Australia has acknowledged the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) and is committed to action against the use of EWIPA.
Australia has spoken against the use of EWIPA, particularly regarding its use against civilians, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2010, 2012, and 2013. In these statements, Australia condemned the use of “powerful” EWIPA without regard for international humanitarian law restrictions as a clear violation of the limits of conflict.
At the UN Security Council open debate War in Cities: Protection of Civilians in Urban Settings on 25 January 2022, the Group of Friends of the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (of which Australia is a member) called on states to enhance the protection of civilians, including from the use of EWIPA, and took note of the ongoing consultations to develop a political declaration on this subject.
Australia has been an active participant in the process of negotiating a political declaration on the use of EWIPA. In the November 2019 consultations, Australia submitted a written statement on the scope and content of a political declaration. The statement delineated that a political declaration on EWIPA should do the following:
- “Condemn the targeting or indiscriminate killing of civilians with explosive weapons in violation of international humanitarian law.
- Avoid the implication that any use of explosive weapons in populated areas is contrary to international humanitarian law, but instead distinguish between lawful use of explosive weapons in specific circumstances and use in breach of international humanitarian law.
- Reinforce the importance of universal respect for existing principles of international humanitarian law.
- Recall that international humanitarian law applies to non-state actors who are parties to armed conflict.
- Underline that beyond any political declaration effective implementation of international humanitarian law requires appropriate attention in military doctrine, strategic directives, tactical instructions, rules of engagement, education, training and exercises of armed forces in the case of state actors, as well as the testing of new weapons and means and methods of warfare generally, before use in armed conflict.
- Recognise that, in certain circumstances, a failure to apply force, consistent with international law, in pursuit of military objectives can itself have serious humanitarian consequences such as prolongation of conflict, including by actors who do not comply with norms regulating armed conflict.
- Encourage the sharing of good practices and operational policies relevant to reducing the risk of civilian harm in armed conflict in populated areas.”
Australia also spoke at the second consultation in the political process towards a political declaration in February 2020, in which it responded to the draft elements of a political declaration which had been circulated after 2019. Australia agreed with changing the wording of several pieces of the draft to qualify the way it discusses the harms and impacts of EWIPA, emphasising that the harms are a possibility instead of an inherent effect of EWIPA use. For example, Australia agreed with the UK that instead of saying that EWIPA use “is having” devastating impacts, the declaration should say that it “can have” these impacts or that these impacts “can arise” from EWIPA use. Australia had previously made a similar statement at the 2019 consultations, asserting that the declaration should not assume that any use of EWIPA would be contrary to international humanitarian law (IHL).
Australia also intervened during the March 2021 consultations on a political declaration on the use of EWIPA. It took similar positions, supporting the addition of qualifiers in the text to indicate that harm “can” potentially arise from the use of EWIPA. Australia also preferred to avoid the terms “urban warfare” and “hostilities” in Section 1, suggesting “urban warfare” be replaced with “armed conflict in populated areas,” and that “hostilities” be replaced with “armed conflict. It also argued that the political declaration should focus on promoting existing IHL, as strengthening compliance with IHL would be useful to effectively regulate the use of EWIPA without needing to create new obligations.
 INEW (2012). ‘Security Council Debate Highlights Harm From Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’. https://www.inew.org/security-council-debate-highlights-harm-from-explosive-weapons-in-populated-areas/.
 UN Security Council, S/PV.6917 (2013). ‘UN Security Council Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Meeting Transcript.’ https://undocs.org/en/S/PV.6917 (Resumption1).
 Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will (2022). ‘UN Security Council debates war in cities and the protection of civilians’.https://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/16009-un-security-council-debates-war-in-cities-and-the-protection-of-civilians.
 Permanent Mission of Australia (2019). ‘Statement: Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ewipa/declaration/statements/18Nov_Australia.pdf.
 (2019). ‘Elements of a political declaration to ensure the protection of civilians from humanitarian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ewipa/declaration/documents/elements-political-declaration-feb-2020.pdf.
 Ray Acheson, Reaching Critical Will (2020). ‘Impacts, not intentionality: the imperative of focusing on the effects of explosive weapons in a political declaration’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/14658-impacts-not-intentionality-the-imperative-of-focusing-on-the-effects-of-explosive-weapons-in-a-political-declaration.
 Reaching Critical Will (2019). ‘Towards a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas: states need to ensure that expressed commitments translate into real impacts on the ground’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/14451-towards-a-political-declaration-on-the-use-of-explosive-weapons-in-populated-areas-states-need-to-ensure-that-expressed-commitments-translate-into-real-impacts-on-the-ground.