Mexico has been a vocal advocate against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). It has acknowledged the harm caused by the use of EWIPA and committed to action on the issue.
Mexico held the 62nd Annual DPI/NGO Conference, in 2009, where the outcome document, amongst many other things, endorsed a ban on the use of explosive force in populated areas.
Mexico has also drawn attention to the humanitarian consequences of the use EWIPA at the UN General Assembly First Committee Debate on Conventional Weapons in 2015.
Mexico called for ending the use of EWIPA in light of its indiscriminate effects at the UN Security Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in November 2010, June 2012, and January 2015, as well as in 2019. During the UN Security Council Debate on the Protection of Civilians held in 2021, Mexico condemned attacks on medical facilities and personnel. It also noted the civilian harm from the use of EWIPA and highlighted the Safe Schools Declaration as an important mechanism to protect schools from attack and to protect students from recruitment into armed conflict. At the UN Security Council Open Debate War in Cities: Protection of Civilians in Urban Settings on 25 January 2022, Mexico noted that although the use of EWIPA isn’t expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law (IHL), because of the density of populations in urban areas it is virtually impossible for these weapons to be used without a high risk of violating the principles of discrimination and proportionality.
Mexico endorsed the joint statement on EWIPA during 73th UN General Assembly First Committee in October 2018. The statement, delivered by Ireland, called attention to the devastating and long-lasting humanitarian impact of the use of EWIPA and urging states to reverse the trend of high levels of civilian harm. Mexico also endorsed the joint statement on EWIPA during the 74th UN General Assembly First Committee in October 2019. The statement, also delivered by Ireland, encouraged states to participate in international efforts to address the impacts of the use of EWIPA on civilians, including by working towards the creation of an international political declaration on this issue.
Mexico aligned with the Commitment 123002 at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 to “support the collection of data on the direct civilian harm and the reverberating effects on civilians and civilian objects resulting from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and to contribute to the collection and exchange of information on good practices and lessons learned in minimizing impacts on civilians when using such weapons in populated areas. It further pledges to continue to look for effective measures to strengthen the respect for international humanitarian law in this regard, among them an international political declaration on the issue.”
It is also aligned with World Humanitarian Summit Core Commitments to “Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity.” This included the commitment “to promote and enhance the protection of civilians and civilian objects, especially in the conduct of hostilities, for instance by working to prevent civilian harm resulting from the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas, and by sparing civilian infrastructure from military use in the conduct of military operations.”
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC), of which Mexico is a member, drew attention to the harm of weapons such as cluster munitions and antipersonnel mines on civilian populations in a statement to the UN General Assembly First Commission in October 2018. The statement emphasised that the use of these weapons is in clear violation with international humanitarian law (IHL) and called on all states to take immediate measures to ameliorate the humanitarian harms which they cause.
Along with 22 other Latin American and Caribbean states, Mexico participated in the Santiago Regional Meeting on Protecting Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in 2018. The meeting produced the Santiago Communiqué in which the participating states agreed to take further action on the issue, including, but not limited to, the following:
- “Encourage collection of data and information to increase awareness and enhance knowledge about the impact of explosive weapons on civilians in populated areas;
- Avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas;
- Act to enhance compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, including school and hospitals during armed conflict and to contribute to alleviating humanitarian harm resulting from the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas
- Develop effective measures to prevent attacks in contravention of applicable international law against hospitals and schools and protected persons in relation to them;
- Fully support the process that will lead to the negotiation and adoption of an international political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas;
- Promote bilateral and regional cooperation through sharing experiences, good practices and expertise on reducing the harm caused by explosive weapons to civilians;
- Constructively engage in discussions and initiatives at international level that could effectively provide greater protection to civilians in armed conflicts;
- Foster deeper and further engagement from the Latin American and Caribbean states and facilitate increased involvement as a group of States;
- Continue and strengthen cooperation and partnerships with international organizations and civil society organizations to draw upon their relevant expertise and support;
- Channel contributions to the draft international political declaration on the matter, as well as engage in advocacy, at national, regional and international levels.”
Regarding the negotiations for a political declaration on the issue, Mexico has actively participated in several meetings. At the Vienna Conference on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare in 2019, Mexico encouraged as many participants as possible to participate in the drafting process and said the declaration should not undermine or reduce methods already in use. It also posed questions around specific practices and the challenges of returning displaced persons particularly when there is no home to which to return.
