Gaëlle Smith, Humanity & Inclusion’s emergency rehabilitation specialist, was deployed to Ukraine to support the local teams. She shares her experience treating patients at a hospital in Dnipro.Read more
Ahead of the end of the current UN-led truce agreement on Aug. 2, 2022, humanitarian organizations in Yemen urge all parties to the conflict to adhere to and extend the agreement to protect civilians across the country and allow them to rebuild and recover their lives.
As organizations working in Yemen, we recognize and applaud the important steps taken by all parties to the conflict to uphold the truce. During the past four months, ordinary Yemenis have experienced the longest period of calm in the country in over seven years. Since the truce entered into force on April 2, reports of civilian casualties have dropped significantly.
Commercial flights between Sana’a, Amman and Cairo have allowed over 8,000 Yemenis to access lifesaving medical care, pursue education and business opportunities and reunite with loved ones. In the past four months of the truce, more fuel ships have entered Hudaydah port than in the whole year of 2021, allowing hospitals and businesses greater access to fuel, helping to maintain proper functionality of and access to public services.
However, unless the truce is adhered to and extended, these important gains will be lost, risking the lives of people across Yemen. Further steps are urgently needed to protect Yemen's people and future.
Civilian lives continue to be threatened by violations of the truce in some areas, with a recent uptick in casualties in the past month. We urge all parties to the conflict to extend the truce for a longer term of six months or more, adhere to its terms, and uphold their obligations under international law to protect civilians and deliver on all elements of the agreement, including the reopening of roads in Taiz.
The past four months have offered a moment of respite and hope for people in Yemen. We cannot afford to lose this progress now. An extension of the truce, adhered to by all parties, would support further fuel shipments into the country, allow more people to benefit from commercial flights from Sana’a, and support humanitarian actors to reach those most in need. It would enable parties to invest more in helping people overcome ongoing economic deterioration and soaring prices which further restrict people from accessing food, as well as agreeing on effective mechanisms to pay salaries. A renewed truce would also allow more time to begin urgently needed clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance from which people across the country remain at risk. Most importantly, it would protect the lives of ordinary Yemenis and open the door to longer-term peace.
We, the undersigned agencies, urge all parties to the conflict to adhere to and extend the truce agreement, build further on the gains made over the past four months, and work toward peace. The people of Yemen deserve nothing less.
Abn’a Saddah Association
Action Against Hunger
Action for Humanity
Afaq Shbabia Foundation
Coalition of Humanitarian Relief
Direct Aid Society
Danish Refugee Council
Friedrich Ebert Stiftung
Humanity & Inclusion
International Medica Corps
International Rescue Committee
Marib Girls Foundation
Medecins du Monde
Norwegian People’s Aid
Norwegian Refugee Council
Premiere Urgence Internationale
Save the Children
Tamdeen Youth Foundation
Yemen Peace School
World’s first political declaration to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas nears completion
“Stop Bombing Civilians” agreement: Who will adopt? How will they implement? What will it change for civilians in conflict?
Silver Spring, June 13, 2022—The closing consultation for an international agreement to better protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas will happen June 17, 2022, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The meeting gathers more than 60 State delegations, including the U.S., as well as representatives of international and civil society organizations. It features the presentation of the final version of the international agreement. This consultation concludes a two-year diplomatic process. A Humanity & Inclusion delegation will continue its dialogue with States to ensure that the final text effectively improves civilians’ chances to survive active conflict, elevating experience from the organization’s work with conflict survivors from countries such Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Libya and Iraq.
The final agreement will be submitted to States for adoption at a conference to be held later this year, in a location not yet announced.
In April, State representatives gathered in Geneva, reaching broad consensus on the urgent need to commit to preventing the civilian harm that explosive weapons used in populated areas causes. Several States appeared ready to exclude use of the heaviest explosive weapons from populated areas by including a presumption of non-use of explosive weapons with wide areas effects in populated areas. Many States declared themselves willing to share good practices on their use of explosive weapons in order to better protect civilians from these weapons.
