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.
NGO Letter to US Secretary of Defense Demands Accountability and Reform After 20 Years of Civilian Harm
On December 1, 2021, Humanity & Inclusion and 20 other organizations sent a letter to United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging him to account for and reckon with the civilian harm of the last twenty years and finally implement structural changes to prioritize civilian protection and accountability for civilian harm.
December 1, 2021
Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Re: Defense Department Civilian Harm Policies and Practices
Dear Secretary Austin,
We write to express our grave concerns about the Department of Defense’s civilian harm policies and practices and their impact, as evidenced most recently by the August 29 drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children; the Air Force Inspector General’s investigation into that strike; and a New York Times report in November that the U.S. military hid the effects of a 2019 airstrike in Baghuz, Syria that killed dozens of civilians and was flagged as a possible war crime by at least one Defense Department lawyer.1 These strikes, and the Defense Department’s record of civilian harm over the past twenty years, illustrate an unacceptable failure to prioritize civilian protection in the use of lethal force; meaningfully investigate, acknowledge, and provide amends when harm occurs; and provide accountability in the event of wrongdoing. For too long, the United States has failed to live up to its legal and moral commitments to the protection of civilians, as well as its own stated policies. This needs to change.
Twenty Years of Civilian Harm
The strikes in Kabul and Baghuz, and the devastating civilian harm that resulted from them, were emblematic of twenty years of U.S. operations that have killed tens of thousands of civilians in multiple countries.23 Contrary to the Defense Department’s assertions that strikes like those in Kabul and Baghuz are unfortunate anomalies, the experiences of our organizations, many of which work directly with conflict-affected civilians and survivors of U.S. lethal strikes, show that this is simply untrue. Instead, these strikes illustrate the Defense Department’s own repeated failure to prioritize civilian protection when it plans to use force; investigate and acknowledge civilian harm when it does occur; learn from and apply lessons from past grave errors; and deliver accountability for civilian harm that has devastated families and communities.
Over twenty years, the Department of Defense has failed to adopt solutions well within its grasp; learn and implement identified lessons; exercise meaningful leadership on civilian protection issues; or assign adequate resources to address civilian harm.4 Indeed, the recommendations outlined in the Air Force Inspector General’s public summary of his investigation into the Kabul strike — to address confirmation bias, improve situational awareness, and review pre-strike procedures to assess the presence of civilians — have been issued countless times by civil society groups and in the U.S. military’s own studies, yet never implemented. A 2013 Joint Staff study, for example, identified misidentification of a target as the “primary cause of [civilian casualties] in Afghanistan,” particularly due to “perceived hostile intent” from individuals who were later revealed to be civilians.5 Understood in this context, the airstrikes in Kabul and Baghuz are not unique tragedies, but the latest in a long pattern of apparent negligence and consistent disregard for civilians’ lives, predominantly those in countries where the populations are majority Muslim, Brown, and/or Black.
Failures of Response and Accountability
The Kabul and Baghuz strikes also illustrate long-standing problems with the U.S. military’s interpretations of its international humanitarian law obligations and its response to civilian harm, including failures to investigate, publicly acknowledge, and offer amends for harm, and ensure accountability in the event of wrongdoing.
