People's Stories Peace

UNICEF appeals to all parties to de-escalate situation in Israel, State of Palestine
by UNICEF, United Nations Children's Fund, agencies
3 Feb. 2023
UN rights chief appeals for Israelis and Palestinians to end ‘illogic of escalation’.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Friday urged an end to the “illogic of escalation that has been building up, to the detriment of the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis”.
“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion that have singularly failed in the past, I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Turk said.
“I fear that recent measures being taken by the Government of Israel are only fuelling further violations and abuses of human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.”
“Last year saw record numbers of Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem – and the highest number of fatalities of Israelis inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank in many years. Already this year, we have seen more bloodshed, more destruction, and the situation continues to grow more volatile,” he added.
There have already been several reports of violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, particularly in the occupied West Bank over the past week.
“Rather than fuelling a worsening spiral of violence, I urge all those holding public office or other positions of authority – indeed everyone – to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’,” Türk said. “Such fomenting of hatred is corrosive for all Israelis, Palestinians, all of society.”
The High Commissioner called for urgent measures to de-escalate tensions, including – crucially – ensuring that killings and serious injuries are investigated in accordance with international standards.
Turk called on Israel to ensure that all operations of its security forces in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, are carried out with full respect for international human rights law, in particular the rules regulating the use of force in law enforcement operations. Use of firearms is allowed only as a last resort, when there is an imminent threat to life or serious injury.
“The people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory need their leaders to work – urgently – to create conditions conducive to a political solution to this protracted, untenable situation,” Türk stressed.
29 Jan. 2023
UNICEF calls for the protection of all children amidst increased violence in the State of Palestine and Israel.
“UNICEF is alarmed by the latest escalation of violence that has left many children dead and injured in the State of Palestine and Israel. All children are entitled to special protection under international human rights law, and all their rights including the right to life and protection must be upheld at all times.
“Children continue to pay the highest price of violence. Since the start of 2023, 7 Palestinian children and one Israeli child have been killed. Many more were injured or have been affected by the spiral of violence.
"As the situation remains very volatile, UNICEF fears that an increasing number of children will suffer.
“UNICEF appeals to all parties to de-escalate, exercise the utmost restraint and refrain from using violence, especially against children, in accordance with international law.
“Violence is never a solution, and all forms of violence against children are unacceptable. This must end.”
27 Jan. 2023 (UN News)
The UN Secretary-General on Friday strongly condemned Friday’s terrorist attack by a Palestinian man outside a synagogue in a Jerusalem neighbourhood which has left at least seven Israelis dead, and three others injured.
According to news reports, the incident happened in the Neve Yaakov district in the middle of the evening local time. Israeli police said the attacker, identified as a Palestinian from the Shu’fat refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem, had been “neutralized” at the scene.
In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, António Guterres extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed, and wished a prompt recovery for those injured.
“It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship, and on the very day we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day”, the statement said.
“There is never any excuse for acts of terrorism. They must be clearly condemned and rejected by all.”
Friday’s incident followed on from a worrying escalation in violence in recent months, and the deaths of nine Palestinians, militants and well as several civilians, at a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin on Thursday, following an Israeli raid targeting what they said was an active group of Islamic Jihad militants.
Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into Israel in response, which Israeli forces met with air strikes on the Palestinian enclave.
“The Secretary-General is deeply worried about the current escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory”, said the statement. “This is the moment to exercise utmost restraint.”

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Explosive weapons: Civilians in populated areas must be protected
by ICRC, INEW, OCHA, HRW, UNICEF, agencies
Nov. 2022 (INEW, ICRC)
Today in Dublin, Ireland 82 countries officially endorsed the Political Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, which had been finalised on 17 June 2022 in Geneva.
The declaration is the culmination of a decade-long advocacy effort led by the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the United Nations and almost three years of diplomatic negotiations led by Ireland.
The civilian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is extensive and well-documented. On average, 90 percent of the people who are killed or injured when explosive weapons are used in populated areas are civilians.
Damage to or destruction of buildings, homes, infrastructure, and other civilian objects further exacerbates civilian suffering by disrupting access to services critical for the civilian population, including education and health care, and driving displacement.
