UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) annual report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict was published this week. The report first 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.
The Secretary-General reiterates his long-standing concerns over the use of explosive weapons in urban and other populated areas, noting that “the conduct of hostilities in urban and other populated areas increased the risks of death and injury for civilians, particularly when fighting involved the use of explosive weapons”.
Widespread civilian harm resulting from armed conflict and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA)
The UNSG notes that of the 10,184 victims of incidents involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas recorded in 2021 (1,234 incidents), 89% were civilians. When explosive weapons are used outside populated areas, only 10% of victims are civilians.
As well as highlighting the direct and immediate impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the Secretary-General also emphasizes the long-term and reverberating effects caused by the destruction of critical infrastructure and the disruption of essential services, such as healthcare, electricity, and water. The Secretary-General recalls that “even when parties claim to use [EWIPA] in compliance with international humanitarian law, [such weapons] still cause a pattern of devastating harm to civilians”- a feature that further highlights the urgent need for an international agreement to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Calls on parties to conflict to avoid explosive weapons use and welcomes progress in developing political declaration
Once again, the UNSG urges States and parties to armed conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in towns, cities, and other populated areas, due to foreseeable high risk of civilian harm and damage to civilian objects.
He also welcomes the progress made by States and other relevant stakeholders to towards the adoption of a political declaration that makes a meaningful contribution to the protection of civilians. In order to do so, Guterres states that the declaration should include “a clear commitment by States to avoid the use of wide-area explosive weapons in populated areas”.
The Secretary General’s report provides a useful foundation for further discussion that will take place on 25 May 2022 on the occasion of the UN Security Council’s annual debate on Protection of Civilians (PoC). States will have the opportunity to speak up and express their concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and their devastating impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure. This seems 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, but also in Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen, amongst others.
INEW encourages States to use the PoC debate as an opportunity to express their concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and their support for a political declaration that will have clear humanitarian benefit and will provide a suitable framework for reducing harm and strengthening the protection of civilians over the long-term.
As part of “PoC Week”, INEW and its partners will convene on 26 May 2022 a panel discussion on “developing stronger standards to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”. Moderated by Alexander Marschik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN, this discussion will gather experts from the ICRC, civil society and UN agencies, including Rich Weir (HRW), Aurelien Buffler (OCHA), Laura Boillot (INEW) and Eirini Giorgou (ICRC). It will seek to tackle the issue of explosive weapons, drawing on recent and ongoing examples, and discuss the international political declaration, looking at how it can provide a framework for strengthening the protection of civilians.