The First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly have met throughout the last three weeks to discuss disarmament, global challenges and threats to peace.
During the conventional weapons debate many countries’ delegations expressed concerns over the use of weapons in populated areas, particularly: Austria, Guatemala, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK.
Many statements critiqued the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and the civilian and humanitarian harm they cause.
Austria highlighted the need for an international political declaration to prevent civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and reminded the delegation on the UN’s Secretary-General’s encouragement for all states to engage in the development of such a declaration.
AOAV’s report, Patterns of Harm, looks at the five years worth of data recorded and seeks to draw attention to the terrible – and predictable – patterns of harm that occur when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. AOAV has consistently found that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas over 90% of the deaths and injuries caused were civilians.
Below are the statements made by country delegations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas:
Explosive weapons in populated areas (w/c of 17 October)
The start of the conventional weapons debate saw seven states raise concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA): Austria, Guatemala, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Austria described the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as “a major cause of civilian harm in many countries” and a “humanitarian problem of extreme gravity”. It brought attention to the impact EWIPA has on population displacement, saying, “many people are desperate to find shelter abroad precisely because of the violence and the use of explosive weapons in their countries of origin and the lack or breakdown of protection for civilian populations.”
Austria drew attention to the international expert meeting it hosted in Vienna in 2015, which invited around twenty states to highlight “the importance of awareness-raising on the basis of continuing collection and dissemination of data as well as the sharing and promotion of states’ good practices in using explosive weapons.” Austria went on to provide an update on an event it hosted in New York on 4 October 2016 and its plans to “issue an international political declaration to prevent civilian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.” It reminded delegations that the UN Secretary-General has encouraged all states to engage constructively in the initiative to develop a political declaration on explosive weapons.
Ireland stated that it regards the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas as “one of the most serious challenges facing us with regard to conventional weapons questions at this time.” Ireland said it “welcome[d] the attention being given to this question.”
New Zealand expressed support for the “development of a political declaration as part of an international effort to address the immediate and long-term harm being caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas” and stated that a declaration must be “meaningful and effective”.
The Netherlands said that it supports “the international discussion on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas,” which should “focus on concrete and practical measures in order to limit casualties and damage.”
South Africa and Guatemala both expressed concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, alongside the United Kingdom, which emphasised the need to limit casualties and damage from EWIPA.
Explosive weapons in populated areas (w/c 10 October)
The end of the general debate saw statements of concern over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) from the Holy See, Iran, San Marino, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In a strong statement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, the Holy See stated that “increasingly more powerful and sophisticated conventional weapons are devastating entire communities, hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure” and said that this “must now be treated with the same condemnation we attach to weapons of mass destruction.” San Marino similarly raised the suffering, displacement, and death of civilians from these practices and urged all parties to refrain from the use of explosive devices in populated areas.
Iran specifically raised the bombing of a funeral gathering in Yemen by Saudi Arabia, and its widespread bombardment of civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
The ICRC expressed concern over heavy explosive weapons when used in populated areas, which are prone to indiscriminate effects owing to their wide-area effects. In addition to high risk of incidental civilian death, injury, and disability, “heavy explosive weapons tend to cause extensive damage to critical civilian infrastructure, triggering debilitating ‘domino effects’ on interconnected essential services such as health care, and water and electricity supply systems. This in turn provokes further civilian death and displacement.”
The ICRC called on states to “avoid using explosive weapons with a wide impact area in densely populated areas” and to “share how they put into practice the constraints of IHL on their choice of weapons in urban warfare.”
INEW’s representative Ms. Alma Taslidzan Al-Osta shared some of the testimonies she has heard from spending time with Syrian families that have been displaced and are currently in a refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. She described the devastating impacts that the use of EWIPA has on entire communities for many years. INEW argued, “all too often, the impacts of explosive weapons are considered as an foreseeable result of conflict. Yet experience shows that at an operational level, militaries can, and have, curbed or halted the use of certain weapons in populated areas, and in doing so can strengthen civilian protection.”
INEW called on states to engage in the ongoing process to develop an international political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, and said that “a political declaration should be a practical tool that promotes actions that will reduce humanitarian harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and increases the protection of civilians living through conflict.”
Explosive weapons in populated areas (w/c 3 October)
The First Committee’s general debate heard states express concern over humanitarian impacts resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and express support for the initiative that is underway to address this harm through the development of a political declaration.
Austria announced it was hosting a meeting of committed states “to start to look at possible elements of an international political declaration on the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”. This meeting had the explicit support of the UN Secretary-General and was attended by states, UN agencies, the ICRC and civil society, Ambassador Hajnoczi said. Austria also expressed concern over the humanitarian harm civilians suffer as a result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which is a “main reason for harm to civilians in many conflicts”. Austria reminded other delegates that “it is harm caused by explosive weapons which has driven most of today’s refugees and internally displaced persons away from their war ridden homes”.
Costa Rica called on states to “develop stricter rules and commitments to prohibit and restrict use” over explosive weapons in populated areas”. It also expressed support for the ongoing initiative to restrict the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
Ireland stated that it regards “the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas as one of the most serious challenges facing us with regard to conventional weapons questions at this time”, citing examples of the impact in Ukraine and Yemen.
Liechtenstein expressed concern over the humanitarian harm from EWIPA, and referenced the commitment which it endorsed, along with many other states, at the World Humanitarian Summit to work to “prevent harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas’.
Norway expressed concern over the harm from EWIPA in Yemen, Syria and Ukraine referencing “the destruction of critical infrastructure such as housing, schools and hospitals affects the prospects for post-conflict rehabilitation, peace-building and reconstruction long after the actual fighting is over”. Norway noted the UN Secretary-General’s call on states to “refrain from the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with a wide area effect” and expressed a desire to see more states engaging in discussions on this issue, aiming for it to “influence practice and set standards’.
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