Statement by Article 36 at the 17 June 2022 meeting on the political declaration to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
By Simon Bagshaw
Article 36 statement
Delivered by Simon Bagshaw, Geneva, 17 June 2022
Let me begin by expressing our warm appreciation to Ireland and to you, Ambassador, and your team, for leading this process, in at times challenging circumstances, and for bringing this phase to a successful conclusion today.
We also warmly thank the states that came before you, in particular Austria, and all those that have contributed constructively to the discussions over the years.
It’s been more than a decade since we – civil society, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross – began drawing attention to the devastating humanitarian and broader consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Back then, our concern was motivated by what we were seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
Today, some of the contexts have changed, but we still see the same consequences, the same pattern of harm to civilians, in Ukraine, but also in Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
And that pattern will continue, or will worsen, unless we collectively work against it.
Recognizing and acknowledging that there is a problem to be addressed is the fundamental starting point for tackling that problem.
The states that join this Declaration (and we are encouraged to hear that many in this room intend to do so) will be recognizing that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is associated with a consistent pattern of harm to civilians. A pattern of deaths and injuries, of psychological scars, of population displacement and of long-term damage to the fabric of social and economic life.
This pattern goes beyond the individual, case-by-case, interpretations of international humanitarian law by parties to conflict; and it goes beyond what might be directly foreseeable from individual choices. But, over time, this pattern represents the greater part of the suffering experienced by people in conflict.
This Declaration commits states to work to address these harms: to better understand the effects of explosive weapons; to review and develop policies and practices that impose stronger limits on the use of weapons; to assist victims; and to work together collaboratively, and with the wider community of stakeholders, to strengthen the protection of civilians.
Article 36 looks forward to continuing to build an evidence-based conversation, across different technical communities, on how to prevent and reduce harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. And we look forward to working with all states that join this declaration – to build a community of practice, in a collaborative spirit.
Of course, a collaborative spirit should also mean that we can engage in frank conversations.
We will continue to push states to recognize that the use of wide area explosive weapons, where the weapon’s effects cannot be contained to a specific military objective, should be avoided in populated areas.
Similarly, we look forward to operational conversations about the tracking of civilian harm during military operations; and on how work to assist victims can be better implemented and supported, amongst other subjects.
And we will need to set and maintain an expectation that joining this declaration will be followed up with action and with change. The Declaration, after all, provides space for states to come to stronger national positions over time.
Continued, open and consistent communication between all parties will provide a solid foundation for the effective implementation of the declaration – and also to the process of bringing more states on board over time. We know that not all states will join this Declaration, and we should not have any anxiety about that.
So, the pattern of harm from explosive weapons will continue, or worsen, unless we collectively work against it.
45 years ago this month, saw the adoption of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions – which pushed back against the carpet-bombing of towns and cities. Our social understanding of what is acceptable in conflict is shaped by our reactions to the harms we are presented with, and by our choices.
Joining this Declaration should communicate a choice to keep pushing back against the acceptability of widespread bombing and bombardment in urban areas.
We have no illusions that this Declaration will solve that problem. But it can help to build a collaborative conversation that keeps us pushing, as best we can, towards stronger protection of civilians.
In this regard, Ambassador Gaffey, your work has also established a tone of communication, and a sense of cooperation and engagement, that will serve us all – and the declaration – well in the next phase.
Thank you Chair.