During the last day of the First Committee’s thematic debate on conventional weapons this past week, the State of Palestine underscored the need for the recently finalised Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences arising from the use of Explosive Weapons, when it said, “Our people, especially in the Gaza Strip, understand better than anyone the need for such a declaration and, more importantly, the need for its implementation.”
In its statement, Ireland, which led almost three years of consultations to develop the declaration, made reference to the milestone achievement. It is the first formal international recognition that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has severe humanitarian consequences and that this must be addressed urgently. By signing the political declaration, states will recognise that explosive weapons pose specific risks for civilians when they are used in populated areas and will commit to take action to reduce harm over the years ahead.
Ireland also provided information about how states can sign on to the political declaration. The declaration will open for signature at the Signing Conference in Dublin, Ireland, on 18 November 2022. States wishing to sign the Declaration should communicate this at the earliest possible date by Note Verbale to the Permanent Mission of Ireland in Geneva or the Permanent Mission of Ireland in New York.
The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) encourages all states to take steps to begin the domestic decision-making process in order to be able to sign the declaration. However, after the Dublin Signing Conference and on an ongoing basis, states can write to the government of Ireland as the depository of signatures to the political declaration to indicate their intention to sign it. Ireland will maintain a list of signatory states.
Any state can sign the political declaration regardless of whether they have been part of the consultation process to develop and finalise the text, and regardless of whether they possess or use explosive weapons. All states that are committed to strengthen the protection of civilians in conflict and reducing harm should sign the political declaration.
INEW and its Irish civil society partner Dochas will host a Civil Society Forum on the day prior to the official singing conference on 17 November 2022. This event aims to both celebrate and mark the occasion of the signing of the declaration by states and to promote the declaration and set a vision and expectation for the joint work ahead.
Continued universalisation to increase the group of states that are signatories to the declaration will be an important focus of work to promote broad adoption and implementation of its standards. This will require dedicated outreach by a range of states and organisations over the years ahead.
Signatory states will need to begin work to implement the political declaration without delay. A key area of work will be developing policies to operationalise the declaration at the national level that bring about changes in practice in line with the declaration’s aim and commitments. This will be particularly important when it comes to changing military policy and practice, and more broadly to implement the declaration effectively and in ways that will prevent harm to civilians and make a difference on the ground.
From an earlier article on the First Committee
During the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security’s thematic debate on conventional weapons last week (October 2022), many states positively welcomed the conclusion of negotiations on the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. As states continued their condemnation of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas by Russia in the conflict in Ukraine—including Australia, Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Norway, and Ukraine, as well as the European Union—some also believed that these developments underscored the importance of the agreement of the declaration.
The political declaration is the first formal international recognition that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has severe humanitarian consequences that must be addressed urgently. It promotes stronger standards for the protection of civilians and commits states which sign the declaration to implement these standards through changes to their national policy and practice. The declaration can also provide a basis for stigmatising harmful actions, such as use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
Germany made reference to the devastating humanitarian impact on civilians that the “indiscriminate use of explosive weapons with wide area effects has had in populated areas in Syria, Libya and Yemen.” Australia, Guatemala, Norway, and Mexico also recognised the harm caused by explosive weapons in populated areas, with a reminder from Norway that civilians represent 90 per cent of casualties recorded when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.
Agreement of the political declaration marks a major step forward and a significant contribution to protecting civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities. It demonstrates states’ recognition of the grave humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and their commitment to take concrete action to address it.
Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US), all welcomed the conclusion of the negotiations on the political declaration, and many applauded Ireland for its leadership throughout the process. Others called on more states to show their commitment to strengthening the protection of civilians in conflict by signing onto the declaration.
Positively, many states announced—or restated—their intentions to do just that. Australia, Austria, Costa Rica, Finland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, UK, and US, will all sign onto the political declaration at the upcoming Dublin Conference on 18 November.
The declaration should be seen as a starting point—not an end point. A key area will be changing military practice away from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. There is much more that needs to be done to strengthen the protection of civilians and building stronger standards and driving forward significant changes takes time.
In statements last week, a number of states made clear their commitment to implementing the declaration in this next phase of work. Austria made clear that it is “strongly committed to the implementation of the [d]eclaration together with all relevant stakeholders, [s]tates, UN entities, the [International Committee of the Red Cross], international and regional organisations, humanitarian actors, survivors and civil society, to ensure that the measures foreseen will effectively be implemented without delay in order save lives and reduce civilian harm.”
New Zealand also expressed its strong support of the declaration “and the practical measures it will put in place to protect civilians from the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.” They encouraged “all countries to sign up to the instrument and to play their part in its universalisation and full implementation.”
While the declaration gives rise to commitments for individual signatory states, its implementation will require that states work together in a collaborative and constructive spirit. It will require dedicated work by all these actors over time, building on the shared goal of reducing harm to civilians.
The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) encourages other state delegations at the First Committee to welcome and publicly announce their state’s intention to sign the political declaration, as well as their intention to participate in the Dublin Conference on 18 November 2022.
This text was first published by Reaching Critical Will.
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