Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

LC431

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

مشروع الموز, Mashrou’ Al Muz, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.841729, 13.273353 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Local sources reported that a woman and her two children were killed and the father was injured in shelling during clashes in Mashrou’ Al Muz in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. One source asserted that this news was not true.

@tkyroogklshytk tweeted that a family near Mashrou’ Al Muz was killed due to shelling of their home, and later added that the “family of Abdul Hakim… in the village of Al-Gheraisah Mashrou’ Al Muz, a man, his wife and two daughters, and a shell fell on the family”. @taqarifatnews also tweeted about the death of a family, without providing specific details.

Emergency Medicine and Support Center posted on Facebook that the news of shelling of Mr. Mohamed Al-Muzoghi’s house and the death of his wife and children was “incorrect”.

However, a Facebook post from Libya Al Ahrar quoting the spokesman for the Emergency and Ambulance Service Osama Ali stated that “a woman and her two children were killed and their father was injured this morning as a result of the Tripoli clashes”. @AhmedElmadni added that the father was in intensive care.

Libya Al Ahrar reported that more than 20 families were evacuated from the Mashrou’ Al Muz area and @wady_dynar tweeted that a fire had erupted as a result of the shelling.

@gGY33TX9eprjsHt tweeted the names of the mother, Naima Mesbah Al-Qamoudi, and her children, Reem Muhammad Al-Mazoughi and Emad Muhammad Al-Mazoughi, who they said were killed, and that the father was in care, due to “more than one shell” falling on their house.

Al Marsad posted on Facebook that “the organs of the Presidential Council” were involved in clashes and shelling east of Tripoli, while @libyapress2010 tweeted that the clashes were between Al Radaa (Ministry of Interior RADAA Special forces) and Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. A tweet from @wagak_original reported that the attack was carried out by. a drone after “elements of Ayoub Abu Ras (Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade) holed up next to” the house.

The incident occured in the morning.

The victims were named as:

Family members (4)

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • (0–2 children0–1 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–1
  • 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.

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • House damaged by shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • A shell fell in the "banana project villas" and street fighting near the immigration headquarters in the clashes taking place east of #Tripoli between "the organs of the Presidential Council". #Libya #observatory
  • Fire from shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @wady_dynar)
  • Fire from shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @SosoRt19)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Mashrou’ Al Muz (مشروع الموز) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Mashrou’ Al Muz are: 32.841729, 13.273353. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • (0–2 children0–1 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–1
  • 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.

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC430

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

شارع المطبات طريق المشتل, Al Matabat street in Al Mashtal road, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.847656, 13.289481 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Street level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

One civilian, a young man, was killed and four to five other men were injured in shelling carried out by “presidential agencies” on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022.

According to @tkyroogklshytk, a shell fell on Al-Matabat Street behind the Qadour Clinic near a group of young men sitting on the street, injuring five of them, some of them seriously. Images posted by @tkyroogklshytk show damage to the road and buildings from the shells’ impacts.

24 Hours posted on Facebook that a young man was killed and four others were wounded by shelling from armed militias on a house on Al-Matabat Street. @L1JmG9xosh7fgo1 tweeted that in addition to the civilian killed, five other people were seriously injured.

A Facebook post by Al Marasad reported that young Ashour Al-Qanuni was killed and four of his neighbors’ sons (Ahmed, Al-Azhar, Asil, Haitham) were injured “after a shell fell on them while they were standing in the street in the Ain Zara area after they went out to perform Friday prayers”.

The majority of sources did not identify who was responsible for the shelling, while Al Marasad posted on Facebook that the “presidential agencies” carried out the shelling, indicating the Government of National Accord (GNA) was involved.