These direct and indirect effects of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas have affected countless civilians in recent and ongoing armed conflicts across many countries.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the leading cause of civilian casualties in armed conflict, and the declaration is the first formal international recognition that this must be addressed urgently and directly.
The declaration promotes stronger standards to protect civilians and commits states which endorse it, to take action to implement it by making changes to their national policy and practice, including military policies and operational rules of engagement.
The 82 endorsing countries came from all regions of the world and include major producers of explosive weapons, past users of explosive weapons in populated areas, and countries affected by armed conflict.
Statement by ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric, Dublin, November 2022.
"It gives me great pleasure to join you here today to mark the adoption of a milestone declaration which emanates from our common goal to improve the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
This Political Declaration is a collective achievement with the potential to change the fate of many hundreds of thousands of persons affected by armed conflict around the world. It is a major step towards strengthening the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law where it matters the most.
The use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas is one of the major causes of civilian harm in today's armed conflicts. When fighting takes place in cities, men, women, and children are exposed to unacceptably high risks.
Whether in the Middle East, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and now also again in Europe, we continue to witness the devastating pattern of suffering and destruction they cause.
Countless lives are shattered, countless victims disabled and traumatized because they happened to be in these weapons' large impact area. Many more suffer, fall ill or even die when a bomb, missile or mortar damages critical infrastructure, cutting off vital services such as water, electricity, sanitation and health care.
Entire populations flee to escape bombing and shelling or because life in the ruins becomes unbearable. Many remain displaced for months or even years. Large regions are contaminated by unexploded ordnance long after hostilities have ended. Ultimately, whole generations are scarred, and development indexes are set back by decades.
When bombs fall in cities, pain multiplies. Lost lives. Lost limbs. Crumbled homes. Crushed dreams. That's why today's declaration is so important. It brings hope that the immense suffering of civilians will no longer be accepted as an inevitable by-product of warfare.
For the first time in an instrument of this kind, States acknowledge the gravity of the problem and commit to taking concrete actions to address it, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, where such use may be expected to cause civilian harm.
The ICRC welcomes this and the other important commitments in the Declaration. Since 2011, we have been calling on all States and parties to armed conflict to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas, as a matter of policy, due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.
This is why the ICRC finds this Declaration so important. It sends a powerful signal that belligerents cannot continue fighting in populated areas the way they have until now. This change in mindset and perspective is crucial. Yet, we are only at the beginning of a long process.
We must now work together to broaden support for the Declaration and to effectively implement it, turning ambitious commitments into meaningful measures, policies and good practices that will help alleviate human suffering during armed conflicts and in their aftermath.
All States have a stake in this effort. We commend the many Governments which have already endorsed the document and strongly encourage all others to do so without delay.
For one, as the urbanization of warfare is a global phenomenon, also its consequences are also global. From people displaced by armed conflict to the ripple effects of essential service disruption on food security, the effects of the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas transcend borders.
Second, the Declaration aims to strengthen compliance with international humanitarian law, which is today direly needed. All States have not only an interest in doing so, but also a legal duty.
And third, the Declaration creates an international standard of behaviour. The more States endorse the Declaration, the stronger this standard will become. Let us not forget that, today, no one fights alone. Partnered military operations and other support relationships shape the course of armed conflicts around the world.
As more and more States agree to restrict or refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas, partners and supported parties will eventually be held to the same standard.
So today we mark the achievement, but tomorrow we must work harder to put these important commitments into action. We owe this to the innumerable victims of urban warfare, and to our common humanity".
The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) noted by endorsing the declaration states marked their recognition of the harm done to civilians by explosive weapons and expressed their solidarity with the victims of such violence in countries around the world.
Delegations echoed this sentiment by repeatedly describing the direct and indirect harms caused explosive weapons used in populated areas in conflicts worldwide, citing violence in specific countries like Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, and a few – including Somalia, Palestine, and Croatia – taking note of the impact such violence has had on their own country in the past.
