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The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

Published

November 25, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

An overview of the actions needed

On Friday November 18th, states and civil society joined together in Dublin Castle to officially endorse the long-awaited international Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). So far, 82 states have signed onto the declaration; this is a similar number to the initial signatories to other international declarations that have created new norms and standards in warfare, such as the Safe Schools Declaration. Among the signatories to the EWIPA declaration are states such as the US, UK, Netherlands, and Belgium, all of which made sizable contributions to the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that killed an estimated 8,194–13,249 civilians.

According to Action on Armed Violence, when EWIPAs are used, over 90% of those harmed are civilians. Airwars recently put together a series of maps showing the clear and troubling connection between population density in cities and civilian deaths during urban warfare. Even beyond those who are killed immediately, the reverberating effects are often severe and pervasive, with schools, hospitals, livelihoods, and basic resources like food and water becoming inaccessible for years. This has played out in recent conflicts in cities such as Mosul and Raqqa, in which entire city parts were destroyed and have been made uninhabitable.

The Irish-led, UN backed international declaration is a groundbreaking step towards curbing the use of such weapons. It comes at the back of a decade of civil society focus and pressure on this, led by the INEW network, which Airwars is a part of. As with any political declaration, the results are only as good as the implementation. Below, we outline some of the challenges states must address as they begin the process of implementing the EWIPA declaration.

States must be frank about gaps in their current approach

The first step in understanding how to implement the declaration to limit the use of EWIPAs must be for each state to critically examine current gaps in its own approach and engage in a meaningful process to address these. This in itself might be a stumbling block for some; while states such as the US and the Netherlands have shown increasing willingness to address gaps in their approach to the protection of civilians by working with civil society and experts, others have not.

The UK for instance, still falls behind allies in terms of transparency on evidence collection around civilian harm. Under the declaration, states committed to: “Collect, share, and make publicly available disaggregated data on the direct and indirect effects on civilians and civilian objects of military operations involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, where feasible and appropriate”. Despite the UK representative in Dublin noting during the signing ceremony that “the UK already has policies and procedures in place to support the implementation”, this has to date not been evident when it comes to public reporting on the effects of UK military actions.

As it stands, the UK maintains that it has evidence of only a single civilian casualty from its actions in the seven year anti-ISIS campaign, for example, despite extensive military involvement. The US, by comparison, has admitted to over 1,400 civilian casualties as part of the Coalition.  When challenged, UK officials tend to emphasise that they are aware that is not a case of lower civilian casualties than in previous conflicts – but of poor evidence gathering. This position was summarised by former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Lancaster, who emphasised in 2019 that; “[I]t is not our position that there has been only a single civilian casualty as a result of our military action. What we are saying is that we have evidence of only a single, or what we believe to have been a single, civilian casualty.”

In spite of this oft-repeated recognition that the evidence gathering mechanisms of the UK are not able to accurately reflect the reality on the ground, there is, to our knowledge, no process in place to improve this approach and little willingness to engage with civil society to address this. If this is not addressed, there will be a significant gap between the rhetoric of UK leadership when it comes to EWIPA and the reality on the ground.

States must build clarity on who is responsible for implementing the EWIPA declaration on a national level

The second step states must take to implement the EWIPA declaration is to gain better internal understandings of who will be involved in its implementation. This must include those focusing specifically on EWIPA, but also those focusing on topics such as human security, the protection of civilians, humanitarian response, development, diplomacy, and all the other elements required to protect those caught in conflict from being harmed by explosive weapons.The structures behind overseas military engagements are complex, quick changing, and lines of responsibility are often murky. Yet it is only if all involved in such operations, across parliament, ministries of defence, and ministries of foreign affairs and overseas development, are dedicated to limiting the use of EWIPA, understanding their impact, and tracking civilian harm that occurs if they are used, that implementation will be effective.

