New INEW briefing: elements for a successful political declaration
By Elizabeth Minor
Each year tens of thousands of civilians are killed and injured by bombing and shelling in towns and cities. Many more suffer from the damage and destruction of homes, hospitals and schools, as well as essential infrastructure, affecting the provision of vital services such as water and electricity.
States, international and civil society organisations are currently engaged in negotiations, expected to conclude later in 2021, on an international Political Declaration that can set stronger standards to protect civilians from use of explosive weapons in towns, cities and other populated areas. The government of Ireland is leading this process.
This political declaration offers the chance to increase the protection of civilians living through conflict, but only if it contains commitments that drive genuine change.
In a new briefing, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (which Article 36 coordinates) sets out ten essential elements for a successful declaration. We argue that a declaration must:
- Accurately and honestly describe and acknowledge civilian harm and suffering, as well as the impact on the environment
- Do more than simply reaffirm the importance of international humanitarian law
- Describe the factors that produce ‘wide area effects’ to promote understanding of the risks this presents to civilians when this occurs in a populated area
- Include a commitment by states that establishes a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas
- Commit states to tracking civilian harm in military operations
- Strengthen the commitment on gathering and sharing data on civilian harm
- Include a commitment to gather and share data on explosive weapon use
- Include a robust commitment to assist victims of explosive weapons
- Commit states to provide rapid an unimpeded access for principled and inclusive humanitarian assistance
- Address the follow up process: driving implementation and holding regular, open and inclusive meetings
INEW commentary on the declaration’s latest draft
Overall, we appreciate the government of Ireland’s leadership and efforts to develop the political declaration text, and believe the draft text provides a good basis for further discussion. We think it holds the potential to be an effective tool for strengthening the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Our key comments, which are elaborated in our paper are:
- The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes a well-documented pattern of harm in conflicts around the world, consistently causing high levels of civilian death and injury, psychological distress, and damage and destruction to buildings and infrastructure. As such, there needs to be a stronger and more accurate description and acknowledgement of the civilian harm and suffering that has resulted from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and which continues to occur, in the preamble. The corresponding commitments also need to be strengthened to address these harms.
The concept of explosive weapons with wide area effects is not sufficiently addressed or described in the text, its scope is too narrow, and the operative commitments to address wide area effects should be strengthened.
The core value of the political declaration is to establish a tool that can drive effective actions to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to establish an inclusive framework for implementation. This should be more effectively represented in the text.
Featured image: A local resident removes debris inside the house, which locals said was damaged during a recent shelling, in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko