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Ukraine bombing

A view of Zestafoni Street in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on October 25, 2022. (Photo: Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

80 Nations Including US Commit to Better Protect Civilians From Urban Bombing

"This declaration sends a clear message that using explosive weapons in populated areas causes unacceptable civilian suffering and devastation and must stop," said one campaigner.

Brett Wilkins

The United States—whose military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force on the planet since the end of World War II—on Friday joined 79 other nations in signing a declaration aimed at protecting civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas.

"It is time for all states to endorse and implement the declaration to help civilians and their communities during and after conflict."

The signing of the declaration at the Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) Conference in Dublin, Ireland follows three years of international negotiations. While the U.S., U.K., France, and 20 other NATO members signed the agreement, major military powers including Russia, China, India, and Israel did not.

The declaration's signatories committed to "strengthening the protection of civilians and civilian objects during and after armed conflict, addressing the humanitarian consequences arising from armed conflict involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and strengthening compliance with and improving the implementation of applicable international humanitarian law."

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said in a statement that "today's political declaration sets out actions to be taken in military operations to strengthen the protection of civilians."

"Its implementation will change how militaries operate in populated areas, including a commitment around restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects," he added.

Laura Boillot, coordinator for the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), which includes 49 advocacy groups, said that "this declaration sends a clear message that using explosive weapons in populated areas causes unacceptable civilian suffering and devastation and must stop."

"It is time for all states to endorse and implement the declaration to help civilians and their communities during and after conflict," she added.

According to the U.K.-based group Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), an INEW member, over 90% of the people killed or injured by explosive weapons around the world are civilians.

AOAV explained:

The declaration requires states to impose limits on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which is the leading cause of harm to civilians in conflicts today. It also requires states to assist victims and affected communities both during and after conflict and to address the long-term suffering that stems from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

Of note, of the 80 countries who signed up to the declaration, 57 have witnessed explosive violence in their own territories since 2010. Over two-thirds of explosive violence incidents witnessed by the signatory countries were in populated areas, and in those incidents 87% of victims have been civilians—almost 25,000 people.

The new declaration comes as civilians are being killed, injured, displaced, and traumatized in countries around the world in conflicts and actions including Russia's invasion of Ukraine; Russian, Turkish, and U.S.-led coalition bombing and artillery bombardment of Syria; Syrian government attacks; Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen; Houthi rebel attacks; bombing and shelling by Myanmar forces targeting Kachin, Karen, and Rohingya people; Israeli attacks on Palestine; and, until recently, French bombing of Mali and the Tigray war in Ethiopia.

Unmanned aerial drone and other airstrikes by U.S. forces also continue in nations including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria during the 21-year, open-ended War on Terror—in which more than 387,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

"We are encouraged by the number of countries that have signed the declaration today," Federico Borello, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Civilians in Conflict, another INEW member, said in a statement. "However the protection of civilians is the responsibility of all states. We call on countries that have not signed yet the political declaration to join in this international effort to protect civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities."

INEW's Boillot asserted that "the adoption of this declaration is a milestone, but it is not the end of the journey. We have a long path ahead of us—one that will require committed and sustained work from all of us, in the spirit of partnership and collaboration that has been the hallmark of the process to date."

"Only by continuing to work together in a collaborative, committed, and transparent manner, and by never forgetting the people at the heart of our efforts, can we ensure that the declaration's goals will be pursued with the urgency and unwavering commitment they deserve," she added.

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