Two months later, the final version of the international agreement takes good steps, but in other places doesn’t go far enough. It provides clarity on the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons, including their reverberating effects. And the text contains strong language on victim assistance, clearance and teaching civilians to mitigate risk through education about living amid explosive ordnance. However, the agreement is less ambitious than expected when it comes to limiting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
“In two years of diplomatic process, we have come a long way,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director. “From denial on the part of States with respect to the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons, we have moved to their full acknowledgment of patterns of harm caused to civilians by these weapons. But this international agreement is only the beginning of a long process to achieve tangible improvements to the protection of civilians. The next step will be its endorsement by States—and the big question is: which ones will do so? Humanity & Inclusion will do everything in our power to obtain the most endorsements possible, including from militarily active States like the United States, United Kingdom, and France. And then we look forward to seeing real implementation steps to create a safer world for all.”
The international agreement’s impact will depend on States’ political will to fully commit to protecting civilians. Delegates will be closely watching the reaction of affected States as well as States that are actively participating in military operations. If they endorse the agreement, then Humanity & Inclusion believes that the agreement can provide a starting point for States to change military policies and practices to ensure better protection of civilians and civilian objects from explosive weapons.
This diplomatic process began two years ago at the Vienna conference in October 2019. The goal? To draw up an international agreement that will reinforce the protection of civilians in war zones. Humanity & Inclusion has tirelessly discussed with States the need for an agreement that should effectively end to the suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
“The international agreement could be a breakthrough for the protection of civilians in war zone,” notes Alma Al Osta, Humanity & Inclusion's Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager. “Will States join the agreement when it is put forward for adoption? Will they have the political will to implement it? We will be watching the measures and policies they implement very closely. With the Explosive Weapons Monitor that we co-created in 2022, we will monitor military policies and practices to ensure better protection of civilian from explosive weapons.”
Devastating humanitarian consequences
Massive and repeated use of these weapons in populated areas is one of the main causes of long-term humanitarian crises, and civilians are the principal victims. Indeed, 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians, according to Action on Armed Violence. Those injured are at risk of lifelong disabilities and severe psychological trauma.
Cities in Ukraine offer a devastating illustration. They are currently enduring massive bombings, which regularly sees banned weapons such as cluster munitions in play. At least 8,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the beginning of the war on February 24, but the actual figures are certainly much higher. According to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, “most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide-area effect, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes.”
Bombings have destroyed vital infrastructure, including hospitals, houses, and water supplies. Twelve million people have already fled to neighboring countries or other parts of Ukraine. This massive and systematic bombing of populated areas has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.
“Let’s be clear: the most destructive weapons should not be used in cities and towns, and other places where civilians live,” Meer adds. “Bombing and shelling in populated areas robbed 240,000 people of their lives between 2011 and 2020. Almost all casualties of bombing in urban areas are people like you and me who were never involved in the fighting, who did all they could to protect themselves from explosive violence. It is an unacceptable evolution of modern conflict that civilians are now by far the principal victims. Today, weapons such as 500-kg bombs, designed for use in open battlefields and with an impact radius of several hundred feet, are dropped from planes on crowded cities. Such weapons show no mercy for civilians. At Humanity & Inclusion, we will be relentless in denouncing the harm caused to civilians by urban bombing and call for better protection of civilians.”
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres seems to agree. In his annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict on May 18, 2022, he recognizes the ‘urgent need’ for parties to conflict to ‘avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas’. Secretary Guterres also acknowledges the ‘reverberating effects on essential services such as water, sanitation, electricity and health care’ caused by bombing and shelling in populated area. In his report, Secretary Guterres expresses his support for ‘continuing efforts towards a political declaration to address this problem’: ‘Such a declaration should include a clear commitment by States to avoid the use of wide-area effect explosive weapons in populated areas’.
Chronology of the diplomatic process
- October 2019: The Vienna Conference launches the political process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This conference was attended by 133 States. A majority of States 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 the in-person consultation process was suspended
- 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 an historic parliamentarian resolution on the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas.
