Towards a declaration to outlaw explosive weapons in populated areas

 Rubble in the city of Aleppo, Siria Rubble in the city of Aleppo, Siria © Photo by Jorge Villalba on iStock

In Focus by: Carla Leonetti; Editor: Francesca Mencuccini

At the beginning of March, Ireland hosted informal consultations devoted to reducing the impact on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). Discussions on this issue have been going on for years already, and have resulted in a draft declaration that limits the use of EWIPA, as part of a broader effort to adopt an official document restricting the use of such weapons.

As urbanization grows, cities tend to be increasingly involved in the violence of conflicts. Countless cities have been devastated by explosive weapons during armed conflicts, including Mosul, Aleppo, Raqqa, Taiz, Donetsk, Fallujah, Sana’a, and Sinjar, whose 70 percent of house stocking was destroyed during the conflict in Iraq, according to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG). As reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 2019, the number of people suffering from the impact of war in cities amounted to 50 million. Explosive weapons in urbanized areas are particularly destructive as their effects are not limited to the intended target, but affect the surrounding civilian population as well. The content of the declaration restricting EWIPA has been cause of disagreement among states, as some have complained that such a document would impose further limitations which are not explicitly outlined in International Humanitarian Law (IHL). On the other hand, the ICRC has upheld the need for such a declaration precisely to facilitate compliance with IHL and ensure the safety of civilians.

The Mines Advisory Group, devoted to the removal of landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs from conflict-affected areas, has defined the declaration as “an invaluable opportunity that must not be wasted”, also stressing the importance of education on the threat posed by  explosive ordnance to protect civilians in risk areas until the removal of remnants of war.



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