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Putting an end to widespread destruction and civilian harm in populated areas


Armed violence reduction | Prevention | PUBLISHED ON April 24th 2024
Alma Taslidžan, HI Arms and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager, speaking at the conference.

Alma Taslidžan, HI Arms and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager, speaking at the conference. | © HI

States have gathered in Oslo from 22 to 24 April 2024 to review the implementation of the political declaration against the bombing and shelling of towns and cities.

In November 2022, 83 states met at a high-level conference in Dublin to adopt the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences of Explosive Weapons Arising from the Use in Populated Areas, providing a flicker of hope. Today, 87 States have endorsed this agreement.

This week, Norway hosted the first international follow-up conference to review the implementation of the agreement.

Implementation of the political declaration

Around 90 States attended the first review conference where they shared good practices in implementing the specific commitments of the declaration and discussed the challenges encountered. Speaking at this conference, HI focused its messages on the follow-up of humanitarian issues, especially humanitarian access and assistance to victims.

"States must implement national bans and restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas to reduce harm to civilians. We also urge them to stop using the most destructive weapons in towns and cities, to assist victims and to be more transparent about their military operations." Alma Taslidžan, HI Arms and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager

According to the NGO Action on Armed Violence, nearly 50,000 people were victims of explosive weapons in 2023. It reports an increase of 130% in the number of civilian casualties compared to 2022.

Explosive weapons were employed in 763 attacks on healthcare facilities across 20 countries and territories in 2023. There is a need to reaffirm the commitment to protecting healthcare and humanitarian workers.

Survivors speaking out

Alongside the conference, civil society organisations convened a Protection Forum on 22 April bringing together people with first-hand experience of explosive weapons, people working on national weapons policies and advocacy groups to discuss the impact of explosive weapons on people and communities. Survivors like Syrian activists Marwa Almbaed, and Nujeen Mustafa, shared their heartbreaking testimonies during the Forum and at the conference on 23 April.

“75% of Syrians have trauma due to the war, among them my friend Omar. He was deeply traumatised and, despite therapy, he took his own life a month ago, 8 years after fleeing to Germany […]. As we speak here today, new terrible personal experiences are emerging every second in Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, Yemen and many other countries. We are all here because we have to change this. It is finally time to better protect civilians in war. I count on you, today, to work here in Oslo today towards this goal.” Marwa, Syrian activist

Syrian activist, Marwa Almbaed. © HICalling on States to take immediate and crucial action, survivors made the following appeal “We are raising our voices on behalf of the millions of people affected by armed conflicts and who are enduring unimaginable suffering every day. We are calling on state representatives and decision-makers to heed our call to strengthen the protection of civilians from the devastating impacts of explosive weapons”.

HI is continuing its efforts alongside survivors and affected communities, making sure their perspective is taken into account, mobilising citizens and advocating for States to ensure adequate humanitarian access and assistance.

Still a long way to go

Three States (Ireland, Norway and Costa Rica) will now jointly lead the efforts to promote and ensure the implementation of the Political Declaration against Explosive Weapons, with the next review conference scheduled for 2025 in Costa Rica.

"We still have a lot of hard work ahead of us to achieve the effective implementation of the Political Declaration. As armed conflicts in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan…continue to decimate civilian populations, concrete measures and improvements are more urgent than ever." HI Advocacy Director Anne Héry

The Oslo Conference

From 22 to 24 April 2024, States, UN agencies, survivors, local and international NGOs, including HI, met in Oslo for a 3-day conference hosted by the Norwegian government to discuss the implementation of the political declaration on strengthening the protection of civilians from the humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This was the first international follow-up conference to review the implementation of the political declaration adopted in Dublin in November 2022.

HI Advocacy team with project’s leading artist, Lando. © HIJust opposite the conference room, three artists from Ukraine and Germany painted a picture illustrating the slogan of our campaign, “Stop Bombing Civilians!” It shows a house being bombed in Ukraine and the arm of the Ukrainian artist’s daughter drawing images of new life and hope into this image of destruction.

At the end of the conference, numerous state representatives used this powerful image to illustrate their will for change.

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