- May 2021: Parliamentarians from five 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, more than 250 parliamentarians from Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union have 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
- June 2022: Final version of the text to be shared and concluded
- Date to be determined, hopefully in 2022: Political declaration opens for endorsement.
Some people displaced by the war in Ukraine are beginning to return home to cities contaminated by explosive ordnance. Humanity & Inclusion will prepare communities to identify hazards and adopt safe behaviors.Read more
Humanity & Inclusion is working with communities in Ukraine to help them adopt conflict preparedness behaviors before, during and after armed attacks.Read more
Denys Byzov, a Kyiv resident and Humanity & Inclusion’s cultural mediator in Ukraine, shares his experience evacuating his family in armed conflict.Read more
After seven years of war, Yemen is heavily contaminated by mines, remnants of bombs, and other explosive weapons. Humanity & Inclusion is raising awareness about the dangers they pose.
Douglas Kilama, Humanity & Inclusion risk education coordinator, explains how explosive weapons impact Yemen and the civilians living there.
What is the extent of the contamination in Yemen?
It is impossible to have a precise idea or even an estimate of the contamination due to the current fighting and the impossibility to collect data. But Yemen is believed to be one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world.
I am shocked by the diversity of the contamination here: mines, improvised mines, abandoned explosive ordnances, unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices cluster munitions, etc. The extent of the contamination by improvised mines is unbelievable. Analysis of some 2,400 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) since 2017 found that 70% of them are mines of improvised nature: meaning they are detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person or a vehicle.
Contamination is especially high along Yemen’s west coast, near the strategic port of Hodeida, Taiz governorate and more recently around Marib, a focus of intense fighting in 2020. These mines are used in a traditional fashion: in order to slow down or block the progress of enemy forces or protect a strategic point. We also got reports on marine mines and marine improvised mines in Mocha and Hodeida. Civilians are always the first victims of this contamination.
How these IEDs are produced?
There are large stocks of explosive ordnance which are either unexploded or abandoned in Yemen. They can be used as raw material to produce IEDs. After aerial bombings, remnants of exploded bombs can also be used as raw material to produce improvised explosive devices. But parties to armed conflicts are not the only one to use mines. Recent UN experts indicate the rising use of improvised devices by criminal groups.
Where and how do mine-related incidents occur?
The UN Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen reported 1,300 civilians “affected in landmine or explosive remnants related incidents” in 2020. Most of the accidents occur during people’s daily activities: going to a well to fetch water, farming crops or tending livestock, using public infrastructures such as roads, buildings, education and health facilities. Accidents occur in urban areas as well as in rural areas. For the vast majority of the population, the presence of this contamination is new, and they do not know how to deal with it. They have no knowledge on the danger. Risk education programs are urgently needed to avoid accident and protect the population.
What action is Humanity & Inclusion taking against this contamination?
We will start awareness campaigns in Mocha and Al-Khokha districts of Taiz and Al-Hodeida governorates respectively as well as Hajjah, Sanaa and Aden governorates in March. We will have eight teams of two Risk Education Agents each to conduct awareness sessions in hospitals, schools, and public infrastructures. We also plan door-to-door sessions in the south, and with internally displaced people at camps as there are still large movements of population to and from Hodeida and Taiz.
The messages are very simple: First, we present images of explosive devices for the audience to recognize the threats. Stop, do not approach or touch, warn others nearby not to approach or touch it, remember the place by putting a warning sign from a safe distance, return the way that you came from and seek a safe route. Report the location of the object to authority.
The audience are also made aware of common places where these items are most likely to be found by teaching them how to identify warning signs and clues indicating possible presence of explosive ordnance in their areas and how to avoid them.
Douglas Felix Kilama is the Risk Education Coordinator for Humanity & Inclusion in Yemen. He is based in Sanaa.
Douglas has 20 years of experience in humanitarian work with specialization in explosive ordnance risk education, victim assistance and protection of children associated with armed forces or groups. In addition to Yemen, he has worked in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Uganda.
He holds a M.A in Diplomacy & International Studies from Uganda Martyrs University and B.A in Literature and Political Science from Makerere University.
