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UN Secretary-General emphasises continued civilian suffering in annual report on the protection of civilians in conflict

New report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict issued on 6 May 2020

In his new report on the protection of civilians in conflict, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasises the “striking contrast” between the pledges of states on the importance of protection of civilians, and the realities of conflict for affected civilians. He goes on to set out the risks and the opportunities a new decade presents for the protection of civilians.

The state of the protection of civilians: “a year of suffering”

Guterres, in his report, once again calls for parties to conflict to “avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas” and notes that “for the ninth consecutive year, over 90 per cent of those killed and injured by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians”. The report emphasises again the death, injury and traumatization of tens of thousands of civilians throughout 2019, and references AOAV’s 2019 dataset that estimates at least 17,904 of those killed and injured by the use of explosive weapons were civilians.

Explosive weapons in Populated Areas

Recognising that urban warfare is likely to be a “defining feature of armed conflict in the years to come”, Guterres calls on warring parties to recognise that they “cannot fight in urban and other populated areas in the way that they would in open battlefields, for example, by using explosive weapons with wide-area effects and placing civilians at a high risk of indiscriminate harm.” This is based on the fact that urban environments have a greater population density that means civilians are more at risk, but also because in towns and cities, where narrow streets and high buildings can channel a blast wave in unanticipated ways and where building materials can contribute to secondary fragmentation that kills and injures civilians, “efforts by parties to conflict to estimate and minimize the collateral damage from explosive weapons may also be ineffective”.

A political declaration

 With this in mind, the Secretary-General used his report to welcome “the efforts of Member States and other relevant actors to develop a declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas” and took the opportunity to emphasise that “there remains a fundamental need for such a declaration to, inter alia, commit States endorsing it to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and to develop operational policies against such use”.

 

INEW’s latest briefing on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons is available here: https://bit.ly/2ZxOkLm

For news on the negotiations around a political declaration see visit http://www.inew.org/declaration-negotiations/ and subscribe to INEW’s newsletter here

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