While noting the promise of the declaration to provide greater protection for civilians, many delegates noted that today marked only one milestone in a long path ahead, a starting point—not an end point. Delegates noted the need to increase the number of states endorsing the declaration and otherwise expand adherence to its norms.
They also called for a robust implementation process, with several states noting the utility of sharing good practices and otherwise collaborating to make sure the declaration makes a real difference on the ground.
Parliamentarians issued a Parliamentary Call to Action, already endorsed by 100 parliamentarians, urging all countries to adopt the declaration and to implement it in a “rapid, concrete and effective” manner.
They called for the creation of a “group of friends of the EWIPA political declaration” in national parliaments to encourage joint work within and outside the government on implementation, including via hearings, public questions, resolutions, media outreach, and public awareness-raising. They also called for collaboration among parliamentarians at the global level to exchange good practices.
* The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) is an NGO partnership calling for immediate action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It comprises more than 40 organisations from across 25 countries. The steering committee includes Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Article 36, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Humanity and Inclusion (HI), Human Rights Watch, PAX, Norwegian People’s Aid, Oxfam, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Save the Children and SEHLAC
Nov. 2022
States adopt first ever international agreement to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas. Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)
States met at Dublin Castle on 18 November, 2022 to sign the “Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas”. 
The landmark agreement addresses the widespread civilian suffering and devastation resulting from the bombing and shelling of cities, towns, and other populated areas.
The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) welcomes the declaration and calls on all states to sign and implement it.
“This declaration sends a clear message that using explosive weapons in populated areas causes unacceptable civilian suffering and devastation and must stop. It is time for all states to endorse and implement the Declaration to help civilians and their communities during and after conflict”, said Laura Boillot, Coordinator for the International Network in Explosive Weapons (INEW).
The Declaration requires states to impose limits on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which is the leading cause of harm to civilians in conflicts today.
“When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over a decade of data from AOAV has shown that civilians will be, by far, the most impacted. Around nine out of ten people harmed from such explosive weapon use in towns and cities have been civilians – a consistent finding seen throughout all conflicts in recent years,” said Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which runs a global annual monitor.
It also requires states to assist victims and affected communities both during and after conflict and to address the long-term suffering that stems from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Civilians suffer physical and psychological injury. Damage to and destruction of critical civilian infrastructure interferes with heath care, education, and other services. People are forced to flee the towns and cities in which they live and work.
“Nobody thinks about people like me, with no place to hide. This leads to psychological trauma. I was 12, in a wheelchair and terrified, but there was nothing anyone could do. When civilians are bombed it’s not only lives, cities and homes that are lost but also their future. I hope that signing the declaration will not be just a piece of paper – but the beginning of a real change. People suffering in wars around the world need it”, said Nujeen Mustafa, who fled from Aleppo, Syria to Germany.
“There is a widespread pattern of harm: when towns and cities are bombed, it is civilians that suffer the most”, said Alma Taslidzan Al-Osta from Humanity and Inclusion. Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine (Gaza), Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen are recent examples of affected counties.
“Children disproportionately suffer the consequences of today’s armed conflicts as city centres are turned into battlefields. This could be a significant step forward to stop the war on children, but the declaration will mean nothing without robust, urgent implementation”, said James Denselow, Head of Conflict at Save the Children, UK.
Explosive weapons were designed for use in open battlefields, and are often deadly choices when used in towns, cities and other areas in which civilians are concentrated.
“Heavy explosive weapons, which are inaccurate, have a wide blast or fragmentation radius, or are delivered in groups, are a deadly choice for civilians”, said Steve Goose from Human Rights Watch. “Use of explosive weapons with such wide area effects should always be avoided in populated areas.”
The text of the Declaration was finalised at the United Nations in Geneva on 17 June 2022, through a diplomatic process led by the government of Ireland.
States that sign the declaration must move quickly to begin the process of implementation. This includes developing policies and practices which limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and ensure that the protection of civilians is prioritized in the planning and conduct of military operations.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the leading cause of civilian casualties in contemporary armed conflicts, and the Declaration is the first formal international recognition that this must be addressed urgently and directly.
