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September 27, 2019

Vienna Conference Oct. 1-2: crucial event to stop the bombing of civilians

Silver Spring, MD—On Oct. 1st and 2nd, Austria will gather States at the Vienna Conference to find a political solution to the civilian harm caused by bombing and shelling in urban warfare. This recognition by States of the urgency to act is a first victory for civil society actors. Humanity & Inclusion, co-founder of the International Network of Explosive Weapons (INEW), has been campaigning for more than five years against bombing in populated areas.

“The Vienna Conference is historic,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “That’s why the United States Government is sending a delegation to the meeting, and is taking seriously the issue of civilian casualties in war. The time is past when indiscriminate carpet-bombing of entire neighborhoods and destroying hospitals and schools can be considered ‘collateral damage.’ When vital infrastructure is destroyed in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria or Yemen, or when cities like Mosul (Iraq), Raqqa and Kobanî (Syria) are heavily contaminated by explosive remnants, all civilians are at risk. These military operations require years of complex demining to return war zones to normal use. We are looking for commitments from states, including the United States of America, to avoiding using explosive weapons in populated areas and, when necessary, to provide assistance to victims so they can return to living as they did before the conflict.”

As conflicts increasingly move to cities, civilians now represent 90% of victims. In comparison, civilians represented 50% of WWII victims, and 15% of those in WWI. This trend in modern conflicts is unacceptable. Since 2016, massive, disproportionate and indiscriminate bombardments and shelling have literally flattened the cities of Aleppo, Raqqa, Mosul, Idlib and Donetsk—tragic proof of a total disregard for civilian lives.

An estimated 80,000 people have been killed or injured by explosive weapons in Syria. Beyond the immediate deaths and injuries, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas leads to the destruction of essential infrastructure like houses, hospitals, schools, water and electricity supply systems, is one of key drivers of population displacement across and within borders, and leaves massive contamination of unexploded ordnance. In fact, 10.2 million people, roughly half the population of Syria, are living amid the dangers of explosive remnants of war.

Humanity & Inclusion just launched the report “The Waiting List: Addressing the immediate and long-term needs of victims of explosive weapons in Syria,” exposing the devastating impact the use of explosive weapons is having in Syria. The name of the report refers to the never-ending waiting list Syrian men, women and children are trapped in to access their basic human rights: to walk again, to eat and drink, to play, to go to school, to work. The report is based on data and testimonies collected from humanitarian agencies, actors and patients across the whole region.

In the wake of the Vienna Conference, negotiations will lead to a draft political declaration to end the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This diplomatic phase should close with a conference in Dublin scheduled for early 2020, when the political declaration will open for endorsements. During the process, Humanity & Inclusion and INEW partners will meet with States to convince them to fully commit to the cause, and to support the adoption of a political declaration to prevent human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, issued last week an historical appeal highlighting the devastating impact of explosive weapons on the lives of civilians. They affirmed their strong support for a political declaration to end the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons. The statement was a turning point for the cause, calling on States to commit to find political solutions to this major humanitarian issue.

Twenty years ago, Humanity & Inclusion and the International Campaign to Ban Landmine (ICBL) managed to ban anti-personnel landmines with the adoption of Ottawa Treaty (1997). Ten years ago, the association and the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) managed to ban cluster munitions with the adoption of the Oslo Treaty (2008). Humanity & Inclusion has, once again, the opportunity to write history and to oblige states and their militaries to better protect civilians in conflicts. Humanity & Inclusion’s fight remains the same: to protect civilians in armed conflicts.

Notes

Interviews with Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion, available upon request

About Humanity & Inclusion

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion 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.