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Explosive weapons raised in UN Security Council’s Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians

At the most recent debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, held on 12 February, thirteen states raised concerns over the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons, including: Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Germany, Japan, Jordan, Palestine, Slovakia, Slovenia (on behalf of the Human Security Network), Spain, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic states) and Turkey.

Six countries spoke for the first time on this issue to express concern: Botswana, Canada, Jordan, Palestine, Slovakia, and Turkey.

There are now 38 states that have voiced concerned over the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, including several that have called for measures to be taken to curb their use and / or welcomed the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General on the matter. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and the ICRC also spoke to this issue.

To see excerpts of statements, go to:



“We commend the Secretariat’s efforts, including the Chatham House seminar organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs last year, to raise awareness about the devastating humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons for civilians and to restrict their use in populated areas, where they cause indiscriminate harm. Austria welcomes the Secretary-General’s recommendation to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and the Secretariat’s efforts to develop practical measures and guidance to reduce their humanitarian impact. We stand ready to assist in those endeavours.”




“The Syrian Government is bombing certain locations with barrels containing explosives, thus killing many civilians, including children. However, the use of indiscriminate explosive weapons in populated areas violates the rules and principles of international humanitarian law, as the Secretary-General noted in his report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”




“. We also recognize the attention drawn to the concerns expressed by an increasing number of States about the emergence and use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We share the Secretary-General’s view on the need to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of those weapons and that parties to any conflict should refrain from their use.”




“We wish to draw special attention today to the urgent need to address the impact of the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons, and in particular their impact on children. As the report of the Secretary-General highlights, in Syria and in far too many other conflicts, tens of thousands of civilians have been targeted or subjected to indiscriminate attacks, including the widespread use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas. Opportunities to strengthen civilian protection in that regard should include creating stronger political barriers to the use of indiscriminate explosive weapons and building recognition among parties to conflict that the use of such weapons should be avoided, particularly in densely populated areas.”




“Finally, as witnessed in Syria and beyond, indiscriminate attacks against civilians using explosive weapons with wide impact in densely populated areas remain

an appalling aspect of conflicts to which the international community has to react. We share the concerns expressed by the Secretary-General in that context and welcome the Secretariat’s continued engagement with Member States and others to raise awareness of the issue and to provide further guidance on the matter.”




“Another issue that requires the Security Council’s immediate attention is the use of explosive weapons, including improvised explosive devices, in populated areas. According to the Secretary-General’s report, in 2012, more than 34,700 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons; some 60 per cent of those casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices. Who would not be dismayed by those numbers? The Security Council must make every effort to find possible ways to decrease that lamentable number by looking into the serious consideration of voices from the field where civilians are faced with the real threat of those weapons.


While welcoming and recognizing the need to discuss normative and institutional mechanisms to solve those issues, let me stress once again that ongoing crises on the ground around the world require the international community, particularly the Security Council, to take immediate actions and measures to improve the situation in any possible way. Although the international community has developed various mechanisms and tools in order to protect civilians in armed conflict, it is difficult in reality to successfully implement them. We must not only establish mechanisms and tools, but also analyse underlying factors that hamper the smooth functioning of those mechanism and tools so that we can increase their effectiveness.”




“Our debate today is particularly important. Despite of the progress made since the adoption of resolutions 1265 (1999) and 1894 (2009) — pertaining to the commitment to international norms and instruments on this subject, the world is still witnessing grave violations with regard to protection that are difficult for the human conscience to accept. The targeting of civilians by parties to a conflict, the perpetration of crimes against them and the indiscriminate use of explosive devices in populated areas are some examples that demonstrate the failure to protect, which need to be tackled by the international community in an effective and resolute manner. Otherwise, the debates on this topic will remain theoretical and will not contribute to strengthening the concept of the protection of civilians.”




