Humanitarian Issues: Strengthening protection from explosive weapons

25 November, 2013
Effect of air strike in Al Bain Alawa, Sirte, Libya, October 2011. Credit: Action on Armed Violence/Simon Conway
Effect of air strike in Al Bain Alawa, Sirte, Libya, October 2011. Credit: Action on Armed Violence/Simon Conway

More than 50 humanitarian and other experts from Governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and civil society met in London recently to agree how to draw up a roadmap to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Aircraft bombs, artillery shells, missile and rocket warheads, mortar bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are explosive weapons currently used in conflicts around the world.

These weapons create a zone of blast and fragmentation which is indiscriminate and makes their use in populated areas highly problematic: civilians caught in the blast radius are killed and injured, hospitals and schools are damaged or destroyed, workplaces and agricultural land are rendered unusable and people are displaced from their homes. Explosive remnants of war pose a lethal threat long after the fighting has ceased.

In recent years, the need to better protect people from the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas has emerged as a priority concern for the United Nations, ICRC, civil society and an increasing number of States.  

In a report to the Security Council in May 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General recommended that military forces and armed groups refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. He further recommended that States, United Nations actors, international organizations and civil society intensify their consideration of the issue in order to strengthen the protection of civilians.

In response to that recommendation, OCHA, in partnership with leading international think tank Chatham House and with the support of Norway, convened the first meeting of experts to identify ways to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The meeting agreed that OCHA and other partners, including interested States, shouldfurther research specific aspects of the problem; collect operational good practice to form the basis for guidance to parties to conflict; and that States should formally commit to address the problem.

“This meeting provided the basis for a programme of work that could lead to tangible improvements in the protection of civilians from the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas,” said Greg Puley, Chief of the Policy Advice and Planning Section in OCHA.

OCHA continues to work with its partners to increase awareness of the issue and to develop practical measures to strengthen the protection of civilians from explosive weapons.

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