The Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

Explosive weapons: A threat to human life

Tens of thousands of civilians are killed and injured every year by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Children are disproportionately affected by explosive attacks. In a United Nations system wide effort, military and civilian protection experts came together in New York to analyze direct and long-term effects of the weapons and to discuss ways to reduce civilian casualties and human suffering.

Devastating effects on civilians, especially children

Tens of thousands of civilians are killed and injured every year by explosive weapons such as mortars, rockets, artillery shells, air-dropped bombs, improvised explosive devices used both by armed forces and groups.

These weapons are a particular threat to civilians in the context of contemporary warfare, where hostilities are taking place in densely populated areas such as urban centers, blurring the lines between civilians and combatants.

“What makes these weapons a concern is their indiscriminate nature where they have a devastating wide-area effect in populated areas, on civilians and infrastructure,” Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, OCHA Chief of the Policy Development and Studies Branch said.

Children are disproportionately affected by explosive weapons and often suffer from complex injuries and long-term psychological trauma as a result of explosive attacks.

How to limit the impact

In a joint effort to promote greater understanding and to respond to the issue, the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict in collaboration with UNICEF, OCHA and the mission of Norway organized a panel discussion on “The Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas” in New York.

During the discussions, civilian and military protection experts shared their experience in addressing the issue and put forward policy recommendations to reduce and prevent human suffering caused by explosive weapons.

“We need more information, better data collection, and we need to analyze the impact more clearly of the use of explosive weapons on children,” the Permanent Representative of Norway, H.E. Mr. Pedersen said.

State and non-State actors should refrain from the use of explosive weapons that have wide-area effects in populated areas and ensure that operations are conducted in compliance with international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution.

Connected via VTC from Nairobi, Deputy Force Commander of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Major General Karanja informed the audience that military training and stricter rules of engagement of his troops, among other measures, have mitigated civilian casualties.

“We are becoming increasingly aware of the heavy toll explosive weapons and the engagement of the United Nations as a whole is required to protect civilians, and particularly children, from their effects,” Naomi Miyashita, Programme Officer of the Office for Children and Armed Conflict said.

All United Nations staff members have a role to play in addressing the negative impact of explosive weapons through advocacy and monitoring activities as well as through programme response to victims and survivors.

For more information, please read the advocacy paper: The Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.