Wednesday, 21 February 2024
Wednesday, 21 February 2024

Update: Political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The last round of talks for governments to agree on a political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will take place on 2nd – 4th February 2022, at the Palais des Nations, Geneva. Two years after the start of the negotiations – which were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic – we are now only a few months away from a historic international agreement to protect civilians from the horrific impact of explosive weapons.   

The upcoming negotiations will gather representatives of states, UN agencies, international organisations and civil society to finalise an international agreement to prohibit the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas. This will be the third and final round of in-person consultations, after preliminary discussions in November 2019 and February 2020, in which around 70 states participated. Led by Ireland, this diplomatic process began in October 2019 but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, a high number of civilians have continued to be killed and injured by explosive weapons, making the resumption of talks even more pressing.

Following this final round of consultation in February 2022, the text of the political declaration will be submitted to states for signature a few months later.

Devastating humanitarian consequences 

An international agreement against the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas is needed urgently. Massive and repetitive use of these weapons in populated areas is one of the main causes of long-term humanitarian crises, and civilians are the main victims.

More than 50 million people were affected by conflict in urban areas in 2020, according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ annual report on the protection of civilians in war zones, released in May 2021. And 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians (AOAV). Those who are injured risk developing lifelong disabilities and severe psychological trauma.

Explosive weapons have devastating long-term effects. They destroy infrastructure that provides essential services such as health, water, electricity, and sanitation, on which civilians heavily rely, particularly in times of conflict. In Syria, for example, after 10 years of war, at least a third of the houses are damaged or destroyed. Major cities such as Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs have been largely destroyed by the massive and intense use of explosive weapons. 80% of the city of Raqqa was destroyed in 2017 (United Nations).

George Graham, Chief Executive of Humanity & Inclusion UK said:

“We are calling on all countries to unconditionally support an end to the use of the most destructive weapons in towns and cities, where civilians are 90% of the victims. But some states, including the UK, are trying to water down the text of the declaration. Britain should be setting the highest standards for military practice, not trying to undermine them.

“Over 250,000 people in the UK have signed Humanity & Inclusion’s petition to Stop Bombing Civilians. These people are standing alongside organisations and citizens from all around the world who are pushing for a strong declaration that protects civilians from heavy bombing,”

Many heavy explosive weapons used in urban warfare today were originally designed for open battlefields. Their use in such an inappropriate context puts entire neighbourhoods at risk. Multi-rocket systems fire simultaneously over a wide area and munitions cause large explosions and fragmentation. Many states already recognise the damage these weapons inflict and have expressed their concern and support for immediate action. Accordingly, 19 African countries through the Maputo Communiqué and 23 Latin American and Caribbean states through the Santiago Communiqué have issued strong commitments to address this urgent humanitarian problem.

In 2019, the UN Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for warring parties to refrain from using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas because of their devastating consequences for civilians.

Parliamentarians in European countries, such as France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, have brought the topic to the discussion at their national parliaments and demanded that their states contribute to the diplomatic process – with strong demands to strengthen the protection of civilians from explosive weapons.

However, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and China, among others, have strongly opposed any meaningful limitations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, even arguing that they do not want to ‘stigmatise’ this type of weaponry.

The UK public supports the campaign to stop the bombing of civilians 

More than 250,000 people in the UK have signed Humanity & Inclusion’s petition to Stop Bombing Civilians.


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