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Assistance to victims of explosive weapon use in populated areas

The international norm of the obligations on States to assist victims is well established.(1) AOAV believes that its application should include universal assistance to all victims of armed violence. This is especially important for those who are harmed by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, because of the massive human cost and long-lasting impact on the surrounding area these weapons have.

The harm of explosive weapons

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, AOAV has found that 91% of casualties are reported to be civilians. This compares to 32% in other non-populated areas. Death and injury, however, are only part of the picture. Explosive weapon use in populated areas leads to mass displacement, significant damage to infrastructure and loss of livelihoods. The enduring threat of injury from unexploded ordnance is also significant and one that must be mitigated.

Mitigating the harm caused by explosive weapon use on populated areas

  • The wide-ranging and long-lasting impact on civilians, following the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, requires an evidence-based response to the needs of victims.
  • By developing a fuller understanding of the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, it will become possible to meet the needs of victims and communities in both the emergency phase and in the long-term.

AOAV’s position

Action on Armed Violence urges states and other actors working towards preventing the harm caused by explosive weapon use in populated areas to:

  • Include victims and survivors in the decision-making process when it comes to determining how their needs should be met;
  • Include provisions on rights-based victim assistance in any policy framework in this area;
  • Ensure any such provisions are built upon the existing international norm of States’ obligation to assist victims and that they are tailored to the specific context of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Overall we believe that victim assistance provisions must be informed by the principles and standards that have been developed in international law.

These principles include:

  • An obligation on the state to provide assistance to victims in its jurisdiction;
  • National planning founded on and informed by human rights standards;
  • Obligatory and transparent reporting and data-collection procedures.(2)

Assistance must be responsive to the needs of victims of explosive weapon use in populated areas, and, at a minimum, include:

  • Adequate emergency medical assistance and sustainable healthcare;
  • Assistance in recovery of property and means of livelihoods;
  • Risk-education to mitigate against the continued threat of unexploded ordnance;
  • Clearance activity to remove future threats from UXO;
  • Victim assistance must be viewed an international responsibility, with the primary implementation duty lying with affected States.(3)


Download: Assistance to victims of explosive weapon use in populated areas


(1) Arising from States’ agreements within the Cluster Munitions Convention, the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; see K. Rutherford, ‘Victim Assistance in IHL: From Somalia to Geneva to Laos’, Journal of ERW and Mine Action, Issues 15.1, Spring 2011.
(2) Following the model for victim assistance contained in Articles 5 of the Cluster Munitions Convention
(3) In line with the international cooperation and assistance framework proffered by Article 6 of the Cluster Munitions Convention and those included in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and the Mine Ban Treaty.