The declaration promotes stronger standards to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and commits states that endorse it, to take action to implement it with changes to their national policy and practice, including military policies and operational rules of engagement.
The declaration should be seen as a starting point—not an end point. A key area will be changing military practice away from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. There is much more that needs to be done to strengthen the protection of civilians and building stronger standards and driving forward significant changes takes time.
As the world urbanises, so does conflict. Civilians face bombing and shelling where they live and work. How wars are fought also changed: fighting and bombing often takes place in busy populated centres, with weapons designed for use in open battlefields.
A century ago, civilians made up 10–15% of casualties in armed conflict. By World War II, this rose to nearly 50%. By the 1990s civilians accounted for 80- 85% of armed conflict casualties, a rising trend which continued/ intensified, into the 21st century.
Today, when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of victims are civilians – a trend consistently documented for over a decade (AOAV). In the last decade, over 511,000 civilians were reportedly directly killed and / or injured by explosive weapons (AOAV)
The UN Secretary-General described the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as the “primary killer of civilians in conflict.
Attacks and the loss of housing and essential services – combined with leftover contamination from unexploded ordnance – triggers many civilians to flee or leave their homes.
14 Nov. 2022 (ICRC)
The heads of three UN agencies and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have jointly called on States to support and implement the political declaration on “Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.”
In conflicts around the world, civilians continue to endure the devastating consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. When used in cities, towns and villages, these weapons often have effects well beyond their targets. They claim countless lives and limbs, cause widespread destruction, and deprive people from essential civilian services, such as water and sanitation, electricity, health care and education.
The new declaration represents a major collective milestone in protecting civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict. It sends a strong signal worldwide that harming civilians and damaging cities is not a reality we should accept. It strengthens respect for international humanitarian law, notably by committing signatory States to restrict or refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, whenever such use may cause civilian harm.
The declaration will be launched at an endorsement conference in Dublin, Ireland, on 18 November 2022, after three years of consultations. In the last decade, the momentum for a political declaration has increased markedly, including through regional initiatives and civil society advocacy.
Given the high likelihood of indiscriminate and disproportionate effects resulting from their use, the UN and the ICRC have consistently called on all States and parties to armed conflict to avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas and to strive to take conflict out of urban centres altogether.
“Over the past decade, the United Nations System has worked closely with Member States, the ICRC, and civil society across the globe to encourage parties to put an end to the use of explosive weapons in towns and cities,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. “With this new declaration, countries will be taking a stand on the importance of protecting civilians, reducing harm and saving lives.”
The damage and destruction caused by the use of these weapons all too often results in long-term suffering, such as disability and psychological trauma.
Women, men, girls and boys are impacted in different ways, but all civilians suffer. This distress can and should be reduced and even prevented.
“Civilians already bear the greatest brunt in conflict, with explosive weapons in towns, villages and cities only adding to their despair in the short and long term,” said Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. “This new political declaration is an important step towards addressing this immense humanitarian catastrophe.”
The human cost of the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas typically reverberates long after the immediate impact, resulting in long-lasting disruption of essential civilian services and prolonged large-scale displacement.
“To bomb a home, school, hospital – any place children live, learn, or rely on – is indefensible,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “We are calling on countries to keep children safe by protecting them from the harms of urbanized conflict. Their lives and futures depend on it.”
Crucially, the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is at stake. The destructive impacts of explosive weapons on civilians and civilian homes, facilities and infrastructure jeopardize a number of global goals, including reaching food security, ending poverty, and building peaceful and inclusive societies.
Additionally, high levels of explosive ordnance contamination resulting from the use of such weapons in populated areas shatter lives and hamper reconstruction efforts long after hostilities cease. Large-scale, recurrent, and prolonged displacement also exposes people to grave dangers for their health, security, and well-being. Ultimately, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly weapons with wide-area effects, negates people’s fundamental human rights and threatens the future of entire generations.
“For the first time, States are committing to curbing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, a critical acknowledgement of the magnitude of the problem,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, President of the ICRC. “By endorsing and faithfully implementing this new political declaration, States can go a long way in alleviating civilian suffering and upholding international humanitarian law, which is crucial to preserve our common humanity.”
