INTERNATIONAL NETWORK ON EXPLOSIVE WEAPONS – (INEW)
Use of heavy explosive weapons, killing civilians in towns and cities, must be prevented
Demands for a new international agreement to reduce civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects
- States will meet in Geneva this week (6-8 April 2022) to negotiate a new international agreement to reduce civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities
- Bombing and shelling in populated areas in Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia, Gaza, and Syria, show devastating pattern of civilian harm and suffering
- The NGO coalition – the International Network on Explosive Weapons – is calling for new international standards to reduce civilian harm and assist affected communities
Geneva, 5 April 2022 – The conflict in Ukraine is tragic evidence that tens of thousands of civilians are killed and injured each year in bombings and shellings of towns and cities. The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) calls on governments meeting at the UN in Geneva, 6-8 April, to negotiate a strong new international agreement to reduce civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Laura Boillot, coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons said: “Every day we see pictures in the news of bombs, rockets, artillery and other explosive weapons killing people in towns and cities in Ukraine causing civilian devastation and suffering, but this pattern of harm is also happening away from the cameras, elsewhere around the world. It is urgent for governments to agree a new international agreement to reduce civilian harm by avoiding use in populated areas of explosive weapons when they have wide area effects.”
Widespread pattern of harm
Explosive weapons devastate towns, cities and other populated areas, causing many to flee their homes, as widely documented most recently in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Iraq, Gaza, Yemen and Syria.
Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence said:
“When towns and cities are bombed, it is civilians that suffer the most. Data shows that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of victims are civilians.”
Explosive weapons were designed for use in open battlefields and have devastating consequences when used in populated areas filled with civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. Housing, hospitals, schools, power networks, and water and sanitation systems are often damaged and destroyed, causing severe knock on effects for the civilian population.
Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch said:
“The repeated and extensive use of explosive weapons with wide area effects has torn apart numerous cities across Ukraine, damaged critical infrastructure, including hospitals, imperilled access to basic necessities, such as food and water, as well as healthcare, killed, maimed and injured untold numbers of civilians.”
Bombing and shelling has severe long-term consequences on people and communities.
Alma Taslidzan Al-Osta, from Humanity and Inclusion said:
“Civilians being bombed and shelled risk being killed or injured, and also experience extreme psychological trauma and stress, many are forced to flee for safety, then it is difficult to return as explosive ordnance and destroys their homes and essential services.”
New international agreement to reduce civilian harm
The laws of armed conflict prohibit direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects – and whilst the use of explosive weapons is not illegal per se – too often, warring parties kill and injure civilians with outdated, inaccurate and heavy explosive weapon systems in towns and cities.
The negotiations of a new agreement aims to reduce civilian harm by placing restrictions on the use of explosive weapon with wide area effects, and will require changes to current military policies and rules of engagement, to strengthen the protection of civilians.
Particular concerns are focused on explosive weapons with wide area effects, which, due to their scale of explosive force have a wide blast and fragmentation radius, or are inaccurate, or deliver multiple munitions across a targeted area, or have a combination of these characteristics – causing widespread damage and as such are inappropriate choices for use in towns and cities.
INEW calls for the draft international political declaration to contain commitments to: • Avoid use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in towns, cities and other populated areas
- Assist victims, including people injured, and families of those killed and injured • Address the long-lasting humanitarian impacts when critical civilian infrastructure is destroyed • Collect and share data on civilian harm from explosive weapon use.
The negotiations will resume after being halted for over two years due to Covid-19 restrictions, however, an online meeting was held in March 2021.
Based on previous attendance, around 70 states are expected to participate in the meetings.
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What is the International Network on Explosive Weapons – INEW?