At the first round of consultations in Geneva in 2019, Mexico, in its joint statement on behalf of eight Latin American countries, specified that the declaration should acknowledge the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons with wide area effects. It also specified the key elements that a political declaration should include:
- “Acknowledgement that the use of explosive weapons of wide area effects in populated areas is likely to have significant humanitarian consequences, seriously compromising the protection of civilians.
- Commit states to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects and disproportionate impact on civilians in populated areas, and to develop operational policies and procedures in this regard.
- Promote greater compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, in particular through full compliance with the principles of humanity, proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack;
- Commit states to enable humanitarian access that is secure and sustainable.
- Recognize the rights of victims and affected communities, providing them with adequate assistance.
- Identify, develop and exchange best practices in relation to weapon-target matching, targeting procedures, planning and training; including the difficulty in directing inaccurate weapons against specific objectives in populated areas and take into account foreseeable indirect “reverberating” effects on essential urban services in the proportionality assessment.
- Encourage collection of disaggregated data (sex and age) and information to increase awareness and enhance knowledge about the impact of explosive weapons on civilians in populated areas, thus describing the different impacts on a factual-based approach.
- Promote bilateral and regional cooperation through sharing experiences, good practices and expertise on reducing the harm caused by explosive weapons to civilians, building a community of good practices.
- Strengthen cooperation and partnerships with international organizations and civil society organizations to draw upon their relevant expertise and support.”
Mexico also stated that the political declaration should set a strong international standard of behaviour and should encourage each state to clarify their interpretation of IHL in their doctrines, tactics, orders, and rules of procedure, and to develop guidelines to ensure IHL compliance. Mexico also supported the suggestion by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the declaration to contain an unequivocal commitment by states to avoid the use of EWIPA as matter of policy and good practice and to operationalise their commitment through mitigation measures.
On the same occasion, Mexico noted that avoiding the use of EWIPA would contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16, and called for the adoption and review of policies and practices—including in military doctrines, tactical instructions, rules of engagement, the testing and development of new weapons, education, and other measures—to enhance protection of civilians and compliance with IHL. Finally, it called for the declaration to recognise the rights of victims and affected communities and to provide appropriate victim assistance to those affected.
At the consultations in 2020, Mexico delivered many statements alongside Chile. Together they made the following notes:
- They warned against including definitions in the political declaration and suggested relying on the ICRC’S definitions;
- They said the political declaration must not weaken IHL by being selective in references or abbreviating or restating it;
- They called for the political declaration to contain a core commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas;
- They urged Section 1 of the draft to reflect the reverberating effects of the use of EWIPA and suggested reflecting the impacts on the SDGs;
- Regarding awareness raising, Mexico urged reflection of the difficulties of UN and civil society work on ground;
- On the topic of gender, Mexico urged extending the people covered in this element;
- After a few countries pointed out that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are not prohibited by IHL per se, the ICRC suggested – and Mexico agreed – to add “in violation of IHL” to clarify;
- Mexico said the political declaration needs a humanitarian approach that has a broad concept of the word “victim”, including affected communities.
In the round of consultations held in 2021 Mexico and Chile reiterated the following points:
- They opposed the inclusion of “urban warfare” in 1.3, as explosive weapons by themselves produce psychological harms. They also raised a related issue in 3.1, suggesting that rather than referring simply to “conflict in populated areas,” the text should read “in particular with regard to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”
- They opposed the use of qualifier “can” in the title (“Can arise” vs. “Arising from”) and other qualifiers throughout the text, including but not limited to 1.2, 1.3, 1.8, where humanitarian impacts are described, as well as the chapeau for Section 3.
- They pointed out that the term EWIPA should be used in the title, as the declaration applies to the use of EWIPA more generally in some instances, for example with respect to data collection and victim assistance. It opposed certain uses of “with wide area effects,” including in 2.2, when the qualifier would appear to limit the scope of the statement. It also suggested that the term “with wide area effects” (WAE) should be explained in the text itself to have a basis for operationalisation of commitments.
- They said that the political declaration must ascertain without a doubt that explosive weapons with WAE present complex challenges to the protection of civilians, and suggested including a reference to the increase of civilian deaths as a result of the use of explosive weapons with WAE in populated areas in 1.1. They also said that 1.4 should change the wording so that it doesn’t read as though only all factors mentioned in 1.3 together impact the SDGs and lead to displacement.
