Explosive weapons in populated areas, mobilization in its home stretch

Explosive weapons in populated areas, mobilization in its home stretch

A faint hope was born from a declaration by Emmanuel Macron, on March 22, during the first European Humanitarian Forum in Brussels. “International law is flouted, civilian infrastructure is bombed, explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas,” denounced the French president about the armed methods of Russia in Ukraine. The mere use of the term “explosive weapons in densely populated areas” (or explosive weapons in populated areasEWIPA) in the mouth of a head of state is rare enough to have been noticed.

→ EXPLANATION. War in Ukraine: what cluster munitions would Russia use?

The expression echoes a reality that is often overlooked and long before the war in Ukraine: 90% of the victims of these explosive weapons are civilians, and more than 50 million people are affected by conflicts in urban areas. Since 2011, a coalition of NGOs, joined by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer, has been calling for awareness of their widespread use and indiscriminate, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen or, more recently, Ukraine.

Obtain an “anti-personnel mine effect”

These actors – United Nations agencies, representatives of dozens of States, international organizations and civil society – meet from Wednesday 6 until Friday 8 April at the Palais des Nations in Geneva for the third and final round of discussions (after November 2019 and February 2020), intended to finalize an international agreement aimed at drastically regulating the use of these explosive weapons – large-caliber bombs and missiles, artillery guns, mortars, multi-tube rocket launchers, improvised explosive devices. Ninety-one French parliamentarians have launched an appeal to this effect in The cross March 22.

→ GRANDSTAND. War in Ukraine: the appeal of French parliamentarians “against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”

The fourth version of the text, amended at the mercy of shuttles and sometimes tense exchanges between States, testifies to the progress recorded recently: it no longer speaks of “restrict use” of these weapons, but of “Abstain” to use them. Ireland – which is leading the ongoing diplomatic process – has also removed all use of the conditional and what humanitarians call the « can language », which relativized the denounced risks.

“Today, there is a positive ground swell to obtain a strong text on this file, says Baptiste Chapuis, disarmament, crisis and conflict advocacy officer at the NGO Handicap International, who has been fighting this fight for years. The objective of the expected statement is to achieve an “anti-personnel mine effect””. The convention signed in 1997 against these weapons made it possible to divide the number of victims by ten, thanks to the political “stigma” surrounding their use.

France called upon to put words into action

The war in Ukraine, which will make it possible to document the tragic long-term impact of these weapons on the population and civilian infrastructure, will of course be at the heart of the statements of the States who will speak during these three days. Many will be especially concerned to distinguish themselves from Russian practices.

Moscow’s position will be particularly scrutinized. The country, which has never spoken on this issue, could be tempted to do so in a multilateral context, or even to try to instrumentalize the debates to its advantage.

The approximately 700 participants expected will also carefully monitor the position of France, which is not at the forefront of this fight and has even tended to minimize the systematic and specific nature of the damage caused by these weapons since the start of the process. But after the remarked declaration of the French president, on March 22, the defenders of this declaration invite him to join words with deeds. The candidate Macron had committed to it during the presidential campaign… of 2017.


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