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Human Rights Watch: Explosive Weapons Devastating for Civilians

Last month, Human Rights Watch released the briefing “Explosive Weapons Devastating for Civilians (February 2020)”. The paper, released in prior to the February 10th, 2020, consultations in Geneva; on the forthcoming political commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. HRW calls on governments to endorse a strong political declaration that would better protect civilians and to commit to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. The document highlights the increasing urbanization of conflicts which puts millions at risk of death or injury, as well as how their use in populated areas forces people to flee their homes, exacerbating humanitarian needs.

A call on governments to commit to avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas

HRW highlights that: “the declaration should commit countries to develop, and, where appropriate, revise relevant laws, policies, and military doctrine. Countries should also make a commitment to assist victims of explosive weapons by, for example, providing medical care and psychosocial support, and ensuring socio-economic inclusion. They should support reconstruction efforts, promptly compensate people for laws-of-war violations and, where possible, provide ex gratia payments for deaths, injuries, and property damage. Assistance should target people with disabilities. Countries should also make a commitment to gather and share positive practices and disaggregated data, particularly for tracking civilian casualties and other harm from explosive weapons, and to share their practices through regular meetings.”

Inaccurate Weapons, Weapon Systems and Multiple Munitions Weapons

HRW’s research points to the toll of numerous civilian casualties as a consequence of the design or use of explosive weapons, often producing a large blast radius or dispersing fragments over wide areas. The briefing takes examples from Syria, Gaza, Afghanistan, Yemen and South Sudan, where the use of large air-dropped munitions wounded and killed large numbers of civilians.

The briefing highlights how weapons such as mortars, artillery, and rockets, when firing unguided munitions, are fundamentally inaccurate systems leading to an extensive number of civilian casualties harmed from the use of barrel bombs, when used by the Syrian, Iraqi, and Sudanese governments for instance. Explosive weapons designed to deliver multiple munitions to create effects over a wide area, such as multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) intended to saturate a large area, are also of particular concern to HRW. 

Long-Term and Reverberating Consequences for Civilians: Inhibition on Access to Services and Prolonging Displacement

HRW demonstrates that damages associated with explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas can also be found in the disproportionate impact on civilian buildings and infrastructures, i.e. the homes, businesses, and infrastructure, such as power stations, hospitals, sanitation systems, and schools. Such a heavy toll on the vital services of civilian populations can disproportionately affect women and vulnerable populations, such as children, older people, and people with disabilities.

The briefing draws on HRW’s extensive research on harm from explosive weapons as well as data from AOAV and research by the many other organisations working to record and respond to the harm from explosive weapons.

For the full report, please see here.