Aid agencies operating in Yemen are horrified by the news that more than 70 people, including migrants, women and children, were killed in Hodaida and Sada on Friday morning, in a blatant disregard for civilian lives.
In Sada, a holding facility for migrants was attacked overnight, among other buildings, killing 67 people and injuring 108, according to initial reports.
Initial hospital reports suggest more than 100 people, mostly migrants, were also injured, and the true numbers might be higher as aid workers and paramedics clear the rubble and verify the information.
In Hodaida, three children were killed while playing on a soccer field, and at least five adults injured, after airstrikes, which also damaged a telecommunication center downing internet connection across the country and disrupting phone lines in several governorates.
The escalation comes after the Human Rights Council voted to end the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts, the only international and independent body tasked with investigating the examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and other appropriate and applicable fields of international law committed by all parties to the conflict.
These airstrikes come after three medical facilities and one water reservoir were attacked this week alone.
Aid agencies operating in Yemen call on parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure during hostilities.
We also call on the international community to ensure accountability for all violations and abuses against children and civilians, through the urgent reinstatement of an international independent monitoring and reporting mechanism on Yemen and the establishment of an adequately resourced and sufficiently staffed international investigative mechanism for the country.
Action Against Hunger
Danish Refugee Council
Humanity & Inclusion
Norwegian Refugee Council
Save the Children
Stop Bombing Civilians: Final negotiations scheduled in historic international political declaration
Note, this meeting was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandmemic and the Omicron variant. States will gather this spring in Geneva instead.
Governments gather one final time in February to iron out the final text of a political declaration designed to save civilian lives
Silver Spring, Maryland—The political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will have its final edit February 2-4, 2022 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva. This declaration will be historic. If strong enough, the international agreement stands to give civilians a fighting chance to avoid the injuries, deaths, loss of homes and livelihoods caused when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.
The upcoming negotiations gather representatives of States, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society to finalize an international agreement to prohibit the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas. This will be the third and final round of in-person consultations, after preliminary discussions in November 2019 and February 2020, in which around 70 states participated.
“The exclusion of heavy explosive weapons from populated areas must become an international norm,” says Alma Al Osta, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager. “We call States to unconditionally support an end to the use of the most destructive weapons in cities.”
“Some States are trying to water-down the text. The United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and China, among others, have strongly opposed any meaningful limitation of explosive weapons in populated areas, some even mentioning that they did not want to “stigmatize’ explosive weapons. On the contrary, Humanity & Inclusion praises the early mobilization of African and Latin American States in favor of a strong declaration,” says Al Osta.
Led by Ireland, this diplomatic process began in October 2019 but was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, a high number of civilians have continued to be killed and injured by explosive weapons, making the resumption of talks even more pressing. The political declaration text will be submitted to States for signature later in 2022.
Devastating humanitarian consequences
Massive and repetitive use of these weapons in populated areas is one of the main causes of long-term humanitarian crises, and civilians are the main victims.
Conflict affected more than 50 million people in urban areas in 2020, according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres' annual report on the protection of civilians in war zones, released in May 2021. And 90% of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians (AOAV). Those who are injured risk developing lifelong disabilities and severe psychological trauma.
“These negotiations offer our best hope for a successful conclusion of the diplomatic process, to which many humanitarian organizations including Humanity & Inclusion, have contributed,” Al Osta adds. “We must ensure that the text of the declaration is strong and will have a real impact on the protection of civilians in conflict situations. For this, the international agreement should impose a presumption against the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.”
Explosive weapons have devastating long-term effects. They destroy infrastructure that provides essential services such as health, water, electricity, and sanitation, which civilians heavily rely on, particularly in times of conflict. In Syria, for example, after 10 years of war, at least a third of homes are damaged or destroyed. Major cities such as Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs have been largely destroyed by the massive and intense use of explosive weapons. 80% of the city of Raqqa was destroyed in 2017 (United Nations).
