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Informal expert meeting on strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, convened a second informal meeting of governmental, military and other experts on strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Oslo from 17-18 June 2014.

Summary of the meeting, based on OCHA’s meeting report:

– Encouragingly, there is increasing recognition among Member States and other key actors of the importance of the issue and the need to address it, evidenced in part by increased participation in the second expert meeting.

– A particular focus of discussions at the meeting was to move towards a better understanding of explosive weapons that have “wide-area effects”. Connected to this, some participants noted the growing use of the term “heavy weapons” in resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly.

– It was observed that international humanitarian law does not clearly address the full range of humanitarian impacts resulting from the use of wide-area effect explosive weapons. The general rules on the conduct of hostilities do not provide sufficient guidance on how the risk of civilian harm from the effects of explosive weapons is to be assessed and reduced.

– It was recognised that steps need to be taken by states to change practice and move towards preventing such use. That is to say, towards a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and, in time, the stigmatisation of such use when it occurs.

– There was broad agreement to develop a political commitment whereby States recognise and commit to specific steps to address the problem. It was noted that this would be fundamental to changing practice and preventing the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. OCHA will work to facilitate discussions to that end with interested States, United Nations actors and civil society.

– There was agreement that it is necessary to collect and analyse good military practice. OCHA will move forward with compiling and analysing good practice and policy in this area.

The 49 participants included governmental experts from Argentina, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States; representatives from OCHA, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and ICRC; civil society organizations under the umbrella of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW); and active and retired senior military personnel from the United States Army and the Royal Marines, and individual military/weapons experts.

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