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March 13, 2020

Idlib: 1 million forced to flee

States must commit to the current political process to end bombing in urban areas

Almost 1 million people – mainly women and children – have been forced to flee fighting and bombing in Idlib, northwest Syria. Humanity & Inclusion urges States to fully commit to the international political process aimed to better protect civilians from the use of explosive weapon in populated areas. Humanity & Inclusion also calls for the current, delicate ceasefire to hold, and for a true end to the bombing and shelling of areas populated by civilians. This is the largest displacement of people and one of the major humanitarian crises since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011.

There is devastating civilian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, on display these past few weeks in Idlib. This military practice is the focus of a global campaign that Humanity & Inclusion and our partners at the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) have been helping to spearhead. Humanity & Inclusion's advocacy is based on our direct experience supporting urban conflict victims.

Key data

When used in populated areas, explosive weapons almost exclusively harm civilians: 90% of victims are civilians (source: Action On Armed Violence (AOAV ), data from 2011-2018)
* Compare that rate to civilian casualties rates in previous conflicts, and it’s clear that there is a total disregard for civilians lives: World War I (15% civilian casualties) & World War II (50% civilian casualties)

In Syria: AOAV reports that between 2011 and 2018, explosive weapons killed or injured nearly 80,000 people, 87% of whom were civilians. Working in Jordan and Lebanon, Humanity & Inclusion's teams are witnessing the suffering and trauma of the Syrian population and the impossibility to return home to Syria due to the inability to restore social or economic activities because of heavy contamination. With Syria’s essential infrastructure and economy destroyed, 80% of Syrians currently live below the poverty line.

“Imagine you are a family living in Syria in 2020,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion, “among three million trapped by fighting and bombing. You have witnessed the murder of innocent civilians in Homs in 2012, Aleppo in 2015, al-Ghouta in 2017 and Dera’a in 2018. Suddenly the fighting shifts in the direction of your family. Is it any wonder that you begin to imagine the ways that the use of explosive weapons in urban contexts will cause tragic humanitarian consequences for your loved ones? These clear violations of International Humanitarian Law targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure are not abstractions for you. Massive and repeated bombing like these are real threats to everyone and everything you hold dear.”

Global, political momentum to end the bombing of civilians

In October 2019, 133 States, including the U.S., met at the Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare. This started the diplomatic process to lead to a political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This political Declaration is due to be open for endorsement later this year (a previously scheduled meeting for May in Dublin has been postponed due to the outbreak of Covid-19). States have a historic opportunity to make a real difference in protecting civilians from a major cause of humanitarian catastrophe in modern conflict: the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

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