On 18 November 2022, 83 states endorsed the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. This declaration was the result of years of efforts to raise awareness on the impact of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) and on the need for states to adopt policies and practices aimed at protecting civilians during and after conflict. One year has passed since this milestone achievement, and the relevance of the Declaration is greater than ever. Explosive weapons have been used extensively in Gaza, Sudan, and many other places, resulting in unspeakable harm.
The pattern of harm from the use of EWIPA
When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, 90 per cent of the casualties are civilians. In addition to the immediate harm of deaths and injuries, the use of explosive weapons can also result in psychological harm, permanent disabilities, social and economic exclusion, and other long-term harms. The destruction of systems of water and sanitation, housing, schools, hospitals, and other vital civilian infrastructure deprives populations of access to basic necessities and results in displacement and other long-term suffering.
Recent conflicts around the world demonstrate this clear pattern of harm. In the past weeks, over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed and 26,000 have been injured in the Gaza Strip, the majority as a result of bombing. Extensive bombardment from airstrikes and shelling has damaged more than 40,000 housing units, with an estimated 1.5 million people internally displaced. Humanitarian access to those in need is heavily constrained, and essential resources such as water, food, and medicine are in critically short supply.
In Sudan, since the eruption of the conflict on 15 April 2023, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have repeatedly used explosive weapons in populated areas that have caused loss of civilian life, damaged critical infrastructure, and left millions without access to basic necessities. The conflict has killed up to 9,000 people and left 25 million people—more than half of the country’s population—in need of humanitarian aid.
Gaza and Sudan are not isolated cases. Civilians are also suffering due to the use of EWIPA in multiple places around the world, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Syria, and Somalia.
The political declaration
The Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is the first formal international recognition that the use of EWIPA has severe humanitarian consequences that must be urgently addressed. The document, which is the culmination of almost three years of consultations with states, international organisations, and civil society groups, aims to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and to address their immediate and longer-term impacts.
The 83 states that have so far endorsed the Declaration agreed to a number of commitments, including to restrict or refrain from the use of EWIPA; to develop national policies and practices to protect civilians from the foreseeable direct and indirect effects of military operations; to gather and share data to better understand the humanitarian consequences of military operations; to assist victims, their families, and affected communities and facilitate humanitarian access to civilians in need.
WILPF’s actions in support of the political declaration
WILPF’s disarmament programme Reaching Critical Will participated in the negotiations of the Political Declaration and has been actively supporting its universalisation and implementation.
Several WILPF Sections have carried out activities to raise awareness about the use of EWIPA and to gather support for the political declaration. The Scottish Branch of WILPF UK organised a parliamentary event about the use of EWIPA during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence at the Scottish Parliament last year. WILPF Burundi organised a workshop for local civil society organisations and held meetings with members of the government to advocate for the signature of the political declaration. WILPF Sri Lanka organised a workshop at Kotalawala Defense University (KDU), while WILPF Zimbabwe carried out meetings with government ministries and made presentations about the use of EWIPA at multiple events. WILPF Togo organised several communications activities, in addition to a workshop with civil society organisations and meetings with local authorities. WILPF DRC organised a workshop and a roundtable with parliamentarians to advocate for the signature of the political declaration by the DRC government.
WILPF is also a member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) and has been supporting the network in several activities towards the universalisation and implementation of the Declaration. WILPF is also participating in outreach activities ahead of the first international follow-up conference to review the implementation of the Political Declaration, to be held in Oslo in April 2024.
Join the action to end the use of EWIPA
There are several measures that can be taken to support efforts aimed at ending the use of EWIPA, including:
- Demand that all parties to conflict stop the use of EWIPA immediately;
- Oppose all arms transfers related to the use of EWIPA;
- Call on your government to endorse the Political Declaration and collaborate with other groups to promote the Declaration;
- Call on your government to implement the commitments of the Declaration, including by developing national policies and practices to end the use of EWIPA; and
- Organise events, roundtables, and workshops with parliamentarians and other local authorities to inform them about the Declaration and gather support for it.
Resources for more information