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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

R4493

Incident date

November 22, 2022

Location

تديل, Tadel, Aleppo, Syria

Airwars assessment

A civilian was wounded by alleged Russian or Syrian regime shelling of the village of Tadel on November 22, 2022.

The @SyriaCivilDefe reported that a civilian was wounded by artillery shelling carried out by the Syrian regime forces and Russian forces on residential neighborhoods in the village of Tadel.

A tweet from @AsharqNewsSYR pointed out that the shelling coincided with the commencing of the 19th round of peace talks regarding Syria in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Sources were conflicted as to who was responsible, with @Almohrar1 identifying Russian forces while @alaskari_media blamed the Syrian regime. Alaraby News reported that the shelling coincided with the “intense flight of Russian reconnaissance planes”.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Syrian Regime, Russian Military

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Civil Defense volunteers treat a civilian injured by alleged Russian or regime shelling of the village of Adel on November 22, 2022. (Image posted by @AsharqNewsSYR)

Syrian Regime Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime
  • Syrian Regime position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Russian Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Military
  • Russian Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Syrian Regime, Russian Military

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4492

Incident date

November 21, 2022

Location

معربليت, Maarbelet, Aleppo, Syria

Airwars assessment

A 35 year old man was injured by alleged Syrian regime or Russian artillery shelling of the outskirts of the village of Maarbelet on November 21, 2022.

The @SyriaCivilDefe reported that a man was injured while working on agricultural land by artillery shelling carried out by the Syrian regime and Russian forces on the outskirts of the village of Maarbelet. The Civil Defense added that a woman also suffered a nervous breakdown from the shelling.

@HalabTodayTV reported that the injury was suffered by a civilian.

A Facebook post by Rasheed Alosman identified the civilian injured as Yasser Muhammad Sheikh Hussein, age 35, with an image showing an injury to his leg.

Pro-regime source @idleb_online tweeted that the Syrian regime army launched artillery shelling against “terrorist sites”  without specifying casualties.

Sources were conflicted as to whether Russian or the Syrian regime were responsible, with @Almohrar1 attributing the shelling to Russia while Shaam News blamed the Syrian regime.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Yasser Muhammad Sheikh Hussein 35 years old male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Artillery shelling of outskirts of the village of Maarbelet on November 21, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Civil Defense via Twitter)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of the injury suffered by Yasser Muhammad Sheikh Hussein when Russian or Syrian regime forces shelled the village of Maarbelet. (Image posted by Rasheed Alosman via Facebook)

Russian Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Military
  • Russian Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Regime Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime
  • Syrian Regime position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (11) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4491

Incident date

November 20, 2022

Location

جسر الشغور, Jisr Al Shughur, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

A child was killed when an unexploded cluster bomb originally launched by Syrian regime or Russian forces exploded in agricultural land on the outskirts of the city of Jisr Al Shughur on November 20, 2022.

The @SyriaCivilDefe reported that a child was killed when a cluster bomb from a previous bombing, attributed to the Syrian regime and Russia, exploded while the child was grazing sheep on the outskirts of the city of Jisr Al Shughur.

A local source told North Press that “the explosion resulted in the killing of the child, Muhammad Saleh al-Daghli, from the city of Jisr Al Shughur” and that many children were grazing their sheep in the same area.

@Almohrar1 added that the body of the child was transferred to the forensic medicine department in the city of Idlib, and then handed over to his family.

Sources were conflicted as to whether the bomb was from a previous Russian or Syrian regime bombardment.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Muhammad Saleh al-Daghli Child male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Planted explosives and unexploded ordnance (UXO)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (13) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Syrian Civil Defense volunteers with the body of a child killed by an unexploded cluster bomb in Jisr Al Shughur on November 20, 2022. (Image posted by the Syrian Civil Defense via Twitter)

Russian Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Military
  • Russian Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Regime Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime
  • Syrian Regime position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Planted explosives and unexploded ordnance (UXO)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (13) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4489

Incident date

November 14, 2022

Location

معربليت, Maarbalit, Idlib, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

On November 14th, 2022, according to local sources, one civilian, a man, was reportedly killed and another one injured while they were harvesting olives in farms near Maarbalit village, south of Idlib. The Syrian Civil Defense said the attack was conducted by heavy Syrian and Russian artillery shelling, while other local sources either blamed the Syrian forces only or the Russian forces only.

