Adoption of Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas milestone in collective efforts to better protect civilians from the urbanization of armed conflict – Statement by Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu High Representative for Disarmament Affairs

As delivered

 

Dublin

18 November 2022

 

Your Excellency, Foreign Minister Coveney,

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

I have the honour to deliver the following message of Mr. António Guterres, SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations. “I congratulate Ireland, participating States and civil society on this tremendous achievement.

 

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

 

We cannot always stop conflicts from happening.

 

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

 

Across regions and around the world, people have endured daily dangers and unacceptable suffering from the use of explosive weapons.

 

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

 

Damage and destruction to communities, lives and livelihoods can reverberate for years — from loss of access to education, health services and water, to deep physical and psychological scars.

 

Parties to conflict and States must avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and work to remove conflict from urban areas altogether.

 

It falls on Member States to bring this declaration to life through broad and meaningful implementation.

 

I am hopeful that this Political Declaration will provide fresh momentum to pursue peace for all people, no matter where they live.

 

The United Nations remains your dedicated partner in all efforts to shape a better, safer, more peaceful tomorrow.

 

Let’s ensure that this declaration is not an end in itself — but the next critical step in our journey to lasting peace.

Thank you”.

 

This concludes the message from the Secretary-General.

 

 

Your Excellency, Foreign Minister Coveney,

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

I will now deliver remarks in my capacity as United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

 

It is an honour to greet you on this truly momentous occasion.

 

First and foremost, I wish to reiterate the sincere congratulations of the United Nations Secretary-General to Ireland, participating States and civil society.

 

This political declaration is the result of a truly collective effort—of States, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations system, advocates, activists and researchers alike.

 

Years in the making, this milestone in our efforts to enhance the protection of civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict is a moment to step back and celebrate.

 

Moments of celebration are unfortunately too few and far between these days.

 

Against the backdrop of an international security landscape defined by increased polarization and inflammatory rhetoric, the achievement of this political declaration is a welcome bright spot.

 

What is more, a collective response to the rising challenges posed to civilians—the people living in war-torn communities—is needed now more than ever.

 

For more than ten years, the Secretary-General has used his voice to express serious concern over the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

 

Making use of his annual reports to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, he has raised awareness of the well-documented harm across regions—from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Myanmar.

 

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

 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights consistently reports that the majority of civilian casualties in connection with the conflict have been caused by explosive weapons with wide area effects.

 

The recent barrage of ballistic missiles impacting civilian infrastructure and cities in Ukraine is yet another reminder of the urgent need to strengthen the protection of civilians.

 

The Secretary-General has unambiguously urged parties to conflict to refrain from using explosive weapons with a wide-area impact in densely populated areas.

 

But it has not been the Secretary-General alone who has generated momentum to tackle this issue.

 

Over the last decade, civil society mobilized.

 

I would be remiss not to acknowledge, in particular, the work undertaken by the International Network on Explosive Weapon (INEW) which has been at the forefront of advocacy for immediate action to prevent human suffering resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

 

I also wish to express appreciation to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been a constant and objective voice reminding us of the serious dangers of the increasing urbanization of conflict.

 

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

 

This appeal remains fully valid today.

 

Thankfully, over the last few 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 more concentrated efforts on a political declaration, leading to a 2019 international conference in Vienna on the protection of civilians in urban warfare.

 

Support for the elaboration of a political declaration also crystallized at the regional level with communiqués adopted in Maputo in 2017 and Santiago in 2018.

 

Ireland leveraged this growing momentum, convening a transparent and inclusive consultation process.

 

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

 

Fast forward to present-day when we welcome the fact that more than 70 States are taking this important collective step forward to protect civilians from the increasing urbanization of armed conflict.

 

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

 

We would do well to remind ourselves of the fundamental driver behind this declaration.

 

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflict.

 

There are an estimated 50 million people now suffering the horrific consequences of urban warfare – a number that is likely to grow.

 

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

 

The use of weapons systems originally designed for traditional battlefields in populated areas remains a leading concern.

 

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

 

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

 

Civilian suffering includes not only death and injury, but reverberating effects that cause long-lasting harm and psychological trauma.

 

The use of explosive weapons in cities, towns and villages can result in large-scale displacement, environmental damage, and long-lasting disruption of essential services and access to critical resources like education, water and electricity.

 

While there are differentiated impacts on women, men, girls and boys, the suffering endured by all civilians is equally immense.

 

Crucially at stake is the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development whose deadline is quickly approaching.

 

The destructive impacts of the use of these weapons on civilians and civilian infrastructure jeopardize global goals on ending poverty, reaching food security, and building peaceful and inclusive societies, amongst many others.

 

Long after hostilities have ceased, high levels of explosive ordnance contamination shatter lives and hamper reconstruction efforts.

 

In this way, the future of entire generations is threatened.

 

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

 

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

 

But action cannot stop with signature.

 

Endorsement of the declaration is only just the beginning.

 

The declaration will make a difference only if it is endorsed widely and its commitments implemented fully and in good faith.

 

It is my sincere hope that the declaration will lead to follow-on efforts, such as consideration of appropriate limitations, common standards and operational policies that further enhance compliance with international humanitarian law.

 

States must review and adapt military policy and practice to reflect operational realities and humanitarian concerns in order to fully comply with international humanitarian law.

 

The high likelihood of indiscriminate harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas necessitates this.

 

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

 

States should also continue to identify and share good practices for mitigating the risk of civilian harm in urban armed conflict.

 

And finally, to reiterate the appeal of the Secretary-General and the President of the ICRC, parties to conflict should employ strategies and tactics that take combat outside populated areas with a view to ending urban fighting altogether.

 

Your Excellency, Foreign Minister Coveney,

Excellencies,

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

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

 

This includes not only active participation in the follow-up meetings, but support to States to implement the declaration’s commitments.

 

Just as the development of the declaration was a collective effort, so too should be its implementation.

 

Let us move forward together with renewed energy and commitment.

 

I thank you very much for your attention.

 

 

Source: UN Office for Disarmament Affairs

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