The United Kingdom (UK) has been actively involved in the process for a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) but has not been vocal in acknowledging the harm caused by EWIPA in individual statements.
The UK issued statements about EWIPA at the Meeting of High Contracting Parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 2018 and 2019. In those statements, it condemned “indiscriminate or disproportionate use of any weapon, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects,” recognised the humanitarian perspectives in the context of minimising civilian harm in conflict, but argued that it is not possible to remove to civilians risk entirely, “particularly when combatting armed groups who actively seek to exploit proximity to civilians and critical civilian infrastructure to further their ends.”
During the May 2019 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the UK stated that it agreed “with what the Minister of Germany said on their need for us to be examining the use of high explosives in urban areas.”
The UK participated in the webinar hosted by Ireland in September 2019 on Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare—Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA): Issues, Policy and Practice”. During this event, the representative of the UK stated that in order for the political declaration to have a chance of success, it needed to be practical. She stressed that it’s key to ensure that use of lethal force in populated areas is governed by international humanitarian law (IHL), and to improve military practices to ensure compliance. She further argued that many topics are crucial to address through a political declaration, such as: the core principles of IHL, dialogue and exchange, training and mentoring of military forces.
The UK also participated in the Vienna Conference on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare in October 2019. During the meeting, it raised questions about the potential unintended consequences of stopping “legal” and “carefully targeted” use of EWIPA, including when it is meant to protect infrastructure. It also asked if civilian and indiscriminate harm are being conflated and felt that the panel was slanted more toward illustrating humanitarian concerns under international law, rather than those relating to military utility.
The UK also signed onto numerous joint statements.
The UK aligned with the World Humanitarian Summit Core Commitments to ‘Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity’ as an EU member state 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.”
As a previous member of the European Union (EU), the UK has signed onto numerous joint statements condemning the use of EWIPA and the harms it causes to civilians and civilian objects, including during the UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The EU also spoke out against the use of EWIPA during the General Debate of the 72nd UN General Assembly First Committee in 2017, recognising its potential impact on civilians and calling on all parties to armed conflict to fully comply with international humanitarian law (IHL).
The UK participated in the first consultation regarding a political declaration on the use of EWIPA in November 2019. It said the declaration should stress that existing IHL provides a sufficient framework to address the problem of the use of EWIPA. It also asserted that the political declaration should not aim to create new norms and that the declaration should not assume that any use of EWIPA would be contrary to IHL. In addition, it called for the consideration of non-state actors in the declaration.
The UK, along with Germany and the United States (US), presented a draft document on Practical Measures to Strengthen the Protection of Civilians During Military Operations in Armed Conflict. The US stressed that this is a draft to be refined and encouraged others to endorse the paper. The Netherlands and Belgium commended its suggested practical measures.
France, Germany, and the UK also submitted a joint statement to the consultations delineating the key elements they would like to see reflected in a political declaration. These included the consideration of non-state actors and the inclusion of a clear distinction between the legitimate use of EWIPA in specific conflict situations and indiscriminate use that breaches IHL.
At the second round of consultations in 2020, the UK said IHL doesn’t prohibit the use of EWIPA but argued that they have used explosive weapons in compliance with IHL. The UK also suggested the use of qualifiers in the text, such as that EWIPA “can have” rather than “are having” devastating impacts. It further argued that data collection in conflict environments is difficult so the political declaration should say “all practical measures” so as not impose unreasonable or unrealistic burden. It also suggested a broader reference such “disaggregating where appropriate”.
In its written contribution, the UK argued that “reverberating effects” has no definitional underpinning outside EWIPA debates, and that the political declaration needs to establish what is meant by the term. It opposed the text of paragraph 1.5, stating that “This formulation tacitly supports the suggestion made by some agencies that use of EWIPA in almost always indiscriminate and presents a significant problem for us. The suggested edit acknowledges that weapon effects may exceed the boundary of a target, but that responsible militaries take that possibility into account. It should be noted that collateral damage is not a contravention of IHL per se.”
It further opposed the text of paragraph 3.3, saying that the extant language on ‘restricting’ use of weapons is unacceptably prescriptive, and that without a definitional basis, there are major questions over how we define ‘effects’ and ‘immediate area’.
