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ICRC speaks up over unacceptable use of explosive weapons in populated areas

Ahead of its address to the United Nations General Assembly First Committee in New York this week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has reiterated it’s call to a campaign central to AOAV’s work: for those involved conflicts not to use explosive weapons that have a wide impact area in densely populated areas.

In recent and ongoing hostilities, artillery, mortars, air-delivered general purpose bombs, rockets and multiple launch rocket systems, among other explosive weapons, have taken a terrible toll on civilians, causing death, injury, disability and trauma. The use of such weapons in populated areas – where there is a strong likelihood of indiscriminate effects due to their imprecision or large blast and fragmentation range – is unacceptable.

“Ultimately, civilians in Syria, Gaza, Israel, Afghanistan, Libya, eastern Ukraine and other conflict hotspots pay the price when the shells aimed at military targets end up hitting homes, hospitals and schools,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer in a statement on their website. “This simply has to stop.”

“These explosive weapons are designed for open battlefields, not built-up urban areas. From the evidence of recent conflicts, we seriously question whether they can be used to target military objectives in populated areas with enough accuracy, or indeed whether their effects can be limited as required by international humanitarian law,” he added. “This is not about the weapons themselves – it’s about where and how they are used.”

Civilian casualties and damaged or destroyed buildings are the most visible effects of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. But less visible damage, to vital water and electrical supply systems for example, can have an equally harmful impact on health care at times when hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties, and more generally hamper people’s ability to survive.

Warfare in urban settings presents challenges that need addressing. All parties to armed conflicts must take steps to protect civilians from the effects of hostilities. Operating from within urban areas places civilians at risk. Nonetheless, attacking forces must take constant care to minimize the impact of their operations on civilians, including through their choice of means and methods of warfare. Alternative weapons and tactics should be considered.

Action on Armed Violence’s work on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas can be found here.