Barmashovo, Ukraine- March 18, 2022: War of Russia against Ukraine. Concept of invasion. Burned and damaged school in the center of a village. Holes in the wall after bomb explosion. Broken windows. Shutterstock/Jane_Zh

Opinion Ireland has shown great leadership in protecting civilians affected by urban warfare

Liam O’Dwyer and Philip Spoerri of the Red Cross welcome today’s political declaration on urban warfare expected at Dublin Castle.

TODAY, OVER 50 States will gather in Dublin to mark the adoption of a landmark political declaration that signals hope for countless civilians around the world who are affected by urban warfare.

The declaration commits States to the strengthening of protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) – the laws of war – notably by refraining from or at least restricting, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when such use may be expected to cause civilian harm.

It could not have been any timelier. For many decades now we have seen the grave pattern of harm that results from bombing and shelling in cities, towns and villages in armed conflicts across the globe. This devastating impact and the unacceptably high toll on lives, limbs and livelihoods is a marked and continuing reality of warfare in many contexts.

Damage done

Every day, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement witnesses the humanitarian consequences of urban warfare and in particular the use of heavy explosive weapons. These consequences generate massive humanitarian needs and have ripple effects across borders.

We deeply appreciate the leadership of the Irish government, which has steered the diplomatic process over the last three years in an open, transparent and inclusive manner, taking into account a variety of diverging views and many challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is what we see today; a strong, ambitious, clear and meaningful instrument signatories can be proud of.

Today’s political declaration is the fruit of the commitment of Ireland and many other States to advancing the protection of civilians and upholding the rules of war, and the tireless efforts of the United Nations, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and civil society – spearheaded and inspired by the courage and determination of explosive weapons survivors. All other States need to follow suit.

Shift in thinking

In conflict zones across the world, the bleak picture of civilian harm and destruction can only change if armed actors change their behaviour. This requires a shift in perspective, policies and practices, training and equipment, and the way partnered military operations are conducted and supported.

This political declaration aims to do just that. It provides an important framework for further action which, if effectively implemented, can go a long way in alleviating civilian suffering. It is a commitment to taking concrete steps against that suffering.

In light of the high number of civilian deaths and long-lasting physical and mental suffering, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement calls on States and parties to armed conflict to take action to prevent and reduce this human impact.

The destruction of critical infrastructure, disruption of essential services, environmental damage and widespread displacement that similarly result from war in cities can and must also be mitigated.

Such mitigation action includes strengthening legal and policy frameworks that protect the civilian population and civilian objects such as homes, schools and hospitals against the effects of urban warfare, and avoiding the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated areas.

We urge States to make collective or individual commitments to reduce the civilian harm and suffering caused by war in cities. We see this political declaration as a significant component of the action that States should take to this end.

We commend the many States that have endorsed the political declaration and encourage all others to do so without delay and to put its important commitments into action. Civilians affected by urban warfare now and in the future deserve all the measures we can take to minimise risk and reduce suffering.

Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary-General of the Irish Red Cross and Philip Spoerri, Head of Delegation for the United Kingdom and Ireland, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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Liam O’Dwyer & Philip Spoerri
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