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Open for signature: declaration for the protection of civilians from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

On 17 June, Ireland concluded consultations on the final text of the ‘Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas,’ (EWIPA). On 18 November, the Declaration will be open for countries to endorse at a high-level signing conference to be held in Dublin.

Civilians account globally for 90% of casualties when explosive weapons, such as aerial bombs, rockets, missiles, artillery and mortar projectiles, are used in populated areas. These weapons have a large destructive radius, are inherently inaccurate, or deliver multiple munitions at the same time, factors which generate wide-area effects with reverberating impacts felt well beyond the direct hit. EWIPA are known to cause long-lasting and expensive damage to critical civilian infrastructure, interrupting basic services such as health care and education, and they inflict often irreversible environmental harm. The psychological trauma from EWIPA and the resulting displacement can take decades to heal.

The use of EWIPA, and their manifold consequences, are being made painfully clear in Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, ongoing since 24 February 2022, in which AOAV has recorded 7,233 civilian casualties of explosive weapon use. 97% of recorded civilian casualties in Ukraine have occurred in populated areas.

The political declaration is consequently timely. Under the declaration, signatories commit to adopt and carry out national policies and military practices that strive to avoid civilian harm, by “restricting or refraining from” the use of explosive weapons in towns, cities, and other populated areas. There are also provisions regarding the commitment to assist victims, facilitate humanitarian access, and collect and share data about the effects of explosive weapons.

Many of the more than 70 countries that participated in negotiating the explosive weapons declaration have expressed their intent to sign it on November 18, or are working toward that decision.

Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, called the declaration “a strong starting point for future work to better protect civilians during wartime,” stating that “this political commitment sends a strong message that the civilian toll from the widespread use of explosive weapons in populated areas is unacceptable.”