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INEW: Open letter to states that have endorsed the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) addressed an open letter to the 83 states that endorsed the Political Declaration, signed in November 2022, to strengthen the protection of civilians from the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

26 October 2023

Dear state representatives,

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) is deeply concerned over the extensive and ongoing bombardment in the Gaza Strip and the consequent deteriorating humanitarian situation, as well as the indiscriminate rocket attacks launched against population centres in Israel.

INEW calls on both Israel and Palestinian armed groups to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas due to the high risk of harm to civilians.

INEW also calls on the 83 states that have endorsed the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas to make good on their undertaking to “actively promote the Declaration” and to “seek adherence to its commitments” by the parties to the conflict, including through their public statements, as a means to strengthen the protection of civilians.  

When explosive weapons are dropped or launched into populated areas, it causes a predictable pattern of harm. In the two and a half weeks since 7 October, over 6,800 Palestinians and over 1,400 Israeli civilians have been killed, and over 18,000 Palestinian and over 5,400 Israeli civilians have been injured in the conflict – with the overwhelming majority of deaths of Palestinians from bombing. 

The Gaza Strip in particular is a densely populated and closed area under siege, where civilians are facing intense bombardment from airstrikes and shelling which the UN Secretary-General has described as “relentless”. In addition to the high number of casualties, an estimated 1,550 people, including at least 800 children, are reported missing and are presumed to be trapped or dead under rubble. As the death toll rises sharply, civilians have nowhere to go to escape the bombing.

The needs of people and the suffering in the Gaza Strip at this time is immense. Extensive bombing has damaged 45% of housing, and in some areas entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed, with an estimated 590,000 people currently living in emergency shelters. Humanitarian access to those in need is heavily constrained. Essential resources such as water, food and medicine are in critically short supply: clean water is unavailable for most of the population, sanitation services have collapsed, and fuel is running out. Over one-third of hospitals have shut down and others are struggling to operate without medical supplies or equipment.

States that have joined the Political Declaration on protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas have done so in recognition of the grave humanitarian harm that arises when such use occurs. They have also committed to take action to address civilian harm, such as we see now.

To this end, INEW calls on endorser states to:

  • Publicly acknowledge and call for action to address the devastating impacts on civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and to support our call to stop the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas;
  • Use diplomatic means and influence to promote specific actions in line with the Declaration including to:
  • Call on parties to the conflict to take into account both the direct and indirect effects on civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas; 
  • Call on parties to the conflict to facilitate rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need; 
  • Call on parties to the conflict to provide, facilitate or support assistance to victims – which includes people injured, survivors, families of people killed or injured as well as communities affected by the armed conflict;
  • Call on parties to the conflict to facilitate the work of the United Nations, the ICRC, and civil society organisations aimed at protecting and assisting civilian populations from the humanitarian impacts of explosive weapon use.

Action by endorser states to promote the Declaration, and at this time in particular, is vitally needed action to better protect civilians from the effects of explosive weapons and armed conflict.