The Permanent Mission of Austria held a side event on preventing harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on 6 October, 2016 during 71st Session of the General Assembly First Committee. Three experts were invited to discuss the importance of the prevention of harm from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. They were Mr. Martin Butcher from Oxfam, Ms. Roos Boer from PAX, and Ms. Laura Boillot from the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).
Mr. Martin Butcher from Oxfam started the presentations by discussing areas of in the Middle East where explosive weapons in populated areas have been identified. A variety of rockets and bombs are being used in Syria and in Yemen, and it is believed that Mosul, Iraq will be subjected to explosive weapons when the government starts its offensive to recapture the city from the Islamic State. In Aleppo, Syria, the civilian area has been massively destroyed, including the water mains, depriving civilians who remain in the city access to clean water. In Yemen, he stated his belief that both sides of the war were committing international humanitarian law violations, noting that many interviewed refugees claim to have left their cities due to the bombings in civilian areas. Lastly, in Mosul, Iraq, the city is currently occupied by the Islamic State. More than three million people are displaced throughout the country and 1.2 million civilians remain in Mosul. He noted that the Iraqi government is prepared for a full frontal and quick liberation attempt, which he believes will undoubtedly result in civilian causalities.
The second expert, Ms. Roos Boer from PAX, discussed the wide area effects from explosive weapons and how they affect a populated area. She explained the three characteristics that result from explosive weapons. These are: a substantial blast and fragmentation radius, inaccuracy of delivery, and the use of multiple warheads or multiple firing. These three characteristics could be present either individually or in combination. She provided illustrations of the different characteristics that can be created as a result of explosive weapons.
The final expert Laura Boillot from INEW, a network that is focused on explosive weapons prevention, followed up by explaining the need of an international political declaration to promote a clear international standard of peace. The key elements of this declaration would include the recognition of the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons as well as commitments to provide more protection to civilians. With the help of this declaration, States could work together to achieve operational policy and practices for the better protection of civilians.
Drafted by Kathryn Smart