In the course of ongoing consultations on a political declaration to address the harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons in cities, towns and other civilian populated areas, critical questions have been raised about the connections between multilateral political action on explosive weapons and the obligation to protect civilians under international humanitarian law (IHL).

This background note prepared for the consultations addressed the questions:

  • Is civilian harm caused by explosive weapons or by non-compliance with IHL?
  • How do area effects of explosive weapons impact the risk of civilian harm?
  • How do area effects and the risk of civilian harm impact compliance with IHL rules on the protection of civilians?
  • How can a political declaration on explosive weapons promote IHL-compliance?

A political declaration that aims to bring about a change in military policy and practice to better protect civilians from the effects of explosive weapons would facilitate and promote compliance with IHL rules on the protection of civilians by recognising the particular risks created by the use of weapons that affect an area with blast and fragmentation in locations where civilians and civilian objects are concentrated and identifying and promoting measures to reduce that risk. In time, the commitments expressed in the declaration and the collective effort to implement them may also help clarify and foster agreement regarding the open question of IHL-compliance posed at the outset.

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Protecting civilians from the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas: questions of IHL compliance

Background note for political declaration consultations

February 2020


Featured image: Residents of Al Mishlab, east of Raqqa returning back home to check their houses and belongings. © Diala Ghassan/MSF