For example, The New York Times reported a series of secretive Special Operations strikes that apparently circumvented legal and policy civilian protection safeguards and raised alarm among Defense Department and CIA personnel, as well as U.S. military officials’ attempts to conceal a possible war crime at Baghuz.6 If true, this report raises grave concerns about the U.S. military’s commitment to accountability and adherence to international humanitarian law, including the duty to investigate potential war crimes and hold responsible individuals to account.7
Further, the U.S. military has consistently failed to ensure that in case of doubt about the status of a target, a person is presumed to be a civilian, as set out in Additional Protocol I and customary international humanitarian law. This appears to be the case with the Baghuz strikes8 as well as other civilian deaths over the last twenty years, including: justifying targeting of individuals based on demographics through so-called “signature strikes”; refusing to admit credible civilian casualties due to the vague possibility that women or children could be combatants;9 and most recently, the killing of civilian aid worker Zemari Ahmadi, along with his family members, based apparently on supposition and confirmation bias.10
The Defense Department’s response to the Kabul and Baghuz strikes also underscores the Department’s repeated failure to adequately investigate alleged civilian harm — including possible war crimes, as required under international law — and provide compensation or amends. For example, in an email obtained by The New York Times, an official from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations suggested that the Office’s agents would likely not investigate the possible war crime committed during the Baghuz strike because the office typically investigated civilian casualty reports only when there was “potential for high media attention, concern with outcry from local community/government, concern sensitive images may get out.” Our groups’ experience has shown that this unwillingness to thoroughly investigate and acknowledge civilian harm is often the reality across the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s acknowledgment of civilian deaths and apology for the August 29 strike in Kabul was welcome, but unfortunately an anomaly, and came only after high-profile media reporting and investigation of the drone strike. For twenty years before that strike, independent rights groups, family members, and others have documented and submitted numerous credible reports of civilian harm from U.S. operations around the world; the vast majority have been under-investigated, unacknowledged, and without compensation or amends.1112
We urge you to robustly account for and reckon with the civilian harm of the last twenty years, and commit to finally implementing structural changes to prioritize civilian protection and accountability for civilian harm. These efforts need to incorporate civil society, and, wherever possible, communities impacted by U.S. military operations and lethal strikes.13 We specifically urge you to:
- Ensure the full and transparent investigation of civilian casualties in the Baghuz strike and August 29 Kabul strike, including an assessment of possible violations of international humanitarian law; publicly release all investigations into and relevant reports on these strikes (with minimal redactions only for legitimately classified information); provide amends for confirmed civilian casualties in accordance with survivors’ preferences and needs, including evacuation and compensation as requested by civilian survivors of the Kabul strike;14 and ensure appropriate accountability for any wrongdoing that resulted in these strikes;
- Commit to transparency around U.S. use of force and civilian harm by, as a start, publicly releasing relevant Department of Defense Inspector General reports15 and RAND Corporation studies16; publishing daily strike data17; and publishing all civilian harm assessments and investigations, including relevant AR 15-6s.
- Revise the Department of Defense Law of War Manual to reflect the presumption of civilian status, as reflected in Additional Protocol I and customary international law;
- Review the forthcoming Department of Defense Instruction on Civilian Harm, in consultation with civil society groups, to ensure that the new policy adequately addresses longstanding failures in civilian harm prevention, investigation, and amends; and
- Publicly commit to a plan, with detailed steps, to direct the Defense Department to respond to the systemic concerns raised by civil society groups in this letter and over the last two decades.
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)
Center for Victims of Torture
Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
Government Information Watch
Humanity & Inclusion
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
Life for Relief and Development
Norwegian Refugee Council USA
Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft
Saferworld (Washington Office)
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC)
Win Without War
1 Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt, “How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria,” The New York Times, November 13, 2021. [link]
2 Imogen Piper and Joe Dyke, “Tens of thousands of civilians likely killed by US in ‘Forever Wars’,” Airwars, September 6, 2021. [link]
3 This letter is limited to civilian harm resulting from U.S. use of force in the 20 years following the September 11th attacks.
4 See Larry Lewis, “Hidden Negligence: Aug. 29 Drone Strike is Just the Tip of the Iceberg,” Just Security, November 9, 2021. [link]
5 Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis (JCOA), “Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties: Enduring Lessons,” April 12, 2013. [link]
6 According to the Times, U.S. military officials falsified strike log entries to conceal the facts of the Baghuz strike, destroyed evidence by bulldozing the blast site, and stalled efforts to investigate the possible war crime.
7 While the Defense Department’s recent announcement of a high-level investigation into these strikes is a step towards potential accountability, the investigation will have to meet standards of thoroughness and transparency we have yet to see from prior efforts.
8 The New York Times article reports that the Special Operations Task Force made the opposite presumption, based on what appears to be mere speculation. U.S. Central Command later justified the strike by stating that the many women and children killed could potentially have been combatants because “women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms.” This does not comport with international law.
