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Ukrainian Firefighters examining the remains of an civilian building in Kharkiv following a Russian cruise missile attack. Alamy Stock Photo
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Russia refused to engage with Irish diplomats on declaration to stop bombing of civilian areas

Irish diplomats led on efforts to get nations to adopt the Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 18th 2022, 4:00 PM

RUSSIA HAS REFUSED to engage in an international effort by Irish diplomats to establish a declaration banning high explosive warfare in built up civilian areas, The Journal has learned.

Simon Coveney, the Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs, along with international colleagues from 75 countries, endorsed the Declaration on the Protection of Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas today.

The ceremony in Dublin comes after the Irish move was backed at a conference in June in Geneva. 

The move to find a way to take high explosive ordnance out of war fighting in conflicts in civilian areas has been led by Ireland and began ten years ago.

Coveney said the Political Declaration is a major milestone for Irish foreign policy.

“Ireland has a strong humanitarian disarmament tradition. This Political Declaration builds on our legacy and is an important instrument designed to reduce the harm caused to civilians by EWIPA. The devastating humanitarian and development consequences of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas cannot be overstated – 90% of casualties from EWIPA are not soldiers, but civilians.

“For civilians in cities at war, explosive weapons threaten death, injury and disability. The Declaration also acknowledges that the harm caused goes far beyond this. Damage to vital civilian infrastructure compounds the effects of EWIPA.

“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 said.

It is not the first time Irish diplomats have led such a move with the Dublin Declaration on the prohibition of landmines in 1996 seen as a major step forward.

It is understood that while the war in Ukraine has given the diplomatic efforts some urgency the process began with reference to the Syrian war and the bombing of cities such as Aleppo.

That conflict saw Russia align with the Assad regime and the bombing of cities involved barrel bombs and the indiscriminate targeting, with high explosives, of civilian populations. 

Sources with knowledge of the negotiation process have told The Journal that while most countries engaged with the process, Russia ignored the Irish-led project and China did not agree to join with the declaration.

Those sources said that Russian delegates attended meetings but did not speak or engage at any stage. 

Chinese officials have had extensive meetings and discussions with Irish diplomats, led by a team from the Department of Foreign Affairs non-proliferation unit, but they have yet to sign up to the declaration. 

During the process, sources said, Irish diplomats used a strong evidence-based approach in their negotiations that showed that high explosives are used in warfare in built-up areas where just 10% of victims are military combatants. 

The cohort which suffers the most, according to the Irish study, is focused as high as 90% of civilians who are victims of the bombardment.

It is this information, it is understood, that was used to show that the indiscriminate bombing of cities is an ineffective military strategy. Such is the strength of the evidential basis that sources have said they expect some militaries will change their doctrine in how they approach conflict.

A source explained that critically, from a military perspective, the use of high explosives was developed from strategies developed in their use in open spaces. 

It is understood that the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the international agreement for a number of years. Sources said this was because of the complexity of the diplomatic discussions which could only be conducted face-to-face. 

It is understood that so far 69 countries have agreed the text of the declaration but it is hoped that in excess of 70 countries across all UN regions will sign the document.

Red Cross

The Irish Red Cross (IRC) has played a key role in developing the declaration.

Mirjana Spoljaric, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it would be a critical first step in reducing the harm to civilian populations. 

“When bombs fall in cities, pain multiplies. Lost lives. Lost limbs. Crumbled homes. Crushed dreams. That’s why today’s declaration is so important. It brings hope that the immense suffering of civilians will no longer be accepted as an inevitable by-product of warfare.

“For the first time in an instrument of this kind, States acknowledge the gravity of the problem and commit to taking concrete actions to address it, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, where such use may be expected to cause civilian harm,” he said. 

Dóchas, the group representing Irish Non-Governmental Development Organisations also played a critical role in the development of the declaration. 

Speaking on behalf of Dóchas, CEO Jane-Ann McKenna said the event in Dublin was a landmark moment. 

“Ireland has played a huge role in getting the international community to this historic moment. Many Dóchas members work in conflict areas and see first hand the devastating effects of explosives on innocent civilians.

“We are therefore delighted to be able to co-host today’s civil society forum where activists from around the world are coming together here in Dublin on this important occasion.”

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