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Curbing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to protect civilians

On 12 February, the UN Security Council will hold an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, focusing on implementing the protection aspects of UN peacekeeping mandates.

Ahead of this debate, members of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) have conducted advocacy with and circulated a briefing paper to UN member states and agencies in order to ensure that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is highlighted as an issue of concern. The debate is an opportunity for states to express support for concrete steps that will curb the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and to provide stronger protection to civilians in the future.

INEW urges states to:

  • Acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas frequently causes unacceptable levels of harm to civilians, and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure;
  • Welcome the recommendation by the UN Secretary General for states and armed groups to avoid the use in populated areas of explosive weapons with wide area effects;
  • Commit to further work on this issue – including participating in focused discussions to better understand the humanitarian problems of explosive weapon use and to develop policies and practices that prevent harm to civilians from explosive weapons;
  • Support concrete steps aimed at providing stronger protection to civilians from the effects of explosive weapons, including reviews of policies and operational practices on the use of explosive weapons;
  • Support the development of better guidance to users of explosive weapons, and consideration of a political commitment by states to curb the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Recognition of the humanitarian problems caused by explosive weapons in populated areas should strengthen international responses to armed violence in the future. Resolving situations such as Syria is a complex question, but such recognition should at least reinforce the unacceptability of such practices and make them less likely.

Background information

During the previous protection of civilians debate on 19 August 2013, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's opening statement emphasized the urgency of the humanitarian problem of explosive weapons in populated areas: “I am particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effect in populated areas”, said the Secretary-General. “Roadside bombs, heavy weapons and artillery, and air strikes can blindly kill and maim with profound humanitarian consequences. I repeat my call to the Security Council and to Member States to also work through the General Assembly to recognize and act on this critical issue. We need to better understand the types of explosive weapons that are most problematic. We need to examine how existing international law can help regulate use. And we need to consider the concrete steps that can be taken to reduce the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas." A number of states and UN agencies also raised concern with this issue, marking the urgency with which it must be addressed.

About explosive weapons

Explosive weapons use blast and fragmentation to kill and injure people in the area where they detonate, as well as to damage objects, buildings and infrastructure. When used in populated areas they tend to cause high levels of harm to individuals and communities. Destruction of infrastructure vital to the civilian population, including water and sanitation, housing, schools and hospitals, results in a pattern of wider, long term suffering. Victims and survivors of explosive weapons can face long-term challenges of disability, psychological harm, and social and economic exclusion.

For more information, please see the International Network on Explosive Weapons and Article 36.