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Protection of Civilians: U.S. must commit to the political declaration supported by UN Secretary General António Guterres

MAY 27, 2020

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres published (May 22) his annual report on the protection of civilians and denounced the practice of bombing in populated areas and the disastrous consequences for civilians. Guterres also supported the current diplomatic effort to develop a political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Humanity & Inclusion and partners from the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW ) are fully engaged in this diplomatic process, which launched in October 2019, to end bombing in urban areas and urge States to support a strong political declaration to end human suffering caused by explosive weapons. On May 27, the UN Security Council will hold its annual open debate on Protection of Civilians.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “welcomes” the ongoing efforts of Member States and other relevant actors to develop a political declaration to address the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. "As the discussions continue, States should commit to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas and develop operational policies against such use," he added.

The final draft of a political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is about to be finalized after nine months of intense discussions between States and NGOs. Ireland is committed to host an international conference to invite States to endorse it. So far, the U.S. has sent a delegation to meetings about the political declaration, but has opposed the political declaration.

“Using explosive weapons in populated areas is neither new nor innovative,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “But rather than stick with an age-old cause of humanitarian carnage, States have a historic opportunity this year to make a real difference for the future in protecting civilians. It should be easy for every State to acknowledge how using weapons this way causes unnecessary harm to civilians and therefore to promote the strongest language possible for a future Political Declaration limiting the practice. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the United States bears a responsibility to reverse its opposition to the project and to engage unequivocally and productively in the process. The U.S. must not sabotage the future Political Declaration.”

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, more than 90% of those killed and injured are civilians. Between 2011 and 2019, such use resulted in the death or injury of 250,000 people.

Massive bombardments in populated areas have terrible humanitarian consequences: families torn apart, life-changing injuries, psychological trauma, forced displacement, destruction of essential infrastructure (hospitals, ports, bridges, etc.) and ever worsening poverty. Massive bombardments in Libya, Syria and Yemen has also had long lasting effects on the development of these countries by destroying vital infrastructures and services, and disrupting economic activity. The contamination caused by explosive remnants of war will impede or make more difficult any efforts for reconstruction. 

Decade of massive bombardments destroys Syria

Since December 2011, there has been repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Syria. Many civilian infrastructures have been hit, including schools, health centers and hospitals. Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) reports that nearly 80,000 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons between 2011 and 2018, with civilians making up 87% of such casualties.

Humanity & Inclusion’s teams in Jordan and Lebanon witness the Syrian population’s suffering and trauma. The teams also witness the impossibility of return to Syria, due to the huge work, which may never be achieved, to restore social or economic activities and the life-threatening risks of heavy weapons contamination. 

As Syria’s essential infrastructure and economy are destroyed, 80% of Syrians currently live below the poverty line. Main cities like Aleppo, Homs and Raqqa are totally or partially devastated. These locations saw heavy aerial bombardment, leaving roads, housing, schools, health centers, and water and sanitation systems either destroyed or rendered non-functional.

Contamination with explosive remnants of war is one of the main obstacles preventing the return of refugees and displaced persons. In Syria, 11.5 million people are exposed to the risks posed by explosive remnants of war, according to UNMAS.

"Look no further than Syria, where nine years of repeated bombing campaigns in populated areas have wrought horrific, barbaric results,” Meer adds. “Families torn apart, devastated cities, entire populations fleeing at once, explosive remnants of war contaminating entire neighborhoods. Syrians are in a dire situation. They will need humanitarian aid for many years.”

Bombings exacerbate COVID-19 effects

Humanity & Inclusion fully supports United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ calls for a global ceasefire, in order to support efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Humanity & Inclusion’s field teams regularly witness how health care professionals trying to fight COVID-19 in war-torn countries struggle to do their work when the bombing of populated areas has crumbled health infrastructure.

Responding effectively to the pandemic requires a strong health infrastructure and services, strong channels of virus prevention information, a society able to organize itself to implement such preventive measures, and care in an inclusive and accessible way—everything that massive bombing in urban areas has destroyed in countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen.


About Humanity & Inclusion

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is an international NGO working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. With donor support, we work tirelessly alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable groups to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights. 

Humanity & Inclusion is the new name of Handicap International


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