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Holy See

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Statement during the August 2016 Security Council open debate on the children and armed conflict:

“My delegation fully agrees with the report that the use of air strikes and explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas exacerbates the dangers to which children caught up in armed conflict are exposed. These crimes must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.”

Statement to the World Humanitarian Summit Roundtable on Upholding the Norms that Safeguard Humanity, May 2016:

“The Holy See is committed to promote and enhance increased respect and protection of civilians and civilian objects, in particular hospitals, schools, places of worship, cultural objects and patrimony, especially during armed conflicts with a view to preventing civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas or from the use and destruction of civilian infrastructures for military operations.”

Statement during the December 2015 Meeting of States Parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons:

“Three urgent issues are on the agenda of the CCW and its protocols. Now is the time to act, because the lives of thousands of people are at risk…The Holy See proposed to put in place a Group of Governmental Experts on lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), another one on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas…What is happening on the ground in many conflicts is unacceptable. The CCW bears a part of the responsibility with regards to these negatives developments and to providing solutions in areas of its competence.”

Statement to the Meeting of the States Parties to theConvention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), November 2012

“A few years ago, researchers, NGOs, international organizations, and some governments, embarked on an effort to rethink the protection of civilians who face the consequences of military activities in armed conflicts. Instead of dealing with each particular type of weapons, as was the case for the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the concept of explosive weapons and their effects, rather than technology, was put at the centre of reflection.

Explosive weapons constitute a broad category of weapons (bombs, mortar ammunition, grenades, rockets, missiles, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, etc..) not explicitly prohibited under international humanitarian law and that probably never will. Now, however, many voices are raised to question the use of these weapons in populated areas and call for the protection of civilians living there. This view is shared by the United Nations Secretary General[1], the Chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross[2], the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research[3] and NGO’s[4].

Experience shows that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has most often caused a significant number of victims, major destruction of socio-economic infrastructures, severe psychological trauma and the hindrance of development for many years. Children and women are particularly affected. These results cause hatred and socio-political wounds that are difficult to heal. In the case of internal or international conflicts, they make reconciliation more difficult, if not impossible, and they become a contradiction when international operations to restore or maintain peace and to win over the hearts and minds of local people are undertaken.

The acceptability of military losses diminishes considerably, especially in some countries. The governments, whose armed forces are engaged in armed conflicts, take very seriously public opinion on the issue of casualties among their troops. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case with respect to disproportionate losses of civilians not belonging to the same national community. This poses a problem of principle and a practical problem: first, the dignity of the human person is not conditioned by language, religion, nationality or geopolitics; second, the suffering and useless and superfluous injury are unacceptable anywhere and under any circumstances.

The consideration of the issue of explosive weapons is recent, but it carries already the promise of fruitful results for the protection of civilians in populated areas. The road ahead, however, may be long. In fact, it is a life-long commitment that should be passed on from one generation to another with the goal of always better protecting and minimizing the number of victims to the utmost. Meanwhile, interim steps are indispensable to build a strong and convincing argument to prompt the international community to consider protection of civilians as necessary and urgent, especially in populated areas given the rapid urbanization of the world. All those who already have spoken on the issue highlight four elements:

  1. It is essential to better define the conceptual framework and the basic terminology so that these may be better understood and accepted by the different actors.
  2. Even though enough data are available to say, with sufficient confidence, that the use of explosive weapons raises a problem for the protection of civilian populations in urban areas, we also need more transparency in the collection and analysis of data on the part of all actors and of States themselves in the first place. The States actually have to give factual proof that they meet their obligations in the field of international humanitarian law. One can only regret that States do not undertake a systematic collection of data on civilian victims and that, when they do, such data are not usually published.
  3. States should publish the political declarations concerning the rules of utilization of explosive weapons in general and, in particular, in the urban areas. The fact of publishing documents of this type would strengthen the notion of responsibility of the State before their own people and the international community.
  4. The users of explosive weapons must also recognize their responsibility towards the victims, in one way or another. Already several legal instruments make assistance to victims a fundamental element of the obligations agreed on by States (the Ottawa Convention, CCM, Protocol V). Assistance to victims is a human right, a humanitarian and political commitment, and it stems from the centrality of the human person and from her inalienable dignity, which constitutes the ethical base of international humanitarian law.

In conclusion, one can affirm with sufficient confidence that it is impossible to use explosive weapons in populated areas and maintain a position of respect for the principles of international humanitarian law that would result in protection of civilians. Sadly, law alone cannot eradicate war, armed conflicts and armed violence from human history. These conflicts are evidence of the failure of humanity in its collective effort to build peaceful civilizations. It is essential to adopt an approach that goes beyond formal legality to reach the goal of a minimal, if not a zero, acceptability and tolerance of the suffering imposed on innocent people.

Mr. President,

For all these reasons, the CCW is required to embark on a continued discussion on the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to make the appropriate decisions to promote the protection of civilian populations in an effective manner.”

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