The UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) annual report to the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict was issued this week. The report reviews the global state of the protection of civilians, once again underlining the devastating impact of armed conflict on civilians, characterized by high levels of death, injury, and trauma and widespread displacement.
Widespread civilian harm resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
UNSG Guterres reiterated his long-standing concern over the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, noting that such use:
“continued to wreak harm far beyond their targets and long after their use, with reverberating effects on essential services.”
The UNSG notes that in 2022, 2,399 incidents involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were recorded in 17 countries and territories affected by conflict, resulting in 18,163 victims. Of these, nearly 94% were civilians. According to the UNSG, the highest numbers of civilian victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were reported in Ukraine, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. In Ukraine, explosive weapons with wide area effects were reported to have caused 92.5% of all civilian casualties recorded by the UN, the majority in populated areas.
Hails the adoption of the Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons and calls on states to join and implement it without delay
Describing it as a “milestone achievement”, the UNSG highlighted the adoption and endorsement by 83 states last November of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. He further noted that those 83 states have:
“declared that they would ensure their armed forces adopt and implement policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”.
Endorser states would also “ensure that their armed forces take into account the direct and indirect effects of their operations on civilians and civilian objects and ensure assistance to victims.” The UNSG calls on states to join the declaration “without delay and translate its commitments into meaningful action”.
The UNSG also noted that implementation of the Declaration must “mark a departure from the business-as-usual approach”, recommending that states should “review policies and practices relating to civilian harm mitigation and revise them, as necessary”. And with good cause. However confident endorser states are in their existing efforts to protect civilians in their military operations, they should not automatically consider those efforts sufficient for meeting their commitments under the declaration to avoid civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons.
UN Security Council debate on the protection of civilians
The UNSG’s report provides a useful foundation for further discussion that will take place on 23 May 2023 on the occasion of the UN Security Council’s annual debate on the protection of civilians. States will have the opportunity to express their concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and its devastating impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure. This is all the more important against the current backdrop of the horrific images and reports of destruction and human suffering caused by explosive weapons use in Ukraine, Sudan and elsewhere.
In a recent briefing paper prepared for the Security Council debate, INEW encourages states to:
- Continue to publicly acknowledge and call for action to address the severe harm to individuals and communities from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, both direct and indirect.
- Endorse, and embed in national policy and practice, the recommendation of the UN Secretary-General and ICRC that parties to conflict should avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
- Endorse – if not already the case – the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.
- Encourage other states to endorse the Declaration in order to promote its adoption and implementation by the greatest number of states.
- Start to assess the steps required at the national level (revision of existing or development of new policy and practice, training, etc) to implement the declaration’s commitments and designate government focal points for this work, including in the areas of military policy and practice, victim assistance/humanitarian access, and data collection.
POC Week Event on Explosive Weapons and the Political Declaration
As part of “POC Week”, INEW and its partners will convene a high-level panel discussion on the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the role of the political declaration in addressing it. The speakers include:
- Ambassador Alexander Marschik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations – Moderator
- Eivind Vad Petersson, State Secretary to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – TBC
- Izumi Nakamitsu, UN High Level Representative for Disarmament
- Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, ICRC President
- Ambassador Fergal Mythen, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations
- Laura Boillot, Coordinator for the International Network on Explosive Weapons
It will take place on 24 May from 10:15am – 11:45am in room CR 6 at the UN Secretariat in New York.