The UK also participated in the third round of consultations in 2021. In the occasion, it made the following remarks:
- It argued in favour of qualifiers like “can”—in the title, in Section 1, and in Section 3.
- It raised concerns that not every measure is appropriate for every actor, and therefore suggested adding “where appropriate” to the end of the chapeau to Part B.
- It expressed concern that the declaration would stigmatise explosive weapons use.
- It argued that there is no obligation to hold to account those responsible for violations of international law, and suggested replacing this with “the importance of holding to account” instead.
- It argued that 2.3 should be brought more closely in line with the text of Article 48 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, suggesting the language “direct only against military objectives.”
- It stressed the importance of adding “in attack” to the end of 2.3.
- It argued against any phrasing in 3.3 that would commit states to changing their existing behavior and decision-making with respect to the use of EWIPA, considering that there are many legitimate and lawful uses of explosive weapons.
It raised concerns that the current wording (“restrict”) could be interpreted as requiring states to take precautions that go beyond existing IHL.
In its written contribution, the UK reinforced the use of qualifiers through the text and suggested the following wording for paragraph 3.3: “Implement policies and practices to ensure that, where we are party to armed conflict, our armed forces take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimize, civilian harm – in particular by carefully assessing the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.”
At the UN Security Council Open Debate War in Cities: Protection of Civilians in Urban Settings on 25 January 2022, the UK said it welcomed work on the political declaration, which “must serve to increase the protection of civilians without jeopardising ‘legitimate’ military actions.”
 Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations (2018). ‘Statement to the Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ccw/2018/hcp-meeting/statements/22Nov_UK2.pdf
 Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations (2019). ‘Statement to the Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ccw/2019/hcp-meeting/statements/14Nov_UK3.pdf.
 UN Security Council (2019). ‘UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’. https://undocs.org/en/S/PV.8534.
 Katrin Geyer, Reaching Critical Will (2020). ‘Ireland’s Webinar on Explosive Weapons Keeps Momentum on the Process for a Political Declaration on the Protection of Civilians’. https://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/14761-ireland-s-webinar-on-explosive-weapons-keeps-momentum-on-the-process-for-a-political-declaration-on-the-protection-of-civilians.
 Reaching Critical Will (2019). ‘States Commit to Take Political Action on Explosive Weapons at Vienna conference’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/news/latest-news/14061-states-commit-to-take-political-action-on-explosive-weapons-at-vienna-conference.
 Agenda for Humanity Archives. ‘Italy’. https://agendaforhumanity.org/stakeholders/commitments/207.html.
 Permanent Mission of the European Union to the United Nations (2011). ‘EU Statement during the May 2011 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’. http://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/eu_poc_11may2011_0.pdf.
 Permanent Mission of the European Union to the United Nations (2012). ‘EU Statement during the June 2012 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’. http://www.peacewomen.org/security-council/security-council-open-debate-protection-civilians-armed-conflict-june-2012/.
 Permanent Mission of the European Union to the United Nations (2013). ‘EU Statement during the August 2013 Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’. https://undocs.org/en/S/PV.7019.
 Permanent Mission of the European Union to the United Nations (2017). ‘UNGA72 First Committee Statement’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/1com17/statements/18Oct_EU.pdf.
 Permanent Missions of Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States to the United Nations (2019). ‘Practical Measures to Strengthen the Protection of Civilians During Military Operations in Armed Conflict’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ewipa/declaration/documents/practical-measures-PoC-draft.pdf.
 Permanent Missions of France, Germany, and United Kingdom to the United Nations (2019). ‘Written Submission’. https://www.dfa.ie/media/dfa/ourrolepolicies/peaceandsecurity/ewipa/France-Germany-United-Kingdom-Paper-Written-Submission—18-November-2019.pdf.
 Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations (2020). ‘Written Contribution’.https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ewipa/declaration/documents/UK-March2020.pdf.
 Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations (2021). ‘Written Contribution’. https://reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/ewipa/declaration/documents/UK-March2021.pdf.
 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.