Acknowledging the devastating civilian impact of bombing and shelling of towns and cities, 80 states came together today in Dublin to adopt a new international agreement to better protect civilians against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The agreement—the first of its kind—is the culmination of a three-year diplomatic process led by Ireland to negotiate a declaration to ensure both the protection of civilians and stricter implementation of international humanitarian law.
“We are in the beginning of what we hope is a new norm in international behavior in conflict,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “The United States is, for once, an early adopter of a Declaration that recognizes the sea change in the way governments are thinking about war in cities.”
To mitigate the disastrous impact of using weapons designed for open battlefields in urban areas and on civilians, the Declaration commits states to imposing greater restrictions on the use of explosive weapons. It further commits states to assisting victims of war and addressing the long-term impact of damage to civilian infrastructure.
“Today exceeded all our expectations," said Anne Héry Director of Advocacy at Humanity & Inclusion. “Urban bombing is a terror. For people enduring such inhumanity, it's incredibly important that 80 of the world's governments, including some of the world’s military powerhouses, have put their stamp on this agreement to avoid using explosive weapons in towns and cities. They have committed to prioritizing the protection of civilians, including by changing the way they train their own forces. By making clear that bombing or shelling of populated areas is not an acceptable military strategy, this declaration has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
“With 80 States already adopting this international agreement against urban bombing, we can enjoy renewed hope for the future,” Meer adds.
States that endorse the declaration must now, without delay, 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.
U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Claire Cronin, addressed the conference, saying the U.S. is proud to endorse.
“We believe this declaration will help States improve the protection of civilians and reduce human suffering in armed conflict," Cronin said. "Protecting civilians from harm in connection with military operations is not only a moral imperative, but also critical to achieving long-term success on the battlefield. The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated… Although the commitments set forth in this Declaration are already reflected in existing U.S. military policy and practice, the U.S. military continually strives to improve its policies and practices in this area…”
While we celebrate U.S. support, the country has scope for improvement.
“The human toll stretches from Afghanistan to Syria and Iraq, and shows us time and again that there is an acute need for drastic changes in how the U.S. military conducts its operations,” notes Meer.
Humanity & Inclusion and its partners in the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) will actively monitor this process using the Explosive Weapons Monitor, which was co-created by Humanity & Inclusion in 2022. Humanity & Inclusion’s goal is to ensure that this agreement brings about real change.
“More than 290,000 civilians have been killed or injured by the bombing of cities and other populated areas over the last 12 years,” Meer adds. “In countries like Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Ethiopia, populated areas have been systematically and extensively bombed and shelled. It must end.”
The historic agreement is a victory for survivors of war, humanitarian organizations and civil society groups. Humanity & Inclusion warmly thanks Ireland and Ambassador Gaffey for leading the diplomatic negotiations and organizing today’s conference.
Declaration’s formal namePolitical Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. The final text can be found online here.
Countries endorsing the declarationAlbania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Canada, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivorie, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay.
S. Ambassador Claire Cronin’s comments can be found online at minute 26:20. A selection of her remarks follows
“The United States is proud to endorse the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We believe this declaration will help States improve the protection of civilians and reduce human suffering in armed conflict. Protecting civilians from harm in connection with military operations is not only a moral imperative, but also critical to achieving long-term success on the battlefield. The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated…The United States is proud to join the States endorsing this declaration in committing to seek to reduce the harm to civilians through improving our implementation of international humanitarian law to achieve a better future for humankind. Although this Declaration will be implemented by States, the contributions of civil society organizations and international organizations greatly enhanced the negotiations and resulting texts. Endorsement is just an initial step. We must now turn our efforts toward implementation. To have a lasting impact, this Declaration will need robust implementation by each State and active follow-on exchanges among States. We want to see militaries from around the world learning from each other and sharing practical measures to strengthen their implementation of international humanitarian law and improve the protection of the civilians. The United States regularly collaborates with allies and partners on efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm. And we look forward to strengthening those relationships as part of our implementation of this Declaration. Although the commitments set forth in this Declaration are already reflected in existing U.S. military policy and practice, the U.S. military continually strives to improve its policies and practices in this area. On August 25, Secretary of Defense Austin issued the U.S. Department of Defense’s Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan, which sets forth 11 objectives and specific actions to advance those objectives over the next four years. These efforts include the establishment of a new civil protection center of excellence, dedicated civilian harm mitigation and response personnel throughout the department, and a data management platform for data related to civilian harm.”
Media ContactsInterviews are available with Jeff Meer and other Humanity & Inclusion experts on disarmament and the protection of civilians.
Contact Mica Bevington on 202-290-9264 or [email protected]
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 suspended the in-person consultation process;
- September 2020: Ireland organized 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;
- April 2022: Final round of consultations to negotiate the final text of the international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas;
- Summer 2022: Final version of the text shared and concluded;
- November 2022: States meet to formally endorse declaration.
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 40 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and groups experiencing extreme vulnerability, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since its creation in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has run development programs in more than 60 countries and responded to numerous humanitarian emergencies. There are eight national associations within Humanity & Inclusion’s federal network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, United States, France, Luxembourg, UK and Switzerland), working tirelessly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of the six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion works in places where living with dignity is no easy task.