Adoption of Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas – Milestone in Joint Efforts to Better Protect Civilians from Urbanization Caused by Armed Conflict, Statement by Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu High Representative for Disarmament Affairs – World – ReliefWeb | Wonder Mind Kids


As delivered

November 18, 2022

Excellency, Secretary of State Coveney,
Dear delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the honor to deliver the following message from Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “I congratulate Ireland, the participating States and civil society on this tremendous achievement.

This Political Declaration marks a milestone in the joint effort to better protect civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict.

We cannot always prevent conflict.

But we can take steps to protect the people trapped in the midst of these crises.

In every region and around the world, people have endured daily danger and unacceptable suffering from the use of explosive weapons.

For those living in crowded urban areas, the dangers are multiplied.

From the loss of access to education, health services and water to deep physical and psychological scars, damage and destruction to communities, lives and livelihoods can reverberate for years.

Parties to conflict and states must avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and work to remove conflict entirely from urban areas.

It is up to the Member States to give life to this declaration through broad and meaningful implementation.

I am confident that this Political Declaration will give new impetus to seek peace for all people, no matter where they live.

The United Nations remains your committed partner in all efforts to build a better, safer and more peaceful future.

Let us ensure that this declaration is not an end in itself – but the next crucial step on our way to lasting peace.
Many Thanks”.

This concludes the Secretary-General’s message.

Excellency, Secretary of State Coveney,
Dear delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I will now make comments in my capacity as United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

It is my honor to welcome you to this truly momentous occasion.

First of all, I would like to reiterate the United Nations Secretary-General’s sincere congratulations to Ireland, the participating States and civil society.

This political statement is the result of a truly collective effort – by states, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations system, lawyers, activists and researchers alike.

This milestone in our efforts to improve the protection of civilians from increasing urbanization caused by armed conflict is a moment to step back and celebrate.

Unfortunately, moments of celebration are far too rare these days.

Achieving this political declaration is a welcome ray of hope against the backdrop of an international security landscape marked by increasing polarization and incitement.

In addition, a collective response to the growing challenges facing civilians – the people living in war-torn communities – is needed now more than ever.

For more than a decade, the Secretary-General has expressed grave concern about the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Using his annual reports to the Security Council on protecting civilians in armed conflict, he has raised awareness of the well-documented damage in every region – from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Myanmar.

The conflict in Ukraine has increasingly pushed this issue into the limelight.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights consistently reports that the majority of civilian casualties related to the conflict were caused by long-range explosive weapons.

The recent barrage of ballistic missiles hitting civilian infrastructure and cities in Ukraine is another reminder of the urgent need to step up protection of civilians.

The Secretary-General has unequivocally called on the parties to the conflict to refrain from using area-effect explosive weapons in densely populated areas.

But it wasn’t just the Secretary General who gave impetus to tackle this problem.

In the last decade, civil society has mobilized.

I would fail to recognize in particular the work of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), which has been at the forefront of urgent action to prevent human suffering from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

I also want to express my appreciation for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been a consistent and objective voice in reminding us of the serious dangers of increasing conflict urbanization.

In 2019, the ICRC Secretary-General and President issued a joint appeal calling on all parties to armed conflicts to adopt strategies and tactics that take the fighting outside of populated areas and try to reduce fighting in cities overall.

This appeal remains valid to this day.

Fortunately, in recent years many states have heard these calls and taken demonstrable steps forward.

A series of expert meetings convened by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs paved the way for a more focused effort towards a political declaration, leading to an international conference in Vienna in 2019 on protecting civilians in urban warfare.

With the communiqués adopted in Maputo in 2017 and in Santiago in 2018, support for the drafting of a political declaration also crystallized at the regional level.

Ireland capitalized on this growing momentum and convened a transparent and inclusive consultation process.

States have gathered online and in Geneva over the course of nearly three years to find the strongest possible explanation, taking into account the various views expressed.

Fast forward to the present, where we welcome the fact that more than 70 nations are taking this important collective step forward to protect civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict.

Dear delegates,

We would do well to remember the basic impetus behind this statement.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflicts.

An estimated 50 million people are currently suffering the horrific effects of urban fighting – a number that is likely to increase.

This is simply unacceptable as human suffering cannot and should not be seen as an inevitable by-product of conflict spreading from open battlefields to cities and towns.

The use of weapon systems originally developed for traditional battlefields in populated areas remains a major concern.

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90 percent of the victims are civilians.

This statistic is repeated so often because it is so striking.

Civil suffering includes not only death and injury, but also reverberating effects that cause long-lasting damage and psychological trauma.

The use of explosive weapons in cities, towns, and villages can result in widespread displacement, environmental damage, and long-lasting disruptions to essential services and access to critical resources such as education, water, and electricity.

The suffering of all civilians is as great as the effects on women, men, girls and boys are different.

Crucial at stake is the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the deadline for which is fast approaching.

The devastating effects of the use of these weapons on civilian populations and civilian infrastructure endanger, among other things, the global goals of poverty reduction, food security and building peaceful and inclusive societies.

Long after hostilities have ceased, high concentrations of explosive ordnance are shattering lives and hampering recovery efforts.

This threatens the future of entire generations.

Dear delegates,

The approval of the political declaration represents a concrete, immediate and meaningful action.

But the action cannot stop with the signature.

The approval of the declaration is only the beginning.

The Declaration will only make a difference if it is widely supported and its commitments are implemented fully and in good faith.

I sincerely hope that the declaration will lead to follow-up efforts, such as B. Considering appropriate limitations, common standards and operational guidelines that further enhance compliance with international humanitarian law.

States must review and adjust their military policies and practices to reflect operational realities and humanitarian concerns in order to fully comply with international humanitarian law.

The high probability of indiscriminate damage from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas makes this necessary.

Other concrete measures to promote the protection of civilians should be explored, such as collecting data on civilian casualties to ensure accountability and learn lessons for future operations.

States should continue to identify and share best practices to mitigate the risk of civilian harm in armed conflicts in cities.

Finally, to reiterate the appeal of the ICRC Secretary-General and President, conflicting parties should adopt strategies and tactics that take the fight outside of the populated areas in order to end the fighting in the cities altogether.

Excellency, Secretary of State Coveney,
Dear delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations system remains your steadfast partner in all follow-up efforts related to the implementation of the Political Declaration.

This includes not only active participation in the follow-up meetings, but also supporting states in implementing the commitments of the declaration.

Just as drafting the Declaration was a collective effort, so should its implementation be.

Let’s move forward together with renewed energy and commitment.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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