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Blog: The UK needs to protect civilians from explosive weapons

Explosive weapons
International United Kingdom

Aleema Shivji, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion UK, argues that more needs to be done to stop the bombing of civilians.

Nada, 10, was seriously injured in a bombing in Mosul.

Nada, 10, was seriously injured in a bombing in Mosul. | © Peter Biro/HI

How is it ok for us to stand by and watch innocent civilians killed or injured in wars that aren’t of their making?

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 92% of all the victims are civilians. Bombing civilians is not war, it’s a crime!

Every day, I hear heartbreaking stories from my colleagues supporting people who are part of the 92%. Behind this figure, there are children, men and women from countries such as Iraq, Syria or Yemen who were at home having dinner with their families or in the street playing with their friends when the bombs struck. Those that survive are often seriously injured, traumatised, and have lost one or more relatives. Survivors like Nada, a 10 year-old little girl from Mosul in Iraq who is supported by our rehabilitation team.

Nada was living in the part of the city which saw the heaviest bombing during the fighting in 2016 and 2017. In April, she was at home with her brothers, sisters and father when a rocket fell on their house. The bomb which struck the building was so powerful that Nada’s jaw was also broken.

Their neighbours rushed them to the hospital. Tragically Nada’s brother and sister did not make it and died on the way. On that night, there were so many injured people that it took hours before Nada was seen by a doctor. Both Nada and her father had to have their legs amputated. If Nada had been seen sooner her leg may not have needed to be amputated, but hospitals are overwhelmed on a daily basis.

Sadly Nada’s story is one of thousands. Amputations, fractures and spinal cord injury are amongst the most common injuries seen by our rehabilitation teams in Mosul and children like Nada make up one third of all the people injured by explosive weapons seen by our Mosul teams.

Civilians killed or injured by air strikes was almost 50% higher in 2017 than in 2016. A terrifying figure of which we are witnessing the consequences in the suffering and trauma of the population impacted by bombings.

I feel it’s my duty to share stories of children like Nada with the world, in the hopes that you, the reader, will join me in calling out these atrocities, and stop the bombing of civilians.

Present-day conflicts are increasingly fought in urban areas and parties to conflicts appear to think it's normal to bomb densely populated areas, including towns and cities, without regard for civilian lives.

But bombing civilians is not war, it’s a crime!

According to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), all precautions must be taken to protect civilians and they must not be subjected to indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.

Along with civilian deaths and injuries, the practice of using explosive weapons in the places where people live, work and go to school has appalling long-term effects. The destruction of infrastructure, rising food insecurity, loss of livelihoods, lack of access to education and health provision as well as forced displacement are some of the consequences.

The need to provide greater protection for civilians is urgent.

All States, including the UK, have a responsibility to ensure they are doing everything they can to protect civilians such as Nada and her family caught up in conflict.

The UK has an informal lead role on the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians and is amongst 90 States to have recognised humanitarian concerns over the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a key member of US-led coalition forces undertaking military operations in Syria and Iraq we urge the UK to increase its efforts to protect civilians in armed conflicts.

More needs to be done to stop the bombing of civilians.

Aleema Shivji, Executive Director Humanity & Inclusion UK

Since 1st September, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) has been appealing to politicians in the UK  and around the world to take a stand against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas by signing the Stop Bombing Civilians petition and championing this cause in parliament.

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