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UK seeking to water down historic political declaration to end the bombing of civilians

Press Release | London, 12th April 2022, 16:00 GMT

The final negotiations for a political declaration to address the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas were held from 6-8 April 2022 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Hosted by the Government of Ireland, representatives from more than 60 states, as well as international and civil-society organisations, participated in discussions that resulted in some real progress. However, some governments, including the UK, are still trying to water down the text of the declaration.  

 Key takeaways:   

  • With the wars that are currently raging in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen dramatically illustrating the severe humanitarian consequences of bombing in populated areas, States have 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 now appear ready to exclude the heaviest explosive weapons from use in populated areas by including in the declaration text a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.  
  • Many States expressed their willingness to share good practices on their use of explosive weapons in order to better protect civilians in populated areas. They also recognised that the international agreement will only be the beginning of a long process to improve the protection of civilians, and that the agreement will require ongoing monitoring to ensure full implementation. 

Focus on the UK:  

  • The UK stated the importance of this process and asserted its commitment to it. The British delegation also acknowledged the need for more systematic tracking of civilian harm and to engage in a follow-up process, including with civil society.   
  • But the UK sought to weaken the text, proposing amendments that would water down the central commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, arguing that the existing international legal framework is sufficient. 

“The discussions during the three-day negotiations progressed rather positively, with almost all participating states now recognising that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has an unacceptable humanitarian impact on civilians and that there is an urgent need to protect them from this practice. But some states, including the UK, are trying to water down the text of the declaration. This would be a huge failure of leadership. Britain should be setting the highest standards for military practice, not trying to undermine them.” says George Graham, Chief Executive, Humanity & Inclusion UK. “We know now that in early June the final text will be concluded. All governments must work to ensure that the declaration is as strong as possible so that it makes a real and meaningful difference for civilians caught up in conflict situations. Excluding heavy explosive weapons from populated areas must become the norm.” George Graham, Chief Executive, Humanity & Inclusion UK 

The final text will be shared at a concluding conference scheduled for the beginning of June. Humanity & Inclusion will continue to engage in dialogue with States to make sure that the declaration text effectively changes the situation for civilians living in conflict areas.


Notes

  • Interviews available upon request with George Graham, Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion UK

 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 to discuss the political declaration;
  • March 2020: Restrictive measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic began and suspended the in-person consultation process;
  • 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 a 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, signed the European Inter-Parliamentarian Joint Statement.
  • Avril 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.

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