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Oslo conference reaffirms global political commitment to addressing use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The first follow-up international conference since the 2022 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 (EWIPA Declaration) convened last week in Oslo. Supported by Costa Rica, Ireland, and Norway, the conference underscored the continued humanitarian challenges faced by civilians in conflict zones worldwide, including in regions like Gaza, Ukraine, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Despite the grim context of widespread destruction and civilian casualties due to the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas, the Oslo conference marked another step forward in international efforts to mitigate these impacts. The conference was instrumental in reviewing the progress of the EWIPA Declaration, which was first adopted in Dublin in 2022, assessing how commitments have been translated into actionable policies.

Participants included a diverse group of stakeholders ranging from government representatives to civil society organizations, illustrating a broad and multi-faceted commitment to upholding the Declaration’s principles. The meeting highlighted the importance of continued international collaboration and shared learning to enhance civilian protection and adhere to international humanitarian law.

The conference also celebrated the addition of new endorsers to the Declaration, including Jordan, North Macedonia, and Montenegro, bringing the total number of supporting states to 86.

This expansion indicates growing global recognition of the importance of the principles outlined in the EWIPA Declaration.

Moving forward, the conference set forth several recommendations aimed at reinforcing the Declaration’s impact. These include the identification of national focal points to lead implementation efforts, the regular sharing of updates on national progress, and the enhancement of military and civilian cooperation to promote adherence to the Declaration’s commitments. Additionally, there is a strong push for hosting thematic and regional meetings to bolster understanding and enforcement of the Declaration’s standards.

As the current, past, and incoming chairs of the process, Ireland, Norway, and Costa Rica have agreed to form a “Troika” to provide strategic guidance and oversee the ongoing implementation and promotion of the Declaration in the lead-up to the next conference slated for 2025 in Costa Rica.

This conference not only reaffirms the commitment of the international community to protect civilians amid armed conflict but also sets a pathway for future actions aimed at reducing the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas. The ongoing collaboration and shared initiatives underscore a collective determination to transform commitments into real-world changes that safeguard civilian lives and infrastructure during conflicts.

“Last week marked a critical milestone in our collective efforts to shield civilians from the ravages of urban warfare,” stated Dr. Iain Overton of AOAV. “The broadened commitment seen in Oslo, with new nations endorsing the EWIPA Declaration, reflects a growing international consensus on the need to prioritise human lives in conflict zones. However, the real test remains in transforming these pledges into actions that tangibly reduce civilian suffering and uphold the sanctity of human rights in the midst of war.”

At the meeting itself, AOAV read out the following:

“In 2023, the Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded – from English language reputable media sources – some 47,476 deaths and injuries from explosive weapons globally. This was the highest number since our records began in 2010 and perhaps it is of note it followed on from the Dublin political commitment of 2022. 73% of these casualties, or 34,791 individuals, were civilians, and 46% of these civilians were fatally wounded. The use of these weapons in populated areas has particularly devastating effects, with 90% of those reported killed or injured in such settings being civilians. Our analysis reveals an alarming trend: explosive weapon incidents surged by 70% last year, with civilian casualties up by 67% and civilian fatalities increasing by 130% compared to 2022. 96% of all civilian casualties from explosive violence occurred in populated areas. The conflict in Gaza was a major contributor, with events there accounting for 61% of the global civilian fatalities recorded between October and December. Furthermore, conflicts in regions like Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, and Myanmar also saw severe levels of civilian harm. Detailed statistics underscore the scope of the crisis: the average number of civilians killed per explosive incident rose from 1.6 in 2022 to 2.2 in 2023, a 38% increase. Women and children have been particularly affected, with reported casualties among women up by 192% and among children by 124% from the previous year. The average number of civilians harmed per airstrike increased from 7.4 to 9.9, a 34% rise, while fatalities per aerial attack rose by 63%. AOAV hopes these figures help focus our minds on today’s issue.”