June 2022
Explosive Weapons: Declaration to Curb Civilian Harm. All Countries Should Pledge to Avoid Use in Populated Areas. (HRW)
A new political declaration holds great potential to protect civilians in armed conflict by having governments commit to avoid bombing and shelling populated villages, towns, and cities, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments will meet at the United Nations in Geneva on June 17, 2022 to conclude the final text of the draft Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.
Explosive weapons such as aerial bombs, rockets, artillery projectiles, and missiles not only kill and injure civilians at the time of attack but also have long-term ripple, or “reverberating,” effects. They damage infrastructure, which in turn interferes with basic services, such as health care and education, infringing on human rights. They also cause environmental damage and displace communities.
“Today’s armed conflicts show the urgent need to unite around the goal of preventing foreseeable harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “All countries should agree to the proposed declaration on curbing explosive weapons and work to implement it effectively to prevent civilian harm.”
In his 2022 annual report to the UN Security Council on the “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted this pattern of harm in calling for a declaration committing countries to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. The practice has inflicted immediate and long-term harm on civilians in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and other conflicts in recent years.
The political declaration advances the protection of civilians in several ways, Human Rights Watch said. It recognizes that both the direct and reverberating effects of explosive weapons are foreseeable when they are used in populated areas. And it notes that the risks increase depending on the weapons’ explosive power, level of accuracy, and the number of munitions used. Those factors create wide area effects and make explosive weapons an inappropriate choice for use in populated villages, towns, and cities, Human Rights Watch said.
The political declaration commits governments to undertake national policies and practices that strive to avoid civilian harm by “restricting or refraining from” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. That provision should be understood to mean that countries should refrain from using explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas and should restrict the use of other explosive weapons.
Other key provisions of the declaration include commitments to assist victims, facilitate humanitarian access, collect and share data about the effects of explosive weapons, and hold follow-up meetings to promote the commitments in the declaration.
While there is no specific prohibition against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, certain weapons, particularly those whose effects cannot be adequately limited, may be unlawful. Two types of explosive weapons – antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions – have been prohibited outright due to their inherently indiscriminate effects on civilians. These weapons should never be used by any armed force or group under any circumstances, Human Rights Watch said.
“If governments properly implement the declaration on explosive weapons, it has the potential to positively shape the behavior of militaries around the world,” Goose said. “The declaration’s success depends on articulating strong interpretations, setting standards in national policies, adapting military doctrine, and refining practices.”
Political declarations commit countries to achieve agreed-upon goals. While not legally binding, such commitments carry significant weight because they can help clarify existing international law’s applicability to a specific situation or outline standards for conduct that go beyond existing law. For example, the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, currently endorsed by 114 countries, seeks to restrict the military use of schools and keep children in school during conflicts.
The process to create a political declaration on explosive weapons began after Austria hosted a conference on “Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare” in October 2019. Ireland organized the first two rounds of consultations on the text in 2019 and 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the final diplomatic negotiations until this year.
More than 70 countries attended the last round of negotiations on April 6 to 8. Relevant UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and nongovernmental organizations also participated.
Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the International Network on Explosive Weapons, a coalition established by humanitarian, human rights, legal, and other groups in 2011 to push for such a declaration as well as for operational and policy positions aimed at ending the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
After agreement on the political declaration is reached, it will be opened for all states to endorse at a high-level signing event later in 2022.
“The explosive weapons declaration responds to a proven and devastating pattern of harm caused to civilians, which drives people to flee their homes and causes them to lose their livelihoods,” Goose said. “Countries that are committed to complying with the laws of war should not hesitate to endorse the declaration and ensure effective policies and procedures to carry it out.”
Feb. 2022
Explosive weapons: Civilians in populated areas must be protected. (ICRC)
As the world urbanizes, so too do conflicts. It is estimated that some 50 million people now suffer the horrific consequences of urban warfare – a trend that is likely to continue as more and more people concentrate in towns and cities.
Many of these conflicts are fought using weapons designed to deliver large explosive force from a distance and over wide areas. Many, if not all, of these weapons are ill-adapted for use in urban and other population centres.