“Besides the complete absence of protection for those Palestinians who have been killed, including by air strikes and explosive weapons in densely populated areas, as in the Israeli military aggressions against Gaza in 2008, in 2009 and in November 2012, Palestinians also continue to be victims of appalling human rights violations and crimes, suffering physical and psychological harm, dispossession, forced displacement, imprisonment and detention, torture, exploitation, hunger, poverty, disease and the destruction of their communities. Even the right to peaceful protest has been lethally violated by the occupying forces. International law clearly forbids such brutality against civilians, and such actions, wilfully perpetrated, constitute war crimes. The Palestinian civilian population also remains vulnerable to rampant settler terror and violence, which has intensified in the recent period.”




“.. more effective mechanisms to monitor the use of explosive weapons in heavily populated areas must be created.”




“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.”




“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.”




“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.”




“However, the civilian death toll continues to rise, with recent alarming signals coming from Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, among many other places. The Secretary-General’s report points out a multitude of challenges in Syria, ranging from attacks on civilians and civilian deaths to displacement, a lack and arbitrary denial of humanitarian access, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the indiscriminate use of heavy wepons and aerial bombardments, summary and extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and attacks on schools, hospitals and other public facilities, among many others.”




“Let me now turn to the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. As is apparent in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, we must do more in that area. According to the British non-governmental organization Action on Armed Violence, almost 38,000 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons worldwide in 2012. Of those, 78 per cent were civilians. When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, 91 per cent of casualties were civilians. Last week, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported a 14 per cent increase in civilian casualties in 2013, as compared to the previous year. The indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices by anti-Government elements increased in 2013 and remained the leading cause of civilian casualties.


In addition to being killed or injured, civilians are also displaced, often for long periods and in precarious conditions. In Syria, 6.5 million people are internally displaced, and 2.5 million have fled the country. Many of those displaced have fled fighting characterized by the devastating and continuing use of explosive weapons in populated areas — all despite the Council’s calls for the removal of heavy weapons from population centres.


In the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, aerial bombardment of civilian areas by Sudanese forces and shelling both by Sudanese forces and by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North continue to result in death, injury and displacement.


Explosive weapons can result in horrific injuries requiring emergency and specialist medical treatment, rehabilitation and psychosocial support services. But often that treatment and support is unavailable, in part because health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from which the Council will hear later, reports that explosive weapons are the leading cause of damage to health-care facilities in armed conflicts.


Explosive-weapon use in populated areas results in damage to, or the destruction of, housing and other infrastructure, such as schools. Approximately one third of the housing stock in Syria has been destroyed by the fighting, while nearly one fifth of the schools are either damaged or being used as shelters.


Livelihoods are also devastated as land and other means of production are rendered unusable as the result of explosive remnants of war, which will continue to pose a threat to civilians until they are removed. Damage to the agricultural sector during hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza from 14 to 21 November 2012 is estimated at $20 million. Moreover, explosive remnants of war remain buried in farmland and in the rubble of damaged buildings, posing a threat to people and those working on rubble-removal and reconstruction.


The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on parties to conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. He has asked the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to continue working with Member States, United Nations colleagues, the ICRC and civil society to strengthen the protection of civilians against such weapons. We will work to promote Member States’ recognition of the humanitarian impact of explosive-weapon use in populated areas and their commitment to avoid or limit such use in the future, including by building on good practice in that area. I hope that all Member States will engage in those efforts.




“In many armed conflicts, the prevalent use of explosive weapons with wide impact in densely populated areas — with all its inherent risk of incidental or indiscriminate death, injury and destruction of homes and vital civilian infrastructure — further fuels displacement and inhibits return. The ICRC joins the Secretary-General in encouraging States to share information on their respective polices, operational practices and lessons learned on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. That would contribute to informed discussions on this important humanitarian issue, and hopefully to the development of operational guidance by States.”




Norway announces it will host conference on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas


At a meeting organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Norway announced that it will host a meeting on the use of explosive weapons.



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