The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has released his latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict which draws on research conducted by Action on Armed Violence. The report outlines the threats faced by civilian populations in a number of ongoing conflicts worldwide, and specifically emphasises the need for both casualty tracking and recording.
AOAV’s research underscores the urgent need to strengthen civilian protection from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This year thousands have died in the ongoing shelling of towns and cities in Syria. Meanwhile, aerial bombardment in Sudan and attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq were all responsible for numerous casualties and untold chaos.
The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly called for action on this issue.
In response, the United Nations, in partnership with Chatham House, held a meeting of experts in September 2013 to discuss ways to strengthen the protection of civilians from explosive weapon use in populated areas.
At the meeting, AOAV experts highlighted weapons that are of particular concern because of their wide-area effects. These include hugely destructive air-dropped bombs, unguided artillery rockets, and indirect-fire systems that launch multiple munitions. These weapons have been fired indiscriminately into markets, public squares and residential streets, causing untold damage and loss.
The group of experts meeting marked an important stage in a process to build stronger restrictions against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In his recommendations to the Security Council, Ban Ki-moon urged states to move towards a political commitment to reduce the impact of explosive weapons for civilians.
Quoting AOAV’s work, the report stated that: “Research shows that, of the more than 34,700 people killed and injured by explosive weapons in 2012, 60 per cent of the casualties were caused by improvised explosive devices. A total of 81 per cent of casualties were civilians.”
One of the five core challenges identified in the new Secretary-General’s report is “enhancing compliance by non-state armed groups.” The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) is highlighted as a particular concern in the report for the harm they cause to civilians.
The report cited AOAV’s own data, which found that 60% of 34,700 casualties of explosive weapons in 2012 were caused by IEDs.
The Secretary-General stressed the need for greater compliance with international humanitarian law by non-state armed groups and the need for humanitarian actors to engage with these groups and assist their victims.
AOAV is already pursuing a number of different policy directions to support efforts in these areas. We are currently working on research showing both the long term and indirect effects of IED attacks by looking at the wide ranging fallout from a single bombing in Pakistan in 2009.
The Secretary-General’s report also underscores the need for a vastly greater understanding of the dynamics of civilian harm in armed conflict through both casualty tracking and casualty recording. In cooperation with a variety of regional and international actors, AOAV is building systems dedicated to increasing our knowledge of who is affected by armed violence, how they are affected and what can be done to mitigate those harms.
This report is an important statement of the most pressing priorities in civilian protection during armed conflict. The UN Security Council will soon meet to discuss this report, and AOAV hopes that states take advantage of the upcoming opportunity to make clear their position on these key protection issues.
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