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ICRC Report – Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects: A Deadly Choice in Populated Areas

The ICRC’s latest report, Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects: A Deadly Choice in Populated Areas, presents a comprehensive set of recommendations for political authorities, defence forces, and civil society organisations on the prevention and mitigation of harm to civilians from the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.

Based on first-hand evidence from recent and ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Yemen, the report analyses the main issues surrounding the use of such weapons, including:

  • High numbers of civilian deaths and injuries
  • Mental and psychosocial harm
  • Significant damage to and destruction of civilian property and critical infrastructure
  • Disruption of services essential to the survival of the civilian population, including water, electricity, sanitation and health care
  • Contamination by unexploded ordnance
  • Degradation of the natural environment
  • Displacement of the civilian population
  • Long-term consequences for development

The report’s findings and recommendations also contribute to the ongoing efforts of civil society organisations and political authorities in finalising the political declaration to address the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Heavy weapons and weapons with wide area effects, according to the report, include artillery (guns and rockets), most mortars, multi-barrel rocket launchers, air-delivered general-purpose bombs, and large improvised explosive devices. 

Several key recommendations are issued to political authorities and armed forces on preventive and mitigation measures. They include:

  • The use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas to be avoided, i.e. that these weapons should not be used unless sufficient mitigation measures are taken to limit their wide-area effects and the consequent risk of civilian harm.
  • The protection of civilians to be explicitly identified as a strategic objective at the highest level, prior to military operations, and to be integrated into all military orders.
  • Armed forces to be equipped with and trained in the proper use of weapons and means and methods of warfare that are appropriate for use in urban and other populated areas.
  • Ensure critical civilian infrastructure is identified and mapped, and that this information is communicated to frontline military commanders.

In a panel discussion for the report’s launch, members of the ICRC said the essential purpose and utility of the report is to serve as a tool for officials involved in negotiating and implementing political declarations on disarmament to use in communication with defence forces on the protection of civilians from explosive weapons with wide-area effects.

This event was held virtually on 27 January 2021 to launch the ICRC report. Speakers included:

Peter Maurer – ICRC President

Izumi Nakamitsu – UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

Dr Helen Durham – ICRC Director of International Law and Policy

Fabrizio Carboni – ICRC Regional Director for the Near and Middle East

H.E. Lucy Duncan – Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations in Geneva

Laura Boillot – Coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons

More information on the ICRC event HERE