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UN Secretary-General urges immediate adoption of political declaration amid concerns over explosive weapons in populated areas

The annual report of the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) on civilian protection in conflict zones was released this month, underlining again the harrowing repercussions of armed conflict on civilian populations, which include high casualty rates, traumatic injuries, and significant displacement.

Civilian casualties due to the use of explosives in populated regions remain a serious concern, according to UNSG Guterres. He emphasized the far-reaching damage caused by these weapons, which persists long after their use and severely impacts vital services.

The report documented 2,399 instances of explosive weapons use in populated areas in 17 conflict-stricken countries and territories during 2022, resulting in 18,163 victims. Based on AOAV data, it was shown that civilians represented nearly 94% of these casualties.

The most severe civilian toll due to explosive weapons was reported in Ukraine, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria. Specifically in Ukraine, wide-effect explosive weapons accounted for 92.5% of all civilian casualties recorded, the majority of which occurred in populated areas.

Guterres praised the adoption of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas as a “milestone achievement”. He noted that 83 states endorsed this declaration in November, pledging to modify their military practices to avoid civilian harm, particularly by limiting or avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Endorser states also committed to considering the direct and indirect effects of their operations on civilians and civilian objects and to ensuring victim assistance. Guterres urged states to adopt this declaration without delay and to put its commitments into substantial action.

The UNSG stressed that implementing the Declaration needs to signify a move away from the usual approach. He recommended that states should review their policies and practices related to minimising civilian harm and make necessary revisions. Even if the endorser states are confident in their current measures to protect civilians during military operations, they should not assume those measures are adequate to fulfil their commitments under the declaration to prevent civilian harm from explosive weapons use.

The report cited AOAV’s data noting: “In 2022, 2,399 incidents involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were recorded in 17 countries and territories affected by conflict, resulting in 18,163 victims. Of those, nearly 94 per cent were civilians. The highest numbers of civilian victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were reported in Ukraine, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia and the Syrian Arab Republic.”