PoC WEEK 2022: Developing stronger standards to protect from EWIPA

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This is a brief report of the side event the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

On 26 May, during the fourth day of the PoC Week, representatives of Chile, New Zealand, Austria, OCHA, ICRC, INEW, and Human Rights Watch, met in order to discuss the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The meeting focused on the discussion of repercussions of heavy explosive weapons in populated regions on civilian safety. Particularly, it has been continuously underlined that people are in grave danger of dying or being seriously injured, while damage to and destruction of housing and essential infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools, causes even more harm and has long-term consequences for communities and their well-being. The specific cases of Ukraine, Gaza and Ethiopia were then analyzed to provide concrete examples.

The meeting was chaired by Amb. Alexander Marschik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, who introduced the discussion remarking that the terrible humanitarian harm caused by explosive weapons is a continuous problem and both states and organizations must face it. His statement was followed by the one of the Chargé d’Affaires of Chile, René Ruidiaz; the most important point that he emphasized concerned the survivors of attacks by explosive weapons who need specific support, as often they face disabilities and traumas. Moreover, Mr. Ruidiaz reaffirmed the commitment of Chile on the support of PoC and on the share of best practices.

After these introductory statements, the panel discussion was opened and the first speech was made by Mr. Rich Weir, researcher in the Crisis and Conflict division at Human Rights Watch, who was talking from Ukraine where he is currently working. He stated that the devastation caused by explosive weapons is visible in every area and cities in Ukraine, from Kyiv to Mariupol damages are undeniable and continuous. In the Donbass region, where several apartments, schools and hospital were destroyed, doctors described the atrocities made on civilians, including children. Moreover,it is possible to observe the extent of these damages due to the presence of videos and photos documenting the use of explosive weapons by the Russian Army. Mr. Weir continued by analyzing the situation in Gaza, where civilians’ infrastructures are highly damaged, and in Ethiopia where HRW is documenting many deaths of civilians caused by explosive weapons. 

The floor was then passed to Mr. Aurelien Buffler Senior Policy Advisor in the Policy Development and Studies Branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who explained how OCHA is engaged in the PoC. Firstly, he underlined that in the attacks caused by explosive weapons, 90% of victims are civilians, and it is necessary to consider not only the immediate impact on the population, but also the long-term impacts, which last for years, even decades. On this, OCHA is asking for the full commitment and engagement of states, and for a better coordination between them; to improve this aspect, OCHA is using its position close to the Security Council to ensure the discussion on EWIPA among UN members. 

Afterwards, Ms. Laura Boillot, Coordinator of International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), talked about the importance of collecting data about civilians’ harm caused by explosive weapons. Data collection is fundamental to identify the victims and it helps the international community to develop strategies of the protection of civilians. She also underlines the necessity to involve civil society in the gathering of data. 

Finally, Dr. Eirini Giorgou, legal adviser in ICRC's Arms and Conduct of Hostilities Unit, explained four measures for prevent and mitigate the effects of weapons on civilians: first, states must acknowledge the risks of these weapons; second, states must make the protection of civilians their priority; third, they must introduce policies and practices to protect civilians; fourth, there are alternatives to these weapons that minimize the effects on civilians. The following statements of the representatives of the countries present, all remarked the commitment of these countries to the PoC.

In conclusion, it has been affirmed that changes in the military policies and practices are strongly necessary and that new guidelines for humanitarian workers are also desirable.

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