Expert meeting - Explosive weapons in populated areas: Humanitarian, legal, technical and military aspects, 24-25 February 2015 [EN/AR]

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Cities have never been immune from warfare, but over the last century, armed conflicts have, increasingly, come to be fought in population centres, thereby exposing civilians to greater risk of death, injury, and displacement. This trend is only likely to continue with increasing urbanization. It is compounded by the fact that belligerents, and non-State armed groups in particular, often avoid facing their enemy in the open, intermingling instead with the civilian population.

Yet, armed conflicts often continue to be waged with weapon systems originally designed for use in open battlefields. There is generally no cause for concern when such weapons are used in open battlefields, but when they are used against military objectives located in populated areas their effects are often indiscriminate and devastating for civilians.

In 2011, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated that the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area should be avoided in densely populated areas due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects and despite the absence of an express legal prohibition on specific types of weapons. On 24 and 25 February 2015, the ICRC convened a meeting of experts titled Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Humanitarian, Legal, Technical and Military Aspects. The meeting brought together government experts from 17 States and 11 individual experts, including weapons experts and representatives of United Nations agencies and non- governmental organizations (NGOs). The objective of the expert meeting was to facilitate a facts-based discussion and exchange of views among government and independent experts on this important humanitarian issue – in particular on the challenges and the potential opportunities in the choice of means and methods of warfare – with a view to minimizing incidental civilian harm when a legitimate target is attacked in a populated area.

This report summarizes the expert meeting. It has been prepared by the ICRC under its sole responsibility, and is divided into three sections:

Section 1 provides the highlights of the meeting; these are not meant to be exhaustive but to summarize key points made at the meeting.

Section 2 explains the background of the issue of explosive weapons in populated areas from the ICRC’s perspective, and the scope of the issue for the purposes of the meeting. It is based on the opening statement of Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the ICRC.

Section 3 provides a summary of the presentations and discussions at the meeting, structured around four sessions that addressed the humanitarian, legal, technical and military considerations arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The summary is not intended to be exhaustive; it reflects the key points made by speakers and participants.

Where agreement or disagreement on certain points is indicated in the text, it reflects only a sense of the views among those who spoke.

Speakers are identified in the report, and have agreed to the summaries of their presentations. Otherwise, all discussions in the meeting were conducted under the Chatham House Rule.

The four guiding questions for the fourth session on existing policy and practice, the expert meeting’s agenda and the list of participants are provided in Annexes 1, 2, and 3.