Impact of explosive violence on civilians

EWIPA and Civilian Harm: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, Report of the Secretary-General (UNSC S/2022/381)

AOAV’s work in monitoring data on explosive weapons and casualties is the backbone of our own advocacy work and research, but it’s also a key driver behind the widespread civil society push to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). To this end, our data is used in vital resolutions and consultations that are seeking to limit civilian harm in armed conflict. It’s consequently important and rewarding to see AOAV data used by such bodies as the UN to further the protection of civilians in armed conflict, and end the use of EWIPA.

The report of the Secretary-General of the UN on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict rightly emphasises the devastating impact of armed conflict on civilians, acknowledging the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, with its echoes of Russian war crimes in Syria, and the intersection of conflict with the COVID 19 pandemic, intercommunal violence, organised crime, and other forms of violence.

The report highlights the different and overlapping sectors of civilian harm that arise from armed conflict, as well as the immediate and delayed impacts of armed conflict on civilian wellbeing. It raises the issues of accountability and of the challenges that face humanitarian responders in periods of armed conflict. Finally, it ends with a series of programmatic and policy recommendations to strengthen the accountability of parties to armed conflict with regard to the protection of civilians.

In particular, the report crucially acknowledges that “The conduct of hostilities in urban and other populated areas increased the risks of death and injury for civilians, particularly when fighting involved the use of explosive weapons,” and emphasises both the immediate and long-term harm that results from EWIPA. Beyond the devastating impacts of EWIPA in terms of civilian casualties, “The use of explosive weapons damaged or destroyed critical infrastructure, with reverberating effects on essential services such as water, sanitation, electricity and health care, and the disruption of food supply chains.” In contrast to the way explosive weapons have largely been deployed up to this point, the report calls for parties to armed conflicts to put in place policies and practices for “avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, improving situational awareness, information-sharing and processes to examine intelligence in real-time.” This is particularly poignant in the wake of the damning reports emerging from the New York Times and other organisations that reveal the flawed intelligence and all-too-heavy civilian casualty count of state explosive violence.

AOAV celebrates the crucial role played by the UN in furthering the causes of civil society, and the importance of research and data in driving the response to civilian harm.