Peace in Progress Nº 26

A commitment to act: Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas

The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) has recently published a new document: A commitment to act. Protecting civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, with the aim of summarizing the issues related to the suffering of the civilian population in bombed cities and thus contribute to the work being done to prevent it. To that end, in the 26 pages comprising the booklet, the humanitarian problems caused by the use of explosive weapons are outlined, as well as the actions governments can undertake in order to address the problem. Specifically, it argues that states must develop a joint commitment to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Thus the document explains both the humanitarian problems arising from the bombings and the steps needed to reach a solution. It is divided into two parts: the first part provides an overview of the use of these weapons, referring to the concept of explosive weapon and the risk of harm, and defending that states have failed their responsibility.

The second part is more detailed, and includes statistics having a direct impact on the humanitarian problem posed by explosive weapons. At the same time, various legal and political considerations are discussed. In this respect, INEW intends to focus efforts on achieving a political commitment to reduce the harm inflicted on the civilian population by the use of explosive weapons. For this reason, emphasis is placed on the urgency of stopping bombings in populated areas, as well as the need to review national policies and practices in order to carry out changes that would bolster the protection of civilians. It also advocates the importance of a comprehensive compilation of data on the impact of explosive weapons, as well as short- and long-term recognition of the rights and needs of survivors, relatives of those killed or wounded, and the affected community in general.

Previously, INEW had published The impact of explosive weapons in populated areas, a short video that summarizes, in the word s of various experts from non-governmental organizations, the humanitarian impact of bombings and the work carried out by INEW to address this problem.

Protecting Civilians from the Effects of Explosive Weapons, de Maya Brehm

Maya Brehm, a researcher in international humanitarian law at the Geneva Academy, directed a research project in 2012 with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), which has been published in the book Protecting civilians from the effects of explosive weapons. The study analyzes how explosive weapons are regulated in international law and policy, what constraints are placed on the use of explosive weapons, and how civilians are protected against their effects.

The book consists of four chapters: In the first one, there is a contextual analysis surrounding the concept of explosive weapon. The second chapter discusses normative regulation through current normative texts in terms of arms control, the implementation of law and human rights, the protection of civilians, and security and terrorism. The third chapter discusses the scope of the problem, stating that the use of explosive weapons is generally inconsistent with a context of law enforcement. Therefore the systematic crossing of boundaries, which is a violation of human rights, is denounced.

In the fourth and final chapter, the author recommends, by way of conclusion, the systematic description of humanitarian harm, as well as a detailed evaluation of both the risk of harm and the measures taken to reduce this risk.

The book states that the dominant legal and policy discourse fails to articulate the serious risk of harm inherent in the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in a way that adequately protects civilians. Thus the author stresses that harm could be reduced and the protection of civilians truly enhanced through specific regulations.

Expert meeting. Explosive weapons in populated areas: Humanitarian, legal, technical and military aspects.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has advocated abandoning the use of explosive weapons with effects on densely populated areas because of the significant likelihood of indiscriminate consequences.  In February of last year, for example, the ICRC held a two-day meeting of experts on the subject.  The meeting took place in Switzerland with the participation of government experts from seventeen countries, representatives of UN agencies and of NGOs.

The most important ideas expressed by speakers and participants at the meeting, as well as the main findings, have been included in the report Explosive weapons in populated areas: Explosive weapons in populated areas. Humanitarian, legal, technical and military aspects. This document is divided into three sections. The first section presents, by way of introduction, the key points of the meeting. The second section contextualizes the problem and explains the background to the issue of explosive weapons in populated areas from the perspective of the ICRC. The text is based on the statement of Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the ICRC, at the opening session of the meeting. The third and last section summarizes the presentations and discussions that took place at the meeting.  They are structured around four sessions that addressed the humanitarian, legal, technical and military aspects arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

I know I’m not alone, Michael Franti

Michael Franti is a musician and poet known for his participation in various projects with an emphasis on political and social justice issues. The documentary film I Know I’m Not Alone, the title of one of the artist and director’s songs, grew out of Franti’s frustration at watching the news and listening to various politicians and experts discuss the political and economic cost of the war in the Middle East without mentioning the human cost. This is why he decides to travel to Iraq, Palestine and Israel to explore the human cost of the war with a group of friends, some video cameras and his guitar. The aim is to learn about the war through the eyes of doctors, nurses, poets, artists, soldiers and musicians. The experiences he lived through and the stories he heard are described in this film.

© Generalitat de Catalunya

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