@taqarifatnews reported that the shelling caused a fire inside the wall of a house.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

The victims were named as:

Family members (4)

  • Ahmed male injured
  • Al-Azhar male injured
  • Asil Al Shabah male injured
  • Haitham male injured

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    4–5
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    GNA/Turkish Military

Sources (13) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (9) [ collapse]

  • Damage caused by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Damage caused by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Damage caused by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Blood from victims of shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Smoke caused by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Smoke caused by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • Citizens stuck in their homes documenting from their homes the raging clashes between the "presidential council agencies" in areas east of #Tripoli, and a clip showing that a house in Ain Zara was hit by a shell. #Observatory #Libya
  • Ashour Al-Qanuni, killed by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @L1JmG9xosh7fgo1)
  • Ashour Al-Qanuni, killed by shelling on Al Matabat street in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by Mohammed Al Shefer via Facebook)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a strike in the vicinity of Al Mashtal Road (طريق المشتل) in the Ain Zara (عين زارة) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Al Mashtal Road are: 32.847656, 13.289481. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

GNA/Turkish Military Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    GNA/Turkish Military
  • GNA/Turkish Military position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Civilians reported injured
    4–5
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    GNA/Turkish Military

Sources (13) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC429

Incident date

May 25, 2022

Location

أبو سليم, Abo Salim, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.852987, 13.184588 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A mortar shell injured at least two civilians when it hit Omdurman, the Abu Salim area of Tripoli, Libya on May 25th 2022, according to local sources.

According to @KhaledDernah3, the injuries were of the “city team player”, Anwar Makhlouf, and his friend, Fathi Baira, who had minor injuries. Both were transferred to Al-Khadra Hospital for treatment for shrapnel wounds.

A Facebook post by Tripolistreets0 identified Anwar as having a shrapnel in his foot.

The source also said that the projectile was from a 23-caliber weapon.

There is no reference in any source which identifies the belligerent.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Anwar Makhlouf Age unknown male injured
  • Fathi Baira Age unknown male injured

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Anwar Makhlouf, a football player, injured when a mortar hit him and his friend in Abo Salim, Tripoli on May 25th 2022 (Image via @salaaah62 / Twitter)
  • Fathi Baira, injured when a mortar hit him and his friend in Abo Salim, Tripoli on May 25th 2022 (Image via @salaaah62 / Twitter)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention Omdurman (ام درمان) in the Abo Salim (أبو سليم) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Omdurman are: 32.852987, 13.184588. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC428

Incident date

May 14, 2022

Location

جنزور, Jamila Triangle, Janzour, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.823157, 12.986962 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Clashes at dawn on May 14th 2022 in the Jamila Triangle in the Janzour area, reported to be in the vicinity of the West Tripoli Electricity Station were reported to have caused civilian casualties, but reports differ in the number. However, according to another local source, the Municipal Council of Janzour did not mention any civilian casualties.

This ranges from “some civilians being injured” to “a family of five being killed” and “one dead and 5 wounded”. Therefore, between one to five people were reported killed, with up to five people reported injured.

A family of five were reported to have been killed when gunshots fell on a house near the Jamila Triangle in the Janzour area, Tripoli, in Libya. One source, Essa Essa, on Facebook, reported that the family were the Abu Shaiba family.

Another source commented that “some civilians were injured” and another local Facebook page, Libya Live, posted that “indiscriminate shooting [was] targeting the rooftops of houses in the Janzour area.”

@salaaah62 reported that the armed clashes were with “tanks.”

The clashes were reported to be between the militias of the 55th Infantry Brigade and the Knights of Janzour. There are other references to civilians being injured in these attacks, for example Al Ain reported that Janzour Media Centre confirmed that “many citizens passing from the coastal road were injured during the beginning of the attack” which started “at the gate of the West Tripoli Electricity Station.”

According to Al Arabiya, “the private clinics close to the clashes recorded the reception of one dead person and five wounded, with minor and moderate injuries.” It also reported that “no official data has been issued so far, neither from the Ministry of Health nor from the Prime Minister.”

Al Ain reported that the “violent clashes erupted at dawn” on May 14th 2022, “between the militias of the “55th Infantry Brigade” and “Forsan Janzour”, due to previous accumulations between the two sides, the most recent of which was the killing of Walid al-Qat, who belongs to the “55th Infantry Brigade”.

“The 55th Infantry” militia accused the Knights of Janzour of cooperating in the killing of Walid al-Qatt, after his arrest by the “Special Deterrence Force” militia, which caused the outbreak of violent clashes that led to deaths and injuries between the two parties, in the early hours of the morning. Al Ain