosive weapons in densely populated areas. The Council specifically authorized UNOCI to take action to prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilians in Côte d’Ivoire and called upon the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to immediately end the use of heavy weapons in population centres (resolutions 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012)). In October 2011, ICRC noted that owing to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects and despite the absence of an express legal prohibition for specific types of weapons, explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in densely populated areas. Civil society has also mobilized around the issue, establishing, in March 2011, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, the International Network on Explosive Weapons, which calls upon States and other actors to strive to avoid the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated areas; to gather and make available relevant data; to realize the rights of victims; and to develop stronger international standards.

38. In many conflicts, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of displacement…

41. Non-State armed groups play a role — albeit not an exclusive one — in perpetrating such violations against civilians as attacking health-care services, using explosive weapons in populated areas and causing forced displacement…

72. Ensuring the necessary degree of compliance and thereby strengthening the protection of civilians is essentially a matter of political will: the will to conduct hostilities within the parameters of international law, to refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, to allow engagement with non-State armed groups and open access to those in need of assistance and to enforce discipline and hold accountable those who perpetrate violations…

75. While the use of certain explosive weapons in populated areas may, in some circumstances, fall within the confines of the law, the humanitarian impact, both short- and long-term, can be disastrous for civilians. I therefore urge: (a) Parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide- area impact in densely populated areas; (b) The Security Council, whenever relevant, to call upon parties to conflict to refrain from using such weapons in densely populated areas; (c) Member States, United Nations actors and international and non-governmental organizations to intensify their consideration of this issue, including through more focused discussion and by undertaking or supporting the further collection and analysis of data; (d) Member States to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in collecting and making available to the United Nations and other relevant actors information on harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons and in issuing policy statements outlining the conditions under which certain explosive weapons may and may not be used in populated areas.”

2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

“134…Of particular concern was the recent increase in the number of civilians, among them many children, being killed or injured owing to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

2010 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“48. In my previous report, I noted my increasing concern at the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons, particularly when used in densely populated areas. Explosive weapons include artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, various kinds of bombs, cluster munitions, landmines, grenades and improvised explosive devices. A common feature of explosive weapons is that they are indiscriminate within their zones of blast and fragmentation effect, which makes their use highly problematic in populated areas.

49. Data collected by various organizations concerning a range of conflicts, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, reveals substantial and ongoing civilian suffering caused by explosive weapons when they are used in populated areas. Civilians within the vicinity of an explosion are likely to be killed or injured by the blast and fragmentation effects of such weapons. They may be harmed by the collapse of buildings or suffer as a result of damage to infrastructure that is vital to the well-being of the civilian population, such as hospitals and sanitation systems. The use of explosive weapons also creates unexploded ordnance that persists as a threat to civilians until it is removed.

Recommendations

50. I would urge Member States, United Nations actors and international and non-governmental organizations to consider the issue of explosive weapons closely, including by supporting more systematic data collection and analysis of the human costs of their use. This is essential to deepening the understanding of the humanitarian impact of such weapons and to informing the development of policy and practice that would strengthen the implementation of international humanitarian and human rights law. The annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict produced by UNAMA provides a good overview of the nature of attacks involving civilian casualties. It is an example of good practice in this area that I would encourage other United Nations missions and actors to adapt to their specific circumstances.

51. I would also urge increased cooperation by Member States, both in terms of collecting and making available to the United Nations and other relevant actors information on civilian harm resulting from the use of explosive weapons and in terms of issuing policy statements that outline the conditions under which explosive weapons might be used in populated areas.”

2009 UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict

“35. The choice of weapons is critical in minimizing and reducing the impact of hostilities on civilians…While such progress in relation to cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines is welcome, I am increasingly concerned at the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons, in particular when used in densely populated areas. As demonstrated by this year’s hostilities in Sri Lanka and Israel’s campaign in Gaza, the use in densely populated environments of explosive weapons that have so-called “area effect” inevitably has an indiscriminate and severe humanitarian impact. First, in terms of the risk to civilians caught in the blast radius or killed or injured by damaged and collapsed buildings. Secondly, in terms of damage to infrastructure vital to the well- being of the civilian population, such as water and sanitation systems. I urge Member States, in consultation with relevant United Nations and other actors, to consider this issue further. I would also call upon States that have not yet done so to ratify Protocol V to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons with a view to addressing, in a timely and effective manner, the serious humanitarian problems caused by explosive remnants of war.”

Website by David Abbott