- They agreed the chapeau to part B should be clearer to establish a direct linkage between the problem from the preamble (i.e. the use of EWIPA and harms caused) and the clear and concrete political measures to tackle the problem. It suggested reverting to earlier wording, “strengthening compliance with IHL” (rather than “improving compliance with IHL”); changing the phrase “in armed conflict” to “during and after armed conflict”; and rephrasing the final part to read, “… civilian harm that arises from the use of EW, in particular those with WAE, in populated areas.”
- They also highlighted the importance of underscoring the rationale for the declaration, the gravity of harm, and the urgency of dealing with it in the chapeau to part B and suggested the following language: “Deeply concerned by the devastating effects and unacceptable levels of civilian harm and humanitarian consequences recorded by the use of EWIPA, particularly those with WAE, and therefore commit to take urgent actions to strengthening the protection…”;
- On the topic of direct, indirect and reverberating effects, they said it was open to consider different classifications as long as they are broad enough to encompass all effects, and said that terminology be the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) could also be used (secondary, primary, and tertiary effects).
- They welcomed the inclusion of the environment in 1.3.
- Regarding stigmatisation of explosive weapons, they argued that this is a practical consequence of the indiscriminate effects of those weapons, and is not attributable to any political declaration or commitment to avoid their use.
- They called for strengthening Section 2, in particular by starting 2.1 by “reaffirming” states’ obligations under existing law. They also proposed clarifying, in contrast to the UK’s position, that there is a clear obligation to investigate violations of international law, and to do so with due diligence and within a reasonable time frame. It proposed the following wording of 2.1: “We reaffirm our obligations and commitments under applicable international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including the obligation to conduct investigations with due diligence and within a reasonable time frame and, when it proceeds, to prosecute and hold accountable those responsible for violations, and therefore to end impunity.”
- They noted that the dissemination of IHL, which is currently referenced in 3.6, is an IHL commitment and that this commitment should therefore be moved to Section 2.
- They strongly advocated for a core commitment to avoid the use of EWIPA with WAE. It argued that such a policy would neither stigmatise explosive weapons nor create new obligations, as it is not a prohibition, but rather a regulation. Mexico also raised questions regarding how existing IHL rules, especially regarding distinction, proportionality, and precautions, are already being applied in the context of the use of explosive weapons, and ultimately argued that simply declaring respect for IHL would not suffice—instead, the declaration must provide clarity on how to apply IHL in the context of explosive weapons, given the wealth of data available on the direct, indirect, and reverberating effects of those weapons.
- With that in mind, they also proposed the following changes in 3.3: Delete “a range of” and “including”; and replace “may be expected” with “should be anticipated”.
- On the topic of gender, they called for a separate paragraph on the gender dimension of EWIPA.
- Regarding data collection, they asked for references to sharing data “where appropriate” be deleted, arguing that data sharing is always appropriate. It also emphasised the importance of disaggregated data collection by sex, ability and age, type of weapon, location, and other factors.
- On the topic of victim assistance, they echoed Uruguay’s suggestion that the declaration should mention special assistance for children, women, and other vulnerable groups, with a focus on social reintegration. It also pointed to other international legal efforts that have taken into account such differences and discussed victim assistance with greater specificity as to the type and scope of measures required. In addition, Mexico suggested removing 4.4’s reference to “post-conflict stabilisation.”
- Several participants, including Mexico and Chile, stressed the importance that militaries be given not only training, but also the means to conduct hostilities in populated areas in a way that minimises civilian harm in 3.2 and 3.4.
- Regarding international cooperation, they spoke in favour of it and stressed the importance that those cooperative efforts remain open and inclusive.
- Regarding instruments and stakeholders, Mexico and Chile highlighted the UN Secretary-General’s reports on the protection of civilians, noting that they have played an important role in raising awareness around this issue and documenting harm. It also complemented regional and similar efforts to address this issue, including the Maputo and Santiago Communiqués, the 2019 Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians, and recent EWIPA-focused seminars hosted by Germany.
- Finally, regarding follow-up process, they called for an open, transparent, and inclusive follow-up process and suggested greater specificity regarding the follow-up process and its purpose, which should be to review the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons and assess the operationalisation and universalisation of the declaration—not to simply review compliance with IHL.
All these elements were also raised in a response to the draft declaration and a working paper delivered by Mexico and Chile.
At the UN Security Council Open Debate “War in Cities: Protection of Civilians in Urban Settings” on 25 January 2022, Mexico said the political declaration should recognise that the use of EWIPA has unacceptable humanitarian consequences and acknowledge the impact such use has on the physical and mental health of people.
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