9 See, for example, Mwatana for Human Rights, “Death Falling from the Sky,” March 2021, and response letter from Staff Judge Advocate Thomas F. Leary in April 2021. [link]
10 Matthieu Aikins, et al., “Times Investigation: In U.S. Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2021. [link]
11 For example, the Baghuz strike was part of the U.S.-led campaign in Deir Ezzor, Syria; in the final six months of that campaign, analysis shows that local civil society alleged as many as 1,780 civilian deaths from U.S.-led actions. Yet, U.S. Central Command admitted just 23 civilian fatalities. This points to profound systemic failure.
12 For example, despite repeated authorizations from Congress and the large number of officially confirmed civilian casualty cases in which survivors’ identities are known and they are reachable, ex gratia payments have been rare; in 2020, the Department made zero ex gratia payments despite $3 million in authorized funding.
13 Many of our organizations have also called for the Biden administration to end the program of lethal strikes outside areas of recognized armed conflict in recognition of the appalling toll of such lethal strikes on civilian communities around the world. [link]
14 American Civil Liberties Union, “Food Aid Organization Asks Pentagon to Help Family Members, Staff, and Survivors of Kabul Drone Strike,” October 15, 2021. [link]
15 Department of Defense Inspector General reports on Evaluation of Targeting Operations and Civilian Casualties in OIR (DODIG-2019-074) and Kinetic Targeting in the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility (DODIG-2021-084)
16 RAND Corporation study on civilian harm practices broadly, required by Section 1721 of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act; and on civilian casualties in Raqqa, Syria.
17 Including, as a start, publishing daily strike data, locations, targets, and outcomes for all U.S. and coalition actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since 2017, a commitment that was rescinded by the Trump administration.
More than 170 members of four national parliaments call on governments to make a firm and concrete commitment to the fight against the use of bombing in populated areas. The call follows a May 27 online conference organized by Humanity & Inclusion and attended by 80 participants to mobilize States against the bombing of civilians.
39 members of parliaments from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom along with a total of 80 participants attended the interparliamentary conference to mobilize the support of their States for an ambitious international agreement to address the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
At the end of the conference, 172 parliamentarians signed a joint statement to call their government to “support the development of an international political declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and to strengthen assistance to victims of such practices.” The statement is further opened for signatures.
“More than 170 parliamentarians signed the joint statement calling their governments to commit to the current diplomatic process to negotiate a strong political declaration against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We are pleased by the strong commitment of so many lawmakers. European governments should not shy away from their responsibilities: In armed conflicts, nine victims in 10 of explosive violence in urban areas are civilians. It is unacceptable. States have a historic opportunity to make a change.” - Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, Disarmament Advocacy Manager
An international agreement
The draft of an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is at its final negotiation stage between states, UN agencies, international organizations and civil society. A final round of negotiations will be held in the Fall. Then, the international agreement is expected to be finalized by the end of 2021.
This diplomatic process started in October 2019. So far, more than 70 States have been involved.
The Secretary General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, called States to avoid any use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. This would create a presumption against the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.
This solution is opposed by some States like France and the United Kingdom. Humanity & Inclusion is calling on reluctant governments to change their position on the wording of the declaration and to make a contribution that will have a concrete impact in the field and ensure the effective protection of civilians.
Stop bombing civilians
Bombing continues to destroy the lives of thousands of civilians in Syria, Yemen and more recently in Palestine and Israel. Between 2011 and 2020, 91% of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians. The use of explosive weapons in urban areas has systematic humanitarian consequences for civilian populations.
Explosive weapons kill and injure civilians, cause severe psychological trauma, destroy vital infrastructure such as schools, health centers and roads, and force people to flee their homes. Bombing also leaves behind explosive remnants of war that threaten the lives of civilians long after fighting is over. It is more vital than ever to adopt a strong political declaration to protect civilians.
Gaza continues to grapple with the impact of an 11-day conflict with Israel in May.