SNHR added that the shelling landed close to a group of civilians and described the man killed as Yousef Ibrahim Barhou “from Maarbalit village”. Baladi News said the attack occurred in the morning, and that the young man was killed instantly. It also stated that “civil defense teams went to the scene of the accident and transferred the body of the young man to his family after the doctors confirmed that he had passed away.”.

One source only, quoting local sources without further precisions, said that only material damage was recorded following the artillery shelling.

The incident occured in the morning.

  • Yousef Ibrahim Barhou Age unknown male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • One civilian was reportedly killed and one injured by Syrian and Russian artillery shelling on November 6th, 2022 in Maarbalit fields. Source: @SyriaCivilDefe

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Strike target
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4490

Incident date

November 17, 2022

Location

الاتارب, Al Atareb, Aleppo, Syria

Airwars assessment

Between five and six civilians, including up to five children, were injured by alleged Russian or Syrian regime artillery shelling of the outskirts of Al Atareb on November 17, 2022.

The @SyriaCivilDefe reported that six people, including two children, were injured by Syrian regime and Russian artillery shelling of the outskirts of Al Atareb. The Civil Defense volunteers transferred one of the injured to a specialized hospital for treatment.

@thiqanewsagency put the number of civilians injured at five and attributed the shelling to the regime forces while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that all five of the injuries were children.

The majority of sources attributed the incident to the Syrian regime, with Radio Al Kul specifying that the strike were carried out by regime forces stationed in the 46th regiment. However, both @Yassmin_ya1 and the Syrian Civil Defense identified both the Syrian regime and Russia as being responsible for the shelling. @Step_Agency reported that both artillery and missiles were part of the bombardment.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    5–6
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Civil Defense volunteers assist a civilian injured by alleged Russian and Syrian regime strikes on Al Atari on November 17, 2022. (Image posted by Syrian Civil Defense via Twitter)

Russian Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Russian Military
  • Russian Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Regime Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Regime
  • Syrian Regime position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    5–6
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    Russian Military, Syrian Regime

Sources (14) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4488

Incident date

November 6, 2022

Location

كنصفرة, Kansafra, Idlib, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

On November 6th, 2022, in Kansafra, South of Idlib, between one to three civilians – one woman, or two women and a girl – were reportedly injured as a result of artillery shelling. While the Syrian Civil Defence (SCD) accused both the Russian and Syrian forces of carrying out the attack, other local sources claimed it was only conducted by the Syrian regime. @Sharqya_reporte added that the artillery shelling occurred in a residential neighbourhood.

SCD noted that a woman injured was sent to a hospital for treatment, without further precisions.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–3
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • On November 6th 2022, in Kansafra, Idlib, artillery shelling reportedly injured between one to three civilians. Source: @Sharqya_reporte

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–3
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Incident Code

R4486

Incident date

November 6, 2022

Location

اّفس, Afes, Idlib, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

On November 6th, 2022, a civilian – a woman – was reportedly injured by artillery shelling and/or by an airstrike in Afes village, East of Idlib.  According to the Syrian Civil Defence, the shelling was carried out by Syrian and Russian forces but other local sources argued that it was either conducted by the Syrian regime or by Russian forces only. @Step_Agency reported that the “artillery and missile” bombing by the Syrian regime in Afes village coincided with “the flight of Russian reconnaissance airplanes” in the area. @mhmdalk66278540 noted that the shelling led to “casualties among civilians”, without further precisions.

The Syrian Civil Defence added that they sent an ambulance to carry the injured to a hospital.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (9) [ collapse]

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected target
    Unknown

Sources (9) [ collapse]