Article 36 statement delivered by Richard Moyes, CCW Meeting of State Parties, 16 November 2023
By Richard Moyes
Thank you, Chair,
As we meet today, civilians elsewhere are suffering from the use of conventional weapons causing severe harm and devastation.
The relentless and ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip is a clear and horrifying example.
And civilians in other contexts also continue to suffer – in Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, among other places.
This forum is founded upon a collective belief that there are limits to how we should be allowed to kill and injure each other, so in this context, it is shameful that the CCW cannot move forward through an agenda of work that should help to address current suffering as well as future risks of harm.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of direct suffering in conflict today, and such use also has long-term impacts for people and communities in the rubble – long after wars end.
The agreement and adoption by 83 states of the Political Declaration last year was a milestone achievement developed in response to the severe impact on civilians and communities.
Signing the declaration is an important statement of intent that must be acted upon now.
States that are determined to address this issue must start work to put this Declaration into practice through changes in national policy and practice, including by placing restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to avoid civilian harm.
Bringing about the change we want to see, also means speaking out when civilians suffer and to stigmatise harmful behaviour. In a context where we are seeing widespread suffering in Gaza, Ukraine and elsewhere from the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas – states must be attentive to acknowledging these harms, wherever they take place, and whichever actor is causing them.
The widespread support demonstrated last month at the UNGA’s First Committee through the resolution on autonomous weapons systems, demonstrates clear support for international law to address autonomy in weapon systems. This issue is fundamental to how we will understand and treat each other – as human beings, in conflict in the future.
We encourage all states to actively take part in the consultation process that the UNSG will undertake on this issue. And we hope that states will work beyond that, to build the partnerships needed to establish a legal instrument – through a forum that is open to all states and that cannot be blocked by a highly militarised minority.
Finally, chair, we must work to address the use of incendiary weapons, including white phosphorus, which have been used recently in Ukraine, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza with severe consequences for civilians.
High Contracting Parties must work to strengthen Protocol III – to strengthen its scope and rules, and to strengthen further the stigma associated with incendiary weapons.
And, the fact that the CCW cannot even establish an agenda item to work on this issue, undermines the credibility of this forum as basis for working on other issues in the future.
We meet in an increasingly polarised and divided international context, where the value and importance of rules and norms is increasingly under threat.
Those rules appeal to and affirm our shared humanity – across and despite political differences.
But such rules and norms will only hold us together, in our commitment to protect civilians, if we speak out wherever humanitarian protection is being jeopardised, whoever the actor.
And we have to be able to do better than we are able to do here. The mantra of the CCW as ‘the relevant forum’ or ‘the appropriate forum’ wears thin for people who see the reality of the meetings we are engaged in here.
There are serious humanitarian issues that need to be addressed in the world.
We appreciate your efforts chair – but States need to overcome their self-imposed constraints in order to work more seriously to address these issues.