- The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) is an NGO partnership calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It comprises more than 40 organisations from across 25 countries. The steering committee is comprised of AOAV, Article 36, CIVIC, Humanity and Inclusion (HI), Human Rights Watch, PAX, Norwegian People’s Aid, Oxfam, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Save the Children and SEHLAC.
www.inew.org | @explosiveweapon
What is the negotiating meeting taking place at the United Nations in Geneva from 6-8 April? • Governments, UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and civil society organisations will meet at the United Nations in Geneva from 6-8 April 2022 for consultations to negotiate a new international agreement to reduce civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas at the meeting “Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare: Towards a political declaration to address the humanitarian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”. Based on previous attendance, around 70 states are expected to participate in the meetings.
- The government of Ireland is chairing the negotiations and penholder, drafting the text of the new agreement under negotiation. Ireland chaired previous meetings in Geneva on 18 November 2019 and 10 February 2020, followed by an online meeting on 3-5 March 2021. The negotiations are now resuming again in-person after being halted for over two years due to Covid-19 restrictions.
- The final agreement of the text – a political declaration – is expected to be concluded at a subsequent meeting in Geneva in May or June 2022, before it is open for signature and endorsement by states later in 2022.
- The meetings follow calls by civil society organisations in the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) to prevent human suffering from bombing and shelling in towns, cities and other populated areas over the past decade.
- The current and previous UN Secretary-General and President of the International Committee of the Red Cross have also issued repeated calls on states and parties to conflict to avoid use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including through this joint appeal in 2019.
- The consultations are scheduled to be held in person, daily from 10.00-13.00 and from 15.00-18.00 CET. The consultations will be livestreamed and can be accessed through either of the following two links. The streaming will only be in English.
Livestream – Department of Foreign Affairs (dfa.ie): https://dfa.ie/livestream/
IrishForeignMinistry – YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/IrishForeignMinistry
What will the new political agreement require states to do?
The draft international political declaration is aimed at reducing civilian harm and strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas both during and after conflict. Some of the key provisions in it, that are under negotiation include:
- A commitment to curb use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas – this is the centrepiece of the declaration, and most contested part of the agreement – especially from users of explosive weapons.
- A commitment to address the long-term impacts, stemming in particular from damage and destruction to civilian infrastructure.
- A provision to assist victims including people injured, and families of those killed and injured. • A requirement for states to collect and share data on civilian harm from explosive weapon use.
- Follow up meetings to monitor implementation of the agreement, and to share examples of military policy and practice to protect civilians from explosive weapon use.
What are explosive weapons?
- Explosive weapons include air-dropped bombs, rockets, artillery, missiles, mortars and improvised explosive devices.
o Airdropped bombs have large payloads. Just one 2000lb aircraft bomb can kill people and destroy everything within a 7 metre radius through the projection of blast and
fragmentation, propelling lethal fragments over a wider area of 365 metres. Even if some air dropped bombs are precision-guided and can be aimed more accurately at a target, it contains significant amounts of explosives. Unguided bombs are more likely to miss their target. Air-dropped bombs are among the most commonly used weapons in modern conflicts.
o A multi-barrel rocket launcher can launch up to 40 rockets in 20 seconds, firing multiple munitions across a wider area. Fired at a distance of 20 km from a target, a salvo of 40 rockets can create a very large lethal area of 360,000 meters2. Over half of all rockets are likely to land in the surrounding area placing anyone in that area at risk of death or injury and are inappropriate for use in populated areas.
o Mortars are indirect fire weapons that fire mortar bombs in an arc at targets that are often out of the line-of-sight. Their delivery is inaccurate – when at maximum range, around half land over 100 meters from the target. A single 120mm mortar has a lethal radius of approximately 30 metres. Blast and fragmentation effects extend even further, causing damage and injury.
o Firing of artillery rounds, or ‘shells’, is highly inaccurate. So they are often fired as a ‘battery’ saturating a wide area. A single howitzer shell has a lethal radius of around 50 metres. Blast and fragmentation effects extend even further, causing damage and injury.
- Explosive weapons are conventional weapons that detonate to affect an area with blast and fragmentation, and are designed for use in open battlefields but puts civilians at a heightened risk of harm and is likely to result in the destruction of, or damage to buildings and infrastructure when used in populated areas.
