Today states, civil society, and international organisations meet in Geneva to finalise a milestone international agreement on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The political declaration will serve as an important contribution to the protection of civilians from the extensive harm caused by bombing and shelling in towns and cities laying out an agenda for further action by states. This includes imposing limits on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, gathering data and working to address the immediate and long-term effects on civilians including from damage to infrastructure, and providing assistance to victims and affected communities.
Explosive weapons devastate towns, cities and other populated areas. Data shows that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of the victims are civilians. Critical infrastructure is damaged and destroyed, disrupting water and power supplies which, in turn, affects the provision of essential services and healthcare to the wider civilian population. Homes, schools, and places of work are destroyed, and people are forced to flee. Continuous bombing and shelling results in unexploded ordnance contamination, which poses a threat to the safe return of civilians to their homes, as well as the recovery of infrastructure and the environment, long after the conflict has ended.
Roos Boer, project leader humanitarian disarmament for PAX and steering committee member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), is present in Geneva: “Ukraine is one current example of the devastating consequences civilians face when towns and cities are bombed. Unfortunately this is a worldwide pattern of harm that we see over many years, including in Gaza, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Ethiopia. Civilians pay the price and we need to do better to protect them from this harm.”
Over 65 participating states
The Geneva meeting will mark the end of a three-year process to develop the political declaration under the leadership of Ireland. More than 65 states have participated in this political declaration process, including The Netherlands. Boer:” We call upon the Netherlands to endorse the political declaration at the earliest opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to strengthening the protection of civilians in armed conflict.”
A signing conference for the declaration is expected to take place later this year.