States must be open to civil society inclusion in the implementation of the EWIPA declaration 

Civil society actors, many of us united under the INEW banner, played a significant role in the development of the EWIPA declaration and the advocacy that brought states to the process, a fact that was acknowledged by a large number of states at the conference in Dublin. We stand ready to support the implementation in national contexts and across international coalitions. Many civil society organisations have spent years – sometimes decades – developing protection mechanisms and civilian harm tracking mechanisms, as well as conducting research into valuable lessons on the impact of EWIPA. Civil society organisations are also often direct links to the communities affected. It is in all of our interests that these resources are effectively shared with those in power.

In those states where there is a history of poor transparency and accountability on civilian harm and civilian harm tracking, governments and their militaries must also commit to a certain level of transparency on the implementation of the EWIPA declaration. They should work with civil society actors to understand the gaps in their current approach and set up milestones for implementation.

Looking forward

The endorsing ceremony was a promising step towards recognising the immense harm that these weapons have caused in recent years – and the harm they will continue to cause as their impact reverberates through communities. If the declaration is implemented well, fewer civilians will be harmed by explosive weapons in their cities, towns, and camps.

Yet there are pitfalls each state must avoid if their implementation of the declaration is to be meaningful. They must be frank about current gaps in their system and must be willing to address them. They must gain an oversight of everyone who will play a role in the effective implementation of EWIPA. And they should work with civil society actors who have resources to share and stand ready to support implementation.

Additional resources:

    Implementation Brief: Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, CIVIC, November 2022 (here) Safeguarding Civilians: A Humanitarian Interpretation of the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, Human Rights watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law school, October 2022 (here) Implementing the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Key Areas and Implementing Actions, INEW and Article 36, November 2022 (here) Over 80 Countries Committed to Curb Use of Explosive Weapons, Now Comes the Hard Part, Bonnie Docherty, Human Rights Watch for Just Security, November 23rd 2022 (here)
▲ The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

Incident Code

CS1987

Incident date

November 14, 2022

Location

جديد بكارة, Jedid Bakara, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Geolocation

35.242426, 40.364853 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

One young man was killed when he was run over by a vehicle allegedly belonging to the Coalition in the village of Jedid Bakara on November 14, 2022.

Euphrates Post reported that a young man named Salam Hussein Al-Arif was killed when he was run over by a vehicle belonging to the Coalition. Multiple other local sources provided similar information, adding that he died instantly and that it was a “mistake” or “accident”.

According to El Dorar News, the young man that was killed was riding his motorcycle on the village’s main road when he was run over by a vehicle belonging to the Coalition, which was driving at high speed. Baladi News added that the military vehicle was crossing the town after coming from one of the American bases.

The incident occured in the morning.

  • Salam Hussein Al-Arif Adult male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Accidents related to conflict
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (3) [ collapse]

  • Salam Hussein Al-Aref, killed when a Coalition vehicle ran him over on November 14, 2022. (Image posted by Orient News via Twitter)
  • Damage caused by a Coalition vehicle that killed a young man on November 14, 2022. (Image posted by @thevoicesyria1)
  • Young man killed by a Coalition vehicle on November 14, 2022. (Image posted by El Dorar News)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Jedid Bakara (جديد بكارة), for which the generic coordinates are: 35.242426, 40.364853. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Accidents related to conflict
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Incident Code

CS1986

Incident date

November 3, 2022

Location

رويشد, Ruwaished, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Geolocation

35.723299, 40.449240 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Village level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A young man was killed during an airdrop operation allegedly carried out by the Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces in the village of Al Ruwaished on November 3, 2022.

Euphrates Post reported that a young man named Muhannad Ibrahim al-Khalaf was killed during a raid carried out by the SDF at dawn in the village of Al Ruwaished.

According to Naher Media, Muhammad left the SDF after receiving a threat from ISIS several months ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the SDF were raiding the house of someone accused of theft and rape, and an armed clash took place resulting in the death of a young man and arrest of two others.

All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the operation to the SDF and Coalition forces, with Naher Media specifically pointing out that the military forces that carried out the raid came from the city of Al-Shaddadi in the Hasaka countryside with support from Coalition helicopters.

The incident occured around dawn.