Their impact is devastating. They destroy lives, livelihoods, vital infrastructure and people's futures. Their use should be avoided at all costs, says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a new report.
The report – Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects: A Deadly Choice in Populated Areas – analyses the main issues surrounding the use of such weapons. It is based on first-hand evidence from recent and ongoing armed conflicts, including in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Yemen.
The report calls for a change of mindset and provides a range of recommendations to prevent or mitigate the impact of these weapons and better protect the civilian population.
"The civilian toll of bombing and shelling is unacceptable. There is an urgent need for States and all parties to armed conflict to review and adapt their military policy and practice, and to avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas. These weapons should not be used in populated areas unless sufficient mitigation measures can be taken to limit their wide-area effects and the consequent risk of civilian harm." — ICRC President Peter Maurer
There is no general prohibition under international humanitarian law against using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas; however, such use must comply with all the rules governing the conduct of hostilities, notably the prohibitions against indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and the obligation to take all feasible precautions in attack.
Evidence gathered by the ICRC shows a pattern of extensive suffering among civilians – especially women and children – when military objectives located in populated areas are attacked with explosive weapons that are inaccurate or otherwise prone to wide-area effects.
These include artillery (guns and rockets), most mortars, multi-barrel rocket launchers, air-delivered general-purpose bombs, and large improvised explosive devices.
Given the density of civilians and civilian structures, the use of these weapons in populated areas is very likely to have indiscriminate effects or to violate the principle of proportionality.
But irrespective of its legality, the report shows that the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas causes:
High numbers of civilian deaths and injuries; Mental and psychosocial harm; Significant damage to and destruction of civilian property and critical infrastructure; Disruption of services essential to the survival of the civilian population, including water, electricity, sanitation and health care; Contamination by unexploded ordnance; Degradation of the natural environment; Displacement of the civilian population; Long-term consequences for development
Examples of the grim reality facing civilians in populated areas include:
In Iraq, in 2016, the ICRC documented 42 incidents involving the use of heavy explosive weapons in Fallujah, 37 of which were described as indirect fire consisting mainly of mortars and rockets. These 42 incidents left at least 115 civilians dead and 150 injured.
In Syria, it was estimated that 15.5 million people needed water, sanitation and hygiene services in 2019, partly because of heavy infrastructural damage sustained during the armed conflict, including from the use of heavy explosive weapons.
In Yemen, the destruction of Hayden Hospital in Sa'ada by air strikes, in 2015, left 200,000 people with no access to lifesaving medical care.
In Libya, between April and July 2019, the ICRC recorded the displacement of over 120,000 civilians mainly as a result of the continuous use of heavy explosive weapons in residential areas of Tripoli.
During the 2009 military operation in Gaza, children reportedly accounted for a third of all civilian casualties; of the 353 children who died, 82% were killed by heavy explosive weapons.
In Afghanistan, over 2,000 civilian casualties were recorded from indirect fire, including mortars, artillery and rockets, in 2020.
"The extent of civilian suffering and destruction in today's armed conflicts makes it urgently necessary for States and all parties to armed conflicts to reassess and adapt their choice of weapons when conducting hostilities in populated areas." — Cordula Droege, the ICRC's chief legal officer
The report issues several key recommendations to political authorities and armed forces on preventive and mitigation measures. They include:
The use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas to be avoided, i.e. that these weapons should not be used unless sufficient mitigation measures are taken to limit their wide-area effects and the consequent risk of civilian harm.
The protection of civilians to be explicitly identified as a strategic objective at the highest level, prior to military operations, and to be integrated into all military orders.
Armed forces to be equipped with and trained in the proper use of weapons and means and methods of warfare that are appropriate for use in urban and other populated areas.
Ensure critical civilian infrastructure is identified and mapped, and that this information is communicated to frontline military commanders.
"This report demonstrates that a political commitment to take action and change the unacceptable status quo is both urgently needed and possible: the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas should be avoided, and such an avoidance policy needs to be incorporated in military doctrine, education and training, and reflected in equipment and military decision-making processes," added Cordula Droege.

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