Debunking "collateral damage": Launch of Airwars' report on civilian damage

Destroyed building in urban environment Destroyed building in urban environment Musa Zanoun on Pexels

This article is a brief presentation of Airwars’ event for the launch of its latest report

On Monday 13 December, Airwars, a non-profit organisation founded in 2014 to monitor and assess military actions related to civilian harm in conflict zones, in collaboration with experts from INEW, Pax for Peace and Humanity and Inclusion, held an online webinar to launch its latest report 'Why did they bomb us? Urban civilian harm in Gaza, Syria and Israel from the use of explosive weapons', which addresses the protection of civilians in the context of the use of explosive weapons in urban environments.

Emily Tripp, the research manager at Airwars, explained the process of finding, scrutinizing, and archiving local sources on civilian casualties in the affected areas, as well as the main findings of the research. Specifically, civilians include those affected by Israeli attacks in Gaza, civilians injured in Israel by Palestinian rocket fire, and local victims of the Israeli campaign in Syria against Iranian-linked forces.

Laura Boillot, Coordinator for the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) and Programme Manager at Article 36, underlined the fact that weapons systems such as aircraft, bombs, artillery, heavy mortars, rocket systems and missiles were designed solely for use in open battlefields, and consequently any use of such weapons in populated areas results in harm to civilians, whether directly, indirectly or through a domino effect. Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, the Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager at Humanity and Inclusion, spoke extensively on this point in her presentation on the long-term impacts on individuals affected by the use of explosive weapons. With regard to civilian populations, in addition to the very high levels of civilian casualties and injuries, there is also the psychological damage of people living under bombardment (a damage that is invisible but takes years to be processed); the destruction of civilian infrastructure, such as homes, hospitals, schools, often located in urban centres; but also the destruction of essential services such as energy supplies, water and sanitation. All this damage has enormous local effects and lasts for a long time. Explosive weapons not only have immediate effects due to detonation, but also cause high levels of contamination in urban environments for several days afterwards, from the ground to the inside of homes. "It is very disturbing that we always find the same results, which leads us to understand that it is fundamentally this model of weapons that creates serious humanitarian consequences", she said.

Saba Azeem, Project Lead for Human Security Survey in Iraq for PAX for Peace, reported the story of eight-year-old Omar, who was injured by the detonation of an explosive weapon. Unfortunately, the hospital was also destroyed that day and his wounds were not treated. He did not receive medical treatment until a year later, but by then the scars on his face had become permanent. On his return to school, Omar was taunted and bullied by the other children because of his appearance and had to change schools several times. Saba recalled "it is not only the material damage that needs to be taken into account, but also the psychological damage".

The presentation concluded with contributions from two members of the European Parliament, Samuel Cogolati of the Green Party of Belgium and vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Alyn Smith of the Scottish National Party's foreign affairs spokesperson and MP for Stirling, and a remark on the International Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons. Regarding the latter, consultations are scheduled for February 2022 in Geneva, and will restrict the use of explosive weapons in cities and other populated areas. It aims to: set new international standards and expectations of behaviour (in doing so, it should stigmatize harmful practices); commit states to action through policy and operational changes that can be implemented nationally and internationally; and finally commit states not to use explosive weapons when they have wide-ranging effects in populated areas.


Author: Eleonora Lombardi; Editor: Jasmina Saric

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