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Analysis

#StopBombingCities

One Year After the Adoption of the Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons, Bombing in Cities Continues  

Since the adoption of the Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Dublin last year, thousands of civilians around the world have been suffering due to bombing and shelling. The international community must urgently act to implement the Declaration to protect civilians from this horror 

Image credit: Mahmoud Sulaiman 
Laura Varella
18 November 2023

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: 

  1. Demand that all parties to conflict stop the use of EWIPA immediately; 
  1. Oppose all arms transfers related to the use of EWIPA; 
  1. Call on your government to endorse the Political Declaration and collaborate with other groups to promote the Declaration; 
  1. 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 
  1. 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 

Implementing the political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas: questions and answers 

Africa and the political declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas 

​​Explosive Weapons Monitor: Documenting Two Years of Global Harm to Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (2021-2022) 

Question and answers on explosive weapons in populated areas and the political declaration 

Podcast: Explosive weapons in populated areas 

Explosive Weapons Monitor 

Ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas 

Trading arms, bombing towns: the lethal connection between the international arms trade and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas 

Women and explosive weapons 

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Laura Varella

Laura Varella is an Associate at Reaching Critical Will (RCW), the disarmament programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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