Countries Near Agreement to Spare Populated Areas from Explosive Weapons  

A United Nations agreement aimed at sparing populated areas from explosive weapons is near completion and is expected to be finalized in early June. Some 200 delegates from more than 65 states participated in negotiations last week at the United Nations’ European headquarters in Geneva. 

The new international agreement would oblige states to reduce harm to civilians by limiting the use of explosive weapons including airstrikes, multi-barrel rocket systems, and mortars in cities and towns.

These weapons are designed for use in open battlefields and have devastating consequences when used in populated areas.

An NGO coalition, the International Network on Explosive Weapons, reports the use of heavy explosive weapons in cities and towns kills and wounds tens of thousands of civilians every year and lays waste to civilian infrastructure.

This is borne out by recent data from Ukraine, Ethiopia, Iraq, Gaza, Yemen, and Syria where 90 percent of the victims were civilians.

Despite the heavy toll caused by these weapons, the network reports that several states, including Belgium, Canada, Israel, Turkey, Britain, and the United States, sought to weaken the text of the agreement.

The coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons, Laura Boillot, says these states argue that the new agreement should re-affirm what International Humanitarian Law already obliges them to do and not go beyond that.

Without mentioning Russia by name, Boillot says more is needed.

“The situation in Ukraine, where we are seeing extensive use and widespread use of a range of different explosive weapons from air-dropped bombs, rocket systems missiles into major towns and cities in Ukraine is making it very difficult for States to not take this issue seriously,” she said.

Boillot notes there were strong calls for a more humanitarian-centered text by states such as Chile and Mexico, Togo and Nigeria, as well as Austria and New Zealand.

Alma Taslidzan is the network’s civilian advocacy manager. She says discussions are still ongoing regarding the extent of assistance to victims. She says any assistance should include people injured, and families of those killed and injured.

“It includes that ensuring basic needs are met and safe access to provisions of first medical care, emergence medical care, because that is very important. Then physical rehabilitation to those that have lost their limbs. Psycho-social support is something that is often forgotten but is extremely important and has to be tackled,” she said.

Russia and Syria have stayed away from the talks. China also did not participate in this negotiating round, although they have taken part previously in the process. Network activists say they hope to see China involved when final discussions are held in June.

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