The government of Ireland is currently leading the coordination of a process to develop an international political declaration in 2020, through which states will make commitments to better protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

In conflicts all over the world – in countries such as Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of harm to civilians. Explosive weapons are a broad category of weapons, all of which project blast and fragmentation around the point of detonation.

Explosive weapons that have wide area effects are especially problematic when used in populated areas. In this paper, which was developed as a background note to the consultations on a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas that are currently ongoing, Article 36 and PAX elaborate the link between the technical characteristics of these weapons and the risk they pose to civilians.

The paper sets out: the three characteristics that create wide area effects, either individually or in combination (large explosive content, inaccuracy of delivery, and multiple warheads or firings); the direct harm caused; and the indirect harm caused.

Article 36 and PAX recommend a political declaration on explosive weapons should recognise that:

  • Explosive weapons create powerful forces that affect the area around the point at which they detonate.
  • Weapon users should understand the area and nature of effects their weapon systems are likely to create in different configurations of use.
  • In populated areas, effects that extend beyond or occur outside a military objective can be expected to cause harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects, due to civilians being concentrated in such locations.
  • Militaries should have operational policies and procedures that work to avoid use, in populated areas, of explosive weapons where they will create such wide area effects.
  • Militaries should have operational policies and procedures to evaluate the possible indirect and reverberating effects that may result from the use of different explosive weapons in populated areas, and should include these factors in legal evaluations.

Download this paper

Explosive weapons with wide area effects and risk to civilians

Background note for political declaration consultations

February 2020


Featured image: People stand on rubble of damaged buildings after an airstrike in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta, in Damascus, Syria Janauary 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh