Declaration Expected on Explosive Weapons

April 2022

As Russia’s targeting of civilians and civilian areas in Ukraine draws widespread international condemnation, a years-long multilateral effort to address the harm caused by using explosive weapons in populated areas is nearing conclusion.

Countries involved in the effort, led by Ireland, will convene in Geneva on April 6–8 to debate a declaration stating that “armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Using the word “avoid” to describe the military practices that adherents to the nonbinding declaration would pledge is expected to be a key point. In response to a 2021 draft, the United States recommended replacing “avoid” with “mitigate” and argued that proposed restrictions would exceed what is required under international humanitarian law.

Washington also expressed concern about stigmatizing explosive weapons because they “may be needed to protect civilians during armed conflict.” The UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and others have instead argued that an avoidance policy is warranted.

ICRC President Peter Maurer said on Jan. 27, “There is an urgent need for a change of mindset and that belligerents put the protection of civilians back at the center of their policy and practices.”