Vienna, Austria—A historic, two-day meeting in Vienna attracted 133 States to discuss the civilian suffering caused by bombing and shelling in urban areas, as well as the technical, legal and military aspects of urban warfare. “The Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare” marked an important success, as a majority of States announced their willingness to work on a political declaration to end the human traumas caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
“Doing nothing to address the suffering of civilians living under the threat of bombing, shelling and long-term contamination by explosive remnants of war could never have been an option,” says Anne Héry, Humanity & Inclusion’s Advocacy Director.
Austria hosted the gathering—the first of this scale. The large number of States attending the Vienna Conference was already a great success, after years of awareness raising by some dedicated States and organizations like Humanity & Inclusion, and fellow members of the International Network of Explosive Weapons (INEW).
Armed conflicts are increasingly fought in populated areas—mainly cities. The impact of the use of explosive weapons is devastating for civilians. According to Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), 20,384 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons in 2018 alone. When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90% of the victims are civilians.
The urgency to right this wrong was clear on the final day, when a majority of States at the conference publicly stated their willingness to negotiate a political declaration to end human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons.
“We are very happy to see States finally acting, and ready to negotiate a political declaration—something we have been requesting for a long time,” Anne Héry notes. “We will constructively participate in this process, providing evidence from affected areas, and reinforcing our global, public campaigns to ensure that the declaration brings an end to the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, and improve support to affected people.”
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas also leads to the destruction of essential infrastructure like houses, hospitals, schools, water and electricity supply systems, leaves massive unexploded ordnance contamination, and is one of the key drivers of population displacement.
In the next six months, discussions will be decisive to protect millions of civilians living in war zones, or fleeing their homes or even their countries as conflict approaches. The next phase of the negotiation process kicks off on Nov. 18, in Geneva. This meeting should result in a set date for a Conference in early 2020, when a political declaration should open for endorsements. Humanity & Inclusion, alongside fellow INEW members, will continue to meet with States to convince them to fully support a strong political declaration to end the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas and to support the affected people.
Humanity & Inclusion strongly and visually reminded conference attendees of civilian suffering by placing its new Monument to the Unknown Civilian in the venue. The president of the conference, Thomas Hajnoczi, together with Gilles Carbonnier (Vice-President of ICRC), Hansjörg Strohmeyer (Chief of OCHA’s Policy Development and Studies Branch, UN OCHA), and Anne Héry (Humanity & Inclusion) set flowers and paid tribute to all victims of explosive weapons. The Mayor of Paris helped to install a similar memorial in Paris on Sept. 26, and other countries will host the monument in the weeks to come.
This critical and historic moment for people living in urban conflict zones echoes previous Humanity & Inclusion campaigns. Twenty years ago, Humanity & Inclusion (then known as handicap international) and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines succeeded in banning landmines with the adoption of Ottawa Treaty (1997). A decade later, Humanity & Inclusion and the Cluster Munition Coalition banned cluster munitions with the adoption of the Oslo Treaty (2008). Together with INEW, Humanity & Inclusion has, once again, the opportunity to write history and to obligate States and their militaries to better protect civilians in conflicts.
Humanity & Inclusion's experts on explosive weapons and civilian harm are available for interviews.
Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Humanity & Inclusion's Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager, delivered the following remarks at the closing press conference on October 2 in Vienna:
New report shared at the Vienna Conference
- a link to full “The waiting list” report, which was shared with delegates to the Vienna Conference (pdf)
- a link to the summary version “The waiting list” report (pdf)
- a link to an overview document of the types of injuries caused by explosive weapons (pdf)
Relevant Humanity & Inclusion reports about the civilian harm and displacement caused by explosive weapons used in populated areas can be found here.
About Humanity & Inclusion
Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of handicap international) is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 37 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and vulnerable groups, 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 it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. There are eight national associations within the 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 six founding organisations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Humanity & Inclusion takes action and campaigns in places where “living with dignity” is no easy task.