Implementing the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Key Areas and Implementing Actions
By Simon Bagshaw
Later this month, states will gather in Dublin, Ireland, to endorse the new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The declaration represents the culmination of the combined efforts, spanning more than a decade, of states, the United Nations (UN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and civil society organizations to address the severe humanitarian consequences resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It is a landmark achievement with the potential to significantly strengthen the protection of civilians. Realising that potential will depend on the widespread endorsement of the declaration and its full effective implementation by states.
As outlined in the new Article 36 policy briefing – Implementing the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Key Areas and Implementing Actions – endorsement of the political declaration is an act of recognition of the harms experienced by civilians as a result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It is an expression of solidarity with those impacted and a promise to work to prevent and address future harms. While the declaration is not an international treaty giving rise to legal obligations for those states that join it, states that sign and endorse the declaration are committing – and will be expected – to act in good faith and take the necessary steps to implement the commitments they have voluntarily consented to.
Implementation of the declaration will require time: time for discussion and understanding within and between relevant government departments and national armed forces, in consultation with the UN, ICRC and civil society. And time to revise existing, or develop the new, policies, guidance, processes and tools required to give practical effect to the commitments contained in the declaration. In that sense, the declaration should be seen as setting an agenda for positive change and the progressive realisation of strengthened protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Endorser states must move expeditiously to begin the process of implementation so that a broad expectation and culture of implementation develops from the outset. As outlined in the policy briefing, full and effective implementation of the declaration will require endorsing states to take appropriate actions, including the revision of existing or development of new policy and practices, that seek to:
- Avoid civilian harm by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
- Protect civilians from the foreseeable direct and indirect or reverberating effects of military operations.
- Improve understanding of the impact of explosive weapons use on civilians and inform operational changes and effective responses through the collection and sharing of data.
- Ensure prompt and effective assistance to the victims of explosive weapons, their families and communities affected by armed conflict.
- Ensure an effective follow-up process to review and further the implementation and widespread adoption of the declaration.
The policy briefing explains why these different areas matter; what the declaration says in relation to each; and the actions required for their implementation.