- Particular concerns are focused on explosive weapons with wide area effects, which, due to their scale of explosive force have a wide blast and fragmentation radius, or are inaccurate, or deliver multiple munitions across a targeted area, or have a combination of these characteristics – causing widespread damage and as such are inappropriate choices for use in towns and cities.
What is the pattern of civilian harm?
- When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of casualties are civilians. This pattern of harm has been consistently recorded over the last 10 years by Action on Armed Violence (www.aoav.org.uk – an INEW member)
- Every year tens of thousands of civilians are killed and injured by bombing and shelling in towns, cities and other populated areas. In 2021 at least 11,000 civilians were reported directly killed and injured by the use of explosive weapons in 64 countries/territories, according to AOAV.
- Many more suffer from destruction of housing, hospitals, schools and destruction of critical public infrastructure such as power networks, water and sanitation systems which has severe and long lasting knock-on effects.
- Explosive weapon use in towns and cities also causes displacement and prevents people from returning home. Survivors of explosive weapon use experience long term medical and psychological impacts, often in a context of inadequate support services.
What are some examples of use?
- Data collected show that 123 countries or territories were affected by the use of explosive weapons in the past decade, making this a widespread global issue.
o In Ukraine, extensive use of multi-barrel rocket systems, unguided missiles and air-dropped bombs by Russian forces in major towns and cities including Kyiv, Mariupol, and Kharkiv has killed and injured civilians, forced 4 million people to flee for safety and left many others trapped and unable to leave, and damaged and destroyed homes and infrastructure.
o In the last four months, Yemen has experienced the most sustained period of heavy bombing since 2018, indicating a new trend of consistent, higher rates of air raids being carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to the Yemen Data Project. In this time, civilians
experienced at least 200 air raids per month, exacerbating a continuously worsening humanitarian crisis in which over four million people have been displaced and 17.4 million are going hungry. (Sources: Yemen Data Project, Oxfam)
o In Ethiopia, civilian harm from airstrikes by Ethiopian military forces has killed and injured at least 677 people since November 2021, according to a UNHCR estimate. One such strike, in which an armed drone reportedly dropped three bombs, hit a school compound hosting thousands of displaced Tigrayans, killing at least 57 civilians and wounding more than 42. (Source: Human Rights Watch)
o Military actions by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during its bombardment of Gaza in May 2021 killed at least 151 civilians, a third of whom were children, according to estimates by Airwars. Israel conducted more than 1,500 air and artillery strikes, mostly within densely populated areas of Gaza, destroying critical civilian infrastructure, including four high-rise buildings, neighboring residences and scores of businesses in Gaza City. (Sources: Airwars, Human Rights Watch).
o In Syria, the Syrian-Russian military alliance has conducted aerial bombing of critical civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, and markets, exacerbating civilian harm where 12.4 million people are already food insecure and 6.8 million are internally displaced. The Russian air force alone has carried out around 39,000 airstrikes in Syria since 2015, according to Airwars, and continued attacks put civilians in danger still. (Human Rights Watch, UN World Food Programme)
What actors are using explosive weapons?
- Explosive weapons are used both by state forces and non-state armed groups. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been responsible for high levels of civilian harm and are often associated with non-state violence. Professionally trained militaries are among those causing this harm.
What is the legal position?
- Direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects are illegal under the laws of armed conflict, but using explosive weapons in armed conflict is not illegal per se. The primary concern and subject of negotiations is use of heavy explosive weapons that, because of their wide area effects, which cause significant civilian harm if used in a populated area – even if directed at an intended military target.
Is change possible?
- Yes. Changes to military policy on the choice of weapons can reduce civilian harm. For example, between 2009 and 2014 in Afghanistan, civilian casualties from airstrikes progressively and significantly decreased year on year, because international forces (ISAF/NATO) adopted progressively stricter policies on when airstrikes could be used.
Who supports action on this issue?
- 110 states have expressed concern at harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In September 2019, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres and ICRC President, Peter
Maurer, issued a joint appeal urging that the civilian devastation and suffering from explosive weapons in cities must stop.