  • Muhannad Ibrahim al-Khalaf Adult male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Ruwaished (رويشد), for which the generic coordinates are: 35.723299, 40.449240. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Incident Code

CS1985

Incident date

October 28, 2022

Location

ذيبان, Thiban, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Geolocation

35.00502, 40.513045 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Town level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A woman was killed and two others, including a minor, were injured in an alleged airdrop operation carried out by the Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Hawija neighborhood of Thiban town, east of Deir Ezzor, on October 28, 2022.

Nahr Media reported that a woman named Nadia Mustafa al-Ali was killed and two other people were injured when an SDF patrol raided the homes of the “Al-Askar” family in the Hawija neighborhood of Thiban town to arrest someone connected to smuggling operations. Clashes broke out between the SDF and the people of the houses, resulting in the casualties. According to Orient News, a minor was among those injured and the SDF arrested a number of people, taking them to al-Omar field base.

Local sources from Deir Ezzor governorate told Alaraby News that ““a woman was killed on Thursday/Friday night, and two other people were injured of varying degrees, in addition to the arrest of several people following a raid carried out by the SDF with the support of US helicopters of the coalition forces,” adding that this was an operation carried out by the SDF and the US Coalition.

@DeirEzzore added that the clashes were between the SDF/Coalition forces and people who smuggle oil cross the Euphrates River.

Orient News pointed out that this operation was part of an increase of operations carried out by the Coalition and SDF, with the majority of them occurring in Deir Ezzor

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Nadia Mustafa al-Ali Adult female killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Al Hawija (الحويجة) neighbourhood, reportedly within the town of Thiban (ذيبان), for which the generic coordinates are: 35.00502, 40.513045. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 woman)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Mapping urban warfare

These maps are the first in a series of visualisations Airwars is presenting ahead of a new political declaration that calls on states to better protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

By matching neighbourhood population density – which also usually coincides with high levels of civilian infrastructure – with Airwars’ archive of civilian harm, we demonstrate the deadly human toll and the impact of urban warfare in cities and towns.

Spotlight on Mosul

During the Battle of Mosul, the US-led Coalition used over 29,000 bombs, missiles and rockets on the city to help defeat ISIS. Airwars records of civilian harm indicate that at least 5,680 civilians were reported killed – though some casualty estimates reach over 9,000.

Airwars has documented this profoundly troubling trend, time and again, where modern warfare is increasingly taking place in urban areas.

Map 1: This map of Mosul shows the devastating and deadly effects of heavy fighting in highly urbanised and populated neighbourhoods - between 2016 - 2017. The map splits Mosul up into local neighbourhoods - the taller the neighbourhood, the greater the number of casualties. Areas with the highest population density are indicated in green. As the map shows - the higher the density, the more casualties were recorded. The most number of civilians were alleged killed in Sheikh Fathi neighbourhood, where at least 1,079 civilian deaths were recorded. Population density data according to Central Statistics Organisation (COSIT), Iraq, August, 2016. Civilian casualty data presents minimum estimates across all civilian harm allegations recorded by Airwars.

Map 2: This heatmap shows evidence of building damage during the Battle of Mosul (2016 - 2017) as recorded by UNOSAT from 2017. Building damage refers to substantial structural damage seen from satellite imagery over the period of the conflict. According to city officials, in some parts of the city 80 percent of buildings were destroyed. In the recently published RAND Report, Understanding Civilian Harm in Raqqa and Its Implications for Future Conflicts, RAND estimates that the ratio of buildings destroyed or damaged in Mosul to civilians killed was 1:1.

UK MoD for October 10, 2022 – October 10, 2022
Original
Annotated

Report Date

October 10, 2022

Summary

Monday 10 October – a Reaper engaged a Daesh terrorist in northern Syria

Detail

Royal Air Force aircraft have continued to conduct armed reconnaissance patrols against Daesh terrorists.  On Monday 10 October, a Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, armed with Hellfire missiles, tracked and, when it was safe to do so without posing a risk to civilians, successfully engaged one such terrorist who was on a motorcycle in northern Syria, near Hamman At Turkumen.