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“Stop Bombing Civilians” international agreement to be finalised this week

Press Release | London, 16th June 2022, 09:00 GMT

The closing consultation for an international agreement to better protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas will take place on June 17, 2022 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. More than 60 State delegations, as well as representatives of international and civil society organisations are expected to participate in the meeting at which the final version of the international agreement will be presented. This consultation will conclude a two-year diplomatic process. The final version will then be submitted to States for adoption at a conference to be organised in the coming months. Humanity & Inclusion will continue its dialogue with States to ensure that this agreement will effectively improve the protection of civilians living in conflict areas.  

“240,000 people were killed by bombing and shelling in populated areas between 2011 and 2020. Almost all the casualties of bombing in urban areas are ordinary people who were never involved in the fighting. It is an unacceptable evolution of modern conflict that civilians are now by far the main victims. Today, weapons such as 500kg bombs, designed for use in open battlefields and with an impact radius of several hundred metres, are dropped from planes on crowded cities. Such weapons show no mercy for civilians. Let’s be clear: the most destructive weapons should not be used in cities and towns. The international agreement against urban bombing being finalised today is a major step towards better protection of civilians in armed conflicts.“ says George Graham, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion UK. 

 

States consensus on the urgent need to commit to protect civilians 

Following the last consultations in April, State representatives reached broad consensus on the urgent need to commit to preventing the harm caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Several States appeared ready to exclude use of the heaviest explosive weapons from populated areas by including a presumption of non-use of explosive weapons with wide areas effects in populated areas. Many States declared themselves willing to share good practices on their use of explosive weapons in order to better protect civilians from these weapons.  

Two months later, the final version of the international agreement that will be presented on June 17 has a strong focus on the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons, including their reverberating effects. It contains strong language on victim assistance, clearance and risk education. 

 

  © V. de Viguerie / HI - End of March 2022. A missile fell in this residential area of Kiev. One

Impact on the ground depends on States political will 

But the agreement is less ambitious than expected on the limitation of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The impact of the international agreement on the ground will depend on States’ political will to fully commit tothe protection of civilians. If the agreement is endorsed by States impacted by conflict, as well as States that are actively participating in military operations, Humanity & Inclusion believes that this text provides a starting point for States to change military policies and practices to ensure better protection of civilians and civilian objects from explosive weapons.  

The conference on June 17 concludes a two-year diplomatic process launched at the Vienna conference in October 2019 with a view to draw up an international agreement that will reinforce the protection of civilians in war zones. Humanity & Inclusion has engaged tirelessly with States to obtain an agreement that should effectively put an end to the suffering endured by civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.  

“In two years of this diplomatic process, we have come a long way – from ignorance and denial on the part of States to their full acknowledgment of the consistent pattern of harm caused to civilians by the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities. But this international agreement is only the beginning; the next step will be its adoption by States, and the big question is who will sign it. The adoption conference is expected to take place before the end of the year. At Humanity & Inclusion, we will be pushing for the largest number of signatures possible, including from militarily-active governments like the United Kingdom” adds George Graham. 

90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians 

Massive and repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas is one of the main causes of long-term humanitarian crises, and civilians are the principal victims. 

Cities in Ukraine for example are currently enduring massive bombing. At least 8,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the beginning of the war on February 24, but the actual figures are certainly much higher. United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine says reports that “most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide-area effect, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.” 

Vital infrastructure, including hospitals, houses, water supplies, etc., has been destroyed by bombing. Twelve million people have already fled to neighbouring countries or other parts of Ukraine. This massive and systematic bombing of populated areas has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II. 

Explosive weapons also have devastating indirect and long-term effects. They destroy infrastructure providing essential services such as healthcare, water, electricity, and sanitation, on which civilians rely heavily in times of conflict.   

The UK public supports the campaign to stop the bombing of civilians  

More than 250,000 people in the UK have signed Humanity & Inclusion’s petition to Stop Bombing Civilians. 


Notes

  • Interview available upon request with Humanity & Inclusion experts to talk about the process  

Chronology of the diplomatic process  

  • October 2019: The political process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was launched at the Vienna conference. This conference was attended by 133 States. A majority of them announced their willingness to work on a political declaration to end the human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas  
  • November 2019: First round of consultations on the text of the political declaration 
  • February 2020: Second round of consultations with 70 States in attendance to discuss the political declaration  
  • March 2020: Restrictive measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic began and the in-person consultation process was suspended 
  • September 2020: Ireland organised a high-level panel followed by a webinar to address the challenges of urban warfare and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas  
  • March 2021: Informal online consultations. 
  • April 2021: The National Defence Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament adopted an historic parliamentarian resolution on the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas.  
  • May 2021: Parliamentarians from five different countries participated in the European Inter-Parliamentarian Conference on the future political declaration to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Since then, over 250 parliamentarians from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxemburg, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union have signed the European Inter-Parliamentarian Joint Statement.  
  • April 2022: Final round of consultations to negotiate the final text of the international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.  
  • June 2022: Final version of the text to be shared and concluded.  
  • Coming months (date tbc): Conference for the adoption by States of the international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. 

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