256 people in Gaza and 13 people in Israel were killed during the bombing from May 10-21. Almost 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza were injured. In the West Bank and Gaza, an estimated 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Amal, who works for Humanity & Inclusion in Gaza, shares her hopes and experiences for the humanitarian challenges to come:
Q: What is it like in Gaza today?
Life seems to have resumed its course: stores have reopened; people are returning to work. On the day that the ceasefire was announced, a lot of people went to the beach in Gaza to celebrate the end of the violence. It was a very impressive sight. Once the ceasefire was declared, I found myself crying and crying, and I couldn’t stop. That was the first time I had cried about the war, and actually as I am writing this, I want to cry again. In the following days, we were able to go out and see what had happened. We saw all of the destruction and the losses and started to check on people. It brought us back to the reality of the situation and the incredible horror that we will have to live through in the coming period. It may take years just to rebuild what has been destroyed and make up for what we have lost, knowing that the loss of lives cannot be compensated.
The Humanity & Inclusion teams have resumed work and activated the emergency response to help people. It has taken a lot of energy and enormous efforts because our mental and physical state is not well. Knowing that many people in our community are struggling and in need of support gave us the courage to collect ourselves and return to our duties providing support to the most vulnerable people.
Some people stayed under rubble for days after the end of the war. The idea of this was unbearable as we walked through these areas on our way to work and saw the rescuing teams making all efforts to bring them back to life.
Q: How are people doing?
Many people are still scarred. In the days following the announcement of the ceasefire, people were both psychologically and physically exhausted. It was 11 days of uninterrupted bombing; there was no break. More than 100,000 people had to flee, sometimes several times before finding a safe place. Just going out to buy food could put your life in danger. There is still a lot of anxiety among the population: how long will the peace last? What will become of us? Children are still the most affected, with insomnia and nightmares.
Recently, raids hit Gaza again, breaking the ceasefire. I was afraid that the war could restart in the morning. When I received the security communication that the office was open as there were no complication, I was relieved. I cannot bare to live through that experience again.
Q: What is the humanitarian situation like after the crisis?
The material damage is impressive. The bombing produced 40 impact craters on the roads. Nearly 500 buildings were damaged or destroyed. There were also over 1,000 impact craters in fields or vacant lots. We still experience power outages and the sewage system is damaged, which has a serious impact on access to clean water. Humanitarian needs are diverse. Among others, there is a great need for reconstruction, especially for housing.
Many areas are contaminated by explosive remnants because a percentage of bombs did not explode on impact and continue to pose a threat to people. Remnants of exploded bombs can also be dangerous hidden beneath the rubble. For this reason, it is important to conduct awareness campaigns among the population to inform them of these dangers.
Due to the current blockade, Gaza lacks everything, including medical goods and equipment. There are still nearly 9,000 people displaced and sheltered mainly in schools. They need everything: even food and fuel. Many businesses had to stop because goods are not able to enter Gaza, and many merchants are struggling to pay extra for the goods stored in ports. All of these additional financial obligations add to the burden of the poverty-stricken population.
Q: How has HI staff helped?
We have assisted in evacuating people with disabilities during the escalation, and we conducted risk education sessions soon after. We have been distributing vouchers for food assistance to 300 families and medical first aid kits to 500 families.
HI’s future emergency response
Humanity & inclusion is currently in discussion with donors regarding funding for possible future actions to assist people in Gaza including:
- Conduct risk education sessions for children so they can learn to recognize and avoid dangerous unexploded ordnances or explosive remnants.
- Organize recreational activities to improve the psychological well-being of approximately 2,000 children.
- Continue distributing non-food items—hygiene kits, menstrual products, kitchen essentials, diapers and assistive devices—for displaced families and families hosting displaced people.
- Contribute to repair and improvement of 100 partially damaged homes, giving priority to single mothers, elderly people and people with disabilities. Some homes will need to be adapted for people with disabilities or people who may develop permanent disabilities due to injuries sustained in recent violence.
- Coordinate with other humanitarian aid organizations and relevant actors to avoid duplication and ensure inclusive response.