Governments should make a commitment to avoid using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in cities and towns, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. A diplomatic meeting on February 10, 2020 in Geneva should endorse a political declaration that would better protect civilians in populated areas from these weapons.
Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic submitted an analysis of the draft elements of the declaration to the meeting.
“Governments should recognize the devastating effect that explosive weapons have on civilians in cities, towns, and villages,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “A common pledge is urgently needed to avoid using these indiscriminate weapons in populated areas.”
HRW’s research over the last decade on the effects of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas shows the toll they have on civilians, underscoring the need for a strong political declaration to avoid their use and develop better practices.
Explosive weapons with wide-area effects include weapons that produce a large blast area or spread fragments widely. They also include certain air-dropped bombs, weapons that deliver multiple munitions that saturate a large area, such as Grad rockets, and weapons so inaccurate that they cannot be effectively targeted, such as “barrel bombs.” All should fall within the proposed international declaration.
Because of the foreseeable indiscriminate harm these weapons cause to civilians, a declaration should establish that their use should be avoided in populated areas, HRW said.
The increasing urbanization of conflict has placed millions of civilians at risk from these weapons, causing deaths and injuries to tens of thousands in places such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
Explosive weapons with wide-area effects have frequently damaged or destroyed civilian infrastructure such as bridges, water pipes, power stations, hospitals, and schools, which in turn have reverberating effects on essential services. Their use in populated areas forces people to flee their homes, exacerbating humanitarian needs.