Switzerland has acknowledged the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) and committed to action on the issue.
Switzerland made reference to the use of EWIPA at the UN Security Council Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2010, where it said that their use was a “major source of suffering for civilians”.
In June 2012, as part of the Group of Friends, at the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Switzerland referenced the problem of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).
As part of the Human Security Network, Switzerland endorsed two statements addressing the risk of EWIPA at the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2013 and 2014. The statements called for data collection and to refrain from the use of EWIPA.
Switzerland also aligned with the World Humanitarian Summit Core Commitments to ‘Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity’ in May 2016. 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.”
At the General Debate of the 72nd UN General Assembly First Committee in 2017 Switzerland called for anchoring the issue of EWIPA in the agenda of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).
During the December 2018 Annual Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Switzerland continued to express its concern about the devastating humanitarian impacts of EWIPA, and described these consequences in detail.
Switzerland 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. Switzerland 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.
Switzerland participated in the Vienna Conference on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare in 2019. It encouraged that the declaration provide for exchange of practices and emphasised that a declaration should comprise practical measures and procedures. It also highlighted that a declaration could call on states to establish facts in cases of alleged IHL violations, in relation to explosive weapons use, and it encouraged that the political declaration be a way to improve data collection.
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 Switzerland 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.
Switzerland participated in the consultation on a political declaration about the use of EWIPA in 2019. It said the declaration should stress that existing IHL provides a sufficient framework to address the problem of EWIPA and that the objective of the declaration should be to strengthen IHL.
Switzerland also said that the declaration should address the challenges posed by the urbanisation of violence, where civilians and combatants intermingle. It argued that it is often not possible to choose to conduct military operations outside this setting.
In addition, it supported a call 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, and called for investigating allegations of the use of EWIPA that is in violation of IHL, and, where appropriate, for the due prosecution of perpetrators.
In its written contribution to the event, Switzerland reinforced those suggestions and added that the declaration should include concrete measures and commitments, such as that the “parties to an armed conflict must not: a) o attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population; b) o attack works and installations containing dangerous forces”; “Reiterate the prohibition to kill, injure or capture an adversary by resort to perfidy”; “Ensure that the chain of command is set up with a view to ensure the respect of IHL.”
Switzerland also participated in the consultation meeting held in 2020. There, it stated that it would be appropriate to focus the political declaration on the conduct of hostilities in urban areas rather than focus on a particular system of weapons. It also raised the following points:
- The declaration must not weaken IHL by being selective in references or abbreviating or restating it.
- The declaration should not create the impression that we are losing faith in IHL and should condemn only clear violations of IHL.
- The role of non-state armed groups should be better reflected.
- It suggested highlighting the factors why conflict increasingly takes place in urban areas, such as, “As the world’s population living in urban areas increases and military objectives in urban areas increases, wars are more frequently fought there.”
- Section 1 should reflect the reverberating effects of the use of EWIPA.
- The first sentence implies that all uses of EWIPA have same dire impact, which are not necessarily the case; it suggested instead that some users of explosive weapons with wide area effects are having or could have devastating impacts.
- It suggested adding “tactics designed to exploit the proximity of civilians.”
- It urged not saying IHL is being eroded.
- It suggested the political declaration “recall that IHL applies to all parties including NSAs and must be respected in all circumstances.” It also suggested expressing concern in particular with deliberate violations of IHL.
- Improvised explosive devices are not prohibited by IHL per se.
- 1.8 should identify problems and challenges rather than condemn selected practices. Should there be a desire to condemn, it should only be about clear violations of IHL by any actors, including use of human shields, use of IEDs, and other actions to exploit proximity of civilians, etc.” and should be in section 4.
- It suggested “We reiterate existing IHL provides a sufficient or an appropriate framework when hostilities are conducted in populated areas and applies to the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.”
- The third part should be moved to Section 1 as it reflects one of the challenges.
- It suggested adding “disseminate and promote IHL, including amongst organised armed groups.”
- Section 2 is confusing and recommended bringing it back in line with IHL.
- If the aim of 3.4 is to clarify precautionary measures, we must be careful not to weaken IHL. Language should indicate that in fulfilling existing obligations under IHL, we will ensure our armed forces are adequately trained to avoid civilian causalities, notably by cancelling or suspending an attack, including when using EWIPA, when it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or maybe subject to disproportionate effects. This assessment should take into account damage from previous attacks, identify lessons learned for future operations, etc.
- This section should condemn violations of IHL, not just a few examples. It suggested “condemn violations of IHL, such as the deliberate targeting of civilians and objects, unlawful use of IEDs, human shields, and call on all parties to put an end to such practices.”
- It also suggested transforming commitment on accountability into a separate point and that it should include a commitment to establishing facts in cases of alleged violations. To this end, it suggested language such as: “In cases of allegations of violations of IHL, seek clarification and ensure facts are established, including through establishing mechanisms such as international humanitarian fact finding missions” and to “use domestic and international measures to hold those account and collect, compile, and preserve relevant actors accountable.”
Many of these elements were reflected in its written contribution in March 2020, where other suggestions regarding the text of the declaration were also included.
Switzerland participated in the consultation meeting held in 2021. In the occasion, it raised the following elements:
- It opposed the use of qualifier “can” in the title. It 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 spoke strongly in its concluding remarks against focusing only on the unlawful uses of weapons, as IHL envisions proactive obligations to do everything feasible. It argued that this is necessary in order to fully address the humanitarian consequences arising from the use of explosive weapons.
- It suggested an addition in 1.1 to express that the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects becomes “a major source of concern,” and that 1.8 should be clear of the acuteness of this issue.
- Austria suggested adding “and humanitarian consequences” after “civilian harm.” Switzerland echoed Austria’s suggestion for making the underlying rationale of the operative commitments clear in the chapeau to Part B, suggesting references to “humanitarian consequences” to ensure a broad scope.
- It suggested the phrase read “… to comply with IHL under all circumstances, including when conducting hostilities in populated areas…” to avoid the impression that the obligations only apply in populated areas.
- It raised concern that the original draft’s paragraph 4.5, on humanitarian access, was deleted entirely in this draft. It asked that the paragraph be re-added and moved to Section 2, as it refers to a legal obligation established under IHL.
- It suggested adding two additional paragraphs to Section 4. Those paragraphs include 1) “In cases of allegations of violations of IHL, seek clarification and ensure the facts are established, including through fact-finding mechanisms;” and 2) “Use domestic and international measures to hold to account those responsible for serious violations of IHL and collect, compile, retain, and preserve relevant information to support the efforts to hold those responsible accountable.”
- It argued that the measures currently suggested in 3.3 do not represent a new restriction, but simply ask states to limit the use of EWIPA to situations in which the necessary measures and precautions have been taken. It echoed Italy’s suggestion to reference measures that already exist to take all feasible precautions and to avoid and in any event minimise civilian harm, including battle damage assessments and strict adherence to IHL, and suggested that the text of the declaration better reflect the importance of cooperation and the exchange of expertise.
- It suggested replacing “mitigate” with “avoid” in 1.6.
- It also said that Section I should reference other types of explosive weapons, including mines and explosive remnants of war.
- It called for an open, transparent, and inclusive follow-up process and stressed the importance of ensuring that the review process is adequate to meet the needs of the declaration.
In its written contribution to the event, all those elements were further explored and suggestions in the text were included to reflect its position.
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