Ireland has shown great leadership in helping to protect civilians affected by urban warfare

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Ireland has shown great leadership in helping to protect civilians affected by 
urban warfare – other States need to follow.

By Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary-General of the Irish Red Cross and Philip Spoerri, Head of Delegation
for the United Kingdom and Ireland, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Over 50 States will gather in Dublin to mark the adoption of a landmark political
declaration which signals hope for countless civilians around the world who are affected by urban
warfare.

The declaration commits States to strengthening the protection of civilians and respect for
international humanitarian law (IHL) – the laws of war – notably by refraining from, or at least
restricting, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when such use may be expected to
cause civilian harm.

It could not have been any timelier. For many decades now we have seen the grave pattern of
harm that results from bombing and shelling in cities, towns and villages in armed conflicts across
the globe. This devastating impact and the unacceptably high toll on lives, limbs and livelihoods is
a marked and continuing reality of warfare in many contexts.

Every day, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement witness the humanitarian
consequences of urban warfare and in particular the use of heavy explosive weapons. These
consequences generate massive humanitarian needs and have ripple effects across borders.

We deeply appreciate the leadership of the Irish government, which has steered the diplomatic
process over the last three years in an open, transparent and inclusive manner, taking into account
a variety of diverging views and many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is
what we see today; a strong, ambitious, clear and meaningful instrument signatories can be proud
of.

The political declaration is the fruit of the steadfast commitment of Ireland and many other States
to advancing the protection of civilians and upholding the rules of war, and the tireless efforts of
the United Nations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and civil society –
spearheaded and inspired by the courage and determination of explosive weapons survivors. All
other States need to follow suit.

In conflict zones across the world, the bleak picture of civilian harm and destruction can only
change if armed actors change their behaviour. This requires a shift in perspective, policies and
practices, training and equipment, and in the way partnered military operations are conducted
and supported.

This political declaration aims to do just that. It provides an important framework for further action
which, if effectively implemented, can go a long way in alleviating civilian suffering. It is a
commitment to taking concrete steps against that suffering.

In light of the high number of civilian deaths and long-lasting physical and mental suffering, the
Red Cross Red Crescent Movement calls on States and parties to armed conflict to take action to
prevent and reduce this human impact. The destruction of critical infrastructure, disruption of
essential services, environmental damage and widespread displacement that similarly result from
war in cities can and must also be mitigated. Such mitigation action includes strengthening legal
and policy frameworks that protect the civilian population and civilian objects such as homes,
schools and hospitals against the effects of urban warfare, and avoiding the use of explosive
weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas.

We urge States to make collective or individual commitments to reduce the civilian harm and
suffering caused by war in cities. We see this political declaration as a significant component of the
action that States should take to this end.

We commend the many States that have endorsed the political declaration and encourage all
others to do so without delay, and to put its important commitments into action. Civilians affected
by urban warfare now and in the future deserve all the measures we can take to minimise risk and
reduce suffering.

 

 

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