Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

UN and ICRC appeal to international community to avoid using explosive weapons

Civilians are bearing the brunt as the battles on the ground intensify, top officials say

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference ahead of this year's UN General Assembly. EPA
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference ahead of this year's UN General Assembly. EPA

The international community must avoid using explosive weapons in populated areas especially as 50 million people are suffering from its impacts, top UN and Red Cross officials said.

Decades of fighting in countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen has devastated the infrastructure and basic services in those countries, resulting in an increase in the suffering experience by civilians.

“When cities are bombed and shelled – whether by air strikes, rockets, artillery or improvised explosive devices – civilians overwhelmingly bear the brunt,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Peter Maurer, the head of the International committee of the Red Cross, said in a joint appeal.

The majority of causalities are over 90 per cent, and they are usually civilians.

Horrifying images from populated centres in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine show a "pattern of grave civilian harm impossible to ignore, yet too often forgotten."

The appeal highlights that “Idlib, in Syria, as well as Tripoli, are currently enduring untold suffering and destruction from a hail of bombs and shells”.

The list also includes affected cities such as Mosul and Fallujah in Iraq, Aleppo in Syria and Sanaa in Yemen, Mr Guterres and Mr Maurer said.

“They rarely make the top headlines, but they should,” the two leaders said. "War in cities cannot be back-page news.”

The two leaders urged armed conflict parties “to employ strategies and tactics that take combat outside populated areas” to reduce violence and to allow civilians to leave areas of conflict.

Mr Maurer and Mr Guterres also called for the adoption of policies and practices that will “enhance the protection of civilians when warfare takes place in populated areas.”

These include ways that avoid the use of explosive weapons with a wide area of impact “due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects,” the leaders said.

The leaders highlighted that 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. The treaty, which is made up of four conventions, established the modern, international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in times of war.

"Respect for these rules is all the more critical when armed conflict is waged in populated environments," the leaders said.

It is vital for states to evaluate their choice of weaponry and tactics to avoid a devastating civilian harm, they said.

Military operations must also have a stragteic priority to protect civilians, the leaders pointed out that some steps were taken but more needs to be done.

Updated: September 19, 2019 07:00 PM

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