Many heavy explosive weapons used in urban warfare today were originally designed for open battlefields. Their use in such an inappropriate context puts entire neighborhoods at risk. Multi-rocket systems fire simultaneously over a wide area and munitions cause large explosions and fragmentation. Many states already recognize the damage these weapons inflict and have expressed their concern and support for immediate action. Accordingly, 19 African countries through the Maputo Communiqué and 23 Latin American and Caribbean states through the Santiago Communiqué have issued strong commitments to address this urgent humanitarian problem.
In 2019, the UN Secretary General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for warring parties to refrain from using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas because of their devastating consequences for civilians.
Parliamentarians in European countries, such as France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, have brought the topic to discussion at their national parliaments and demanded that their states contribute to the diplomatic process - with strong demands to strengthen the protection of civilians from explosive weapons. However, the U.S, the UK, the Netherlands, France and China, among others, have strongly opposed any meaningful limitations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, even arguing that they do not want to ‘stigmatize’ this type of weaponry.
Chronology of the diplomatic process
- October 2019: the Vienna conference launched the political process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This conference brought together 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: The first round of consultations on the text of the political declaration
- February 2020: The second round of consultations, engaging more than 70 states 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 Defense Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament adopted a historic parliamentarian resolution regarding the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas
- May 2021: Parliamentarians from 5 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, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union, signed the European Inter-Parliamentarian Joint Statement
- February 2022: The final round of consultations to negotiate the final text of the international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas
- TBD 2022: Political declaration is opened for signature by States
- Interviews with Humanity & Inclusion’s spokespeople upon request: Alma Al Osta, Humanity & Inclusion’s Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager.
- Humanity & Inclusion’s latest report “No safe recovery: The impact of Explosive Ordnance contamination on affected populations in Iraq”
- More information on Humanity & Inclusion’s work on Explosive Weapons.
On Dec. 10, 1997, Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Twenty-four years later, the fight to protect civilians continues.
In the 1980s and 1990s, on average 26,000 people a year were killed by anti-personnel mines. The vast majority were women and children.
Outraged by this injustice, Humanity & Inclusion co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1992. The coalition’s campaign to outlaw these “cowardly weapons” lasted five years.
The campaign led to the formation of a global community protest movement. Within five years, it had won a key victory: the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997 in Ottawa, Canada. The first treaty to ban a conventional weapon, it was signed by 121 States. Today it has 164 States parties. The United States is not one of them.
The same year, the members of the ICBL, including Humanity & Inclusion, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their “role in the promotion of international efforts for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines.”
The prize recognized the tenacity of these civil society organizations in pressuring States to ban these weapons.
“As well as being extraordinarily fast, the Ottawa process rewrote the diplomatic rule book on drawing up international treaties,” says Philippe Chabasse, former co-director of Humanity & inclusion who was responsible for the ICBL campaign. “The pressure from NGOs, the media and public opinion opened the way for a form of public diplomacy powerful enough to hold the conventional diplomatic system in check. A decade earlier, many considered the astonishing proliferation of mines and the rise in civilian casualties as ‘collateral damage’ of conflicts.
“The Ottawa Convention was, in effect, not universally legally binding,” he continues. “However, it set a new standard of behavior that had a political influence on the attitudes of non-signatory States.”
“HI was awarded the Nobel prize, which gave us much greater visibility,” Chabasse explains. “The success of our international campaign still serves as a model, two decades on, for other NGOs who want to shift institutional lines in order to work on the causes of the tragedies they are committed to fighting.”
For Humanity & Inclusion, this fight does not end with the ban on anti-personnel mines or the clearance of contaminated areas. There is ongoing work to help victims rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
The organization continues to pursue its campaign and leads armed violence reduction programs in 18 countries. This requires Humanity & Inclusion to work in extremely fragile situations, such as those in Iraq and Yemen, and in countries contaminated by mines or explosive devices left over from previous conflicts, like Colombia and Chad.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of other weapons, including cluster munitions, which Humanity & Inclusion helped ban under the Oslo Treaty in 2008. Mines killed or maimed 7,000 people in 2020, of whom 80% were civilians.
Humanity & Inclusion also leads a campaign to end the bombing of urban areas, since 90% of bombing casualties in populated areas are civilians.
The fight to end the use of anti-personnel mines and protect civilians is far from over.