Humanity & Inclusion urges States to make history: endorse international agreement to protect civilians from bombings on towns and cities
Silver Spring, Maryland—On Friday, November 18, States will gather in Dublin to endorse a new international agreement to strengthen the protection of civilians from explosive weapons used in populated areas. Already, 25 States have submitted their official confirmation of the endorsement of the political declaration, and the United States of America is expected to do the same.
The Dublin Conference concludes a three-year diplomatic process. It gives States a life-saving opportunity to halt the trend and address the humanitarian harm caused by the bombing and shelling of towns and cities.
Today’s conflicts are increasingly fought in urban environments. As a result, 90% of the victims are civilians. In WWII, civilians represented 50% of war victims and, a century ago, only 15%. This escalation in the number of civilian casualties is unacceptable.
This is the first-ever international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. States will have the opportunity to fundamentally change how war is waged by consigning urban bombing to the dustbin of history.
“Weapons such as 500-kg bombs, designed for use in open battlefields and with an impact radius of several hundred meters, are dropped from planes on crowded cities,” notes Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “Such weapons show no mercy for civilians. These most destructive weapons should be banned from cities and towns. The international agreement against urban bombing is a major step towards better protection for civilians in armed conflict areas. But our fight is far from over. We will continue to denounce the harm caused to civilians by urban bombing, to hold accountable those responsible, and to fight for a zero civilian casualty policy.”
Dozens of states are expected to attend the conference to adopt the agreement. Many, including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, South Korea, Senegal, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Uruguay, have already expressed their intention to endorse it.
After the conference, and with the help of its partners, Humanity & Inclusion will continue discussions with other States to urge them to endorse the agreement.
“War machines have inflicted tremendous suffering on Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and now Ukraine, carpet-bombing entire neighborhoods and targeting vital civilian infrastructures like hospital and schools,” Meer adds. “Cities like Mosul (Iraq), Raqqa (Syria) and major cities in Ukraine are heavily contaminated by explosive remnants; normal life will only resume after years or even decades of complex demining operations. States must put an end to what has become a systematic scenario in recent wars. The Dublin Conference is a unique opportunity to protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”
With the Explosive Weapons Monitor that Humanity & Inclusion helped to create in 2022, we will also closely monitor the measures and policies implemented by signatory States to ensure their respect of the humanitarian commitments made and guarantee greater protection of civilians from explosive weapons.
For the past 40 years, Humanity & Inclusion’s experts have seen first-hand the consequences of war on civilians. Rehabilitation specialists provide life-saving care to people injured by bombing and shelling. Technicians fit people with artificial limbs so they can walk again. Mental health counsellors help individuals cope with psychological trauma. Explosive weapons specialists survey land and clear dangerous contamination so communities can safely rebuild. Risk educators teach people how to spot, avoid and report explosive remnants of war. Teams offer food, blankets and other essentials to families displaced by armed conflict.
A victory for civil society
The Dublin Conference is a historical moment for civil society. 25 years ago, with the adoption of the Ottawa Treaty (1997), Humanity & Inclusion and the International Campaign to Ban Landmine (ICBL) achieved a ban on antipersonnel landmines. Fourteen years ago, with the adoption of the Oslo Treaty (2008), our organization and the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) succeeded in prohibiting the use of cluster munitions. Today – this time with the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) – Humanity & Inclusion has another opportunity to write history. Humanity & Inclusion’s fight remains constant: to protect civilians in armed conflicts.
Humanity & Inclusion, co-founder of INEW, has been campaigning to protect civilians from bombing and shelling for 10 years.
This new victory has been made possible by the scale of the public mobilization and the pressure brought to bear on governments in countries such as Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States. The international petition launched by Humanity & Inclusion in 2017 gathered more than half a million signatures.
Widespread use of explosive weapons
Armed conflicts are increasingly fought in populated areas, mainly cities. The use of explosive weapons has devastating effects on civilians. According to aggregated data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) and the United Nations, more than 290,000 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons between 2011 and 2022.
“In three years of diplomatic process, we have come a long way from the ignorance of states and their denial of the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons to their full acknowledgment in a political declaration of the specific harm that these weapons cause to civilians,” says Anne Hery, Director of Advocacy and Institutional Relations at Humanity & Inclusion. “This international agreement is only the beginning of a long process to achieve tangible improvements to the protection of civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas”.
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes a systematic pattern of harm to civilians, and 90% of the victims are civilians. Civilians also sustain life-altering injuries, in some cases causing permanent disabilities. The bombs fracture or destroy vital infrastructure, such as housing, hospitals and schools, power and water supplies, and sanitation systems, affecting the provision of essential services to the civilian population. What’s more, millions of families are forced to flee their homes, and the unexploded ordnance left behind poses a threat for decades.
Chronology of the diplomatic process
- October 2019: the political process for an international agreement against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas was launched at the Vienna conference. This conference was attended by 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: 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 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 Defence Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament adopted a historic parliamentarian resolution on the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas;
- May 2021: Parliamentarians from five 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, Luxemburg, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union, 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;
- Summer 2022: Final version of the text shared and concluded;
- November 2022: States meet to formally endorse declaration.
About Humanity & Inclusion
Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 40 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and groups experiencing extreme vulnerability, 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 its creation in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has run development programs in more than 60 countries and responded to numerous humanitarian emergencies. There are eight national associations within Humanity & Inclusion’s federal 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 the six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2011. Humanity & Inclusion works in places where living with dignity is no easy task.