WILPF statement on Section 3 of the second revised draft political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The fourth consultations on a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) took place in Geneva, from 6–8 April. WILPF delivered the following statement on Section 3 of the declaration, on 7 April 2022.

WILPF supports the comments on this revised text made by the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), of which WILPF is a steering committee member.

As an organisation, WILPF has a few points to raise or amplify:

3.3 is the core commitment of the declaration and must set the strongest possible standard. It should also be moved up in the declaration, as other commitments flow from it.

The goal should be to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This could be enacted through a commitment to not use EWIPA.

While WILPF welcomes a commitment related to addressing reverberating effects of the use of EWIPA, 3.4 seems to assume that attacks in populated areas are legitimate and will continue. This paragraph could be better qualified to avoid that presumption, for example by saying:

Assess and take steps to prevent direct, indirect, and reverberating effects on civilians and civilian objects, including by not using EWIPA, avoiding military operations in populated areas, and not treating civilian objects as military objectives.

To build on existing practice and to reflect the points about data collection in Section 1, there should be a commitment 3.4bis that “Establishes capabilities to track, analyse, respond to, and learn from incidents of civilian harm, including damage to civilian objects.”

3.5 should include references to risk education and risk reduction in the context of explosive ordnance. Environmental remediation could also be added to this paragraph.

I’d also like to make a general comment in response to those who continue to call for the declaration to narrow the scope to “indiscriminate use” or “illegal use” of EWIPA. This would undermine the humanitarian value of the declaration, making it only a political affirmation of states’ obligations to follow the law.

But we see every day that some states claim that their actions are in accordance with the law, or that the weapons they have sold into conflict are being used in accordance with the law—even while the devasting results are clear to all.

If 90% of casualties from the use of EWIPA are civilians even as militaries claim their actions are lawful, there is a serious problem. It means that states, whether they believe themselves to be in compliance with IHL or not, are still killing and injuring civilians and creating lasting damage and destruction by bombing towns, cities, and villages. It means that regardless of the alleged lawfulness of an attack, unconscionable harm is still resulting. If we are serious about protecting civilians, we cannot focus on intentionally indiscriminate attacks; we have to address all use of EWIPA.

We cannot sufficiently protect civilians just by calling on states to comply with law. As other delegations have pointed out, we need to change behaviour that is causing grave civilian harm. This declaration could be a starting point to do that, but only if it goes beyond restating existing obligations and commits states to undertake policies and practices that put civilian protection at the forefront.

Humanitarian needs have been sacrificed to so-called military necessity for far too long. We have a chance to save lives with this declaration and must take this responsibility seriously.


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