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Confronting the Rising Civilian Toll from Explosive Weapons

Youth Workshop Explores How Countries Can Reduce and Remedy Harm

The aftermath of an explosion of an intercepted Russian missile on a residential building in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 13, 2023. © 2023 Valentyna Polishchuck/Getty Images

In late February, I joined youth from 14 countries for a four-day seminar on the rising civilian toll caused by bombing and shelling with explosive weapons in towns and cities during armed conflict. The event was hosted by Mines Action Canada, a co-founder—along with Human Rights Watch—of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).

The Political Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, adopted in Dublin, Ireland on November 18, 2022, provided guidance for the meeting. A total of 85 countries have endorsed the declaration, committing to prevent and provide remedies for the devastating humanitarian consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The declaration calls on countries to adopt “policies and practices to help avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining as appropriate from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects.” 

The seminar brought together young advocates, campaigners, and workers from countries affected by the use of explosive weapons, including Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Rooting their interventions in their experiences, they exchanged community-sensitive best practices for local advocacy, education, and rebuilding efforts.  

Participants challenged the idea that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is an inevitable part of modern-day conflicts and discussed ways to encourage states to join the declaration and promote adherence to its tenets.

The meeting also established the group’s message ahead of an international conference on the declaration, which Norway is convening in Oslo next month. During the conference, the youth attendees will urge endorsing states to adopt an effective approach to implementing the declaration and to ensuring it meets the long-term needs of affected communities.

With the increased use of explosive weapons in towns and cities, youth participants will also call upon both states that have endorsed the declaration and those that have not to condemn all use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a moral imperative and a demonstration of solidarity with affected communities.

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