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Countries debate draft political declaration to protect civilians from bombing in populated areas

Press Release | London, 3rd March 2021, 12:00 GMT

Devastated cities in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and beyond; thousands of families unable to return home because of destruction and explosive contamination; lives shattered by death and disabling injuries… States must urgently resolve the problem of bombing in populated areas. 

From 3 (today) to 5 March, States including the UK are meeting online to discuss the draft proposed for an international agreement against this scourge. States will meet again in the spring to negotiate the final text - the last chapter before a conference, when the international agreement will be opened for signature. HI calls on States to actively participate and support a strong agreement to guarantee civilians’ protection against urban bombings.

This Ireland-led process started in October 2019. The latest draft (Jan. 29) of the political declaration is available to read online with the title “Draft Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas.” More than 70 States are involved in drafting the international agreement. States will meet again in the spring in Geneva to negotiate the final text—the last chapter before the international agreement will be opened for signature at a subsequent conference in 2021.

Humanity & Inclusion calls on States to actively participate and to support a strong agreement to guarantee civilians’ protection against urban bombings.

Proposed text doesn’t go far enough

The international agreement would bring undeniable progress for the protection of civilians in modern conflict. Proposed text for the international agreement to address the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is circulating among State’s delegations. Text improvements are still needed:

  1. Civilian harm and suffering. The text should clearly describe and acknowledge the civilian harm and suffering that result from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of victims are civilians. The text must also recognize the long-term humanitarian impact of bombing in populated areas: Destruction of vital infrastructure, long-term displacement, contamination of land by explosive remnants…
  2. Systematic harm on civilians. The draft text states that the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas “can” have devastating impacts on civilians. The use of the word “can” is misleading: Evidence shows that these weapons always impact civilians when used in cities. This is why ICRC and the UN-General Secretary asked States to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Therefore, the political declaration must call for an end to the use of explosive weapons with wide-areas effect - the most destructive weapons - in populated areas.
  3. Wide-area effects. The draft declaration relates to explosive weapons with wide area effects but does not sufficiently explain the characteristics of these weapons: Many explosive weapons with wide-area effects used in urban warfare were originally designed for open battlefields. Heavy bombs and inaccurate weapons put entire neighbourhoods at risk, multiple rocket systems simultaneously fire over a wide area, munitions produce large blast and fragmentation effects...
  4. Victim assistance. Humanity & Inclusion appreciates that victim assistance is part of the political declaration. But the commitment to assist victims should be strengthened and made concrete enough to bring effective relief for those injured, survivors, family members of people killed and/or injured and affected communities.

Some States underplay danger

In their last written contributions to the text of the political declaration some States - notably France, Belgium, Canada, United Kingdom and Germany - related the problem of human suffering caused by explosive weapons to the “indiscriminate use” of these weapons and introduced the modifying “can” language. The text should definitively address the indiscriminate or disproportionate effects of these weapons, especially the effects of explosive weapons with wide-area effects, as it is well documented that their use in populated areas is always indiscriminate.

Some States, like the United States or France in their joint paper, prefer to focus on violations by non-States armed groups. This reduces the scope of a political declaration and leaves out the responsibility of all States party to a conflict. The United States' written submission on the draft text from 2020 may be read online here.

Humanity & Inclusion considers that there is a minimum standard on which States have to agree on: States should unconditionally support not to use the most destructive weapons in cities, as the United Nations and ICRC urged in 2019.

During the March 3-5 discussions, any new written submissions from States on the draft will be published on this web page.

Reaching an international agreement

Humanity & Inclusion and members of the International Network of Explosive Weapons (INEW) are working with States to convince them to fully support a strong political declaration to end human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and to ensure support to the victims of these weapons.

The draft of the international agreement is at its final stages of negotiation between States, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society.

“Over and over again, we see the human suffering caused by urban bombing. It must stop. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and recently in Nagorno-Karabakh, we have witnessed disastrous consequences for civilians in cities subjected to carpet-bombing. We have won the fight against landmines (1999) and cluster munitions (2008), we have now a historic opportunity to clearly say ENOUGH to urban bombings. States must recognise the indiscriminate human suffering caused by bombing in populated areas and their lasting effects. They must protect civilians,” says Anne Hery, Director of Advocacy at Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity & Inclusion’s Reports on the impact of explosive weapons:


- Interviews with Humanity & Inclusion's experts upon request.

Press contact

Lucy Cottle, Humanity & Inclusion UK
Email: [email protected]
Mobile: +44 (0)7504989280

About Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict, and disaster for 39 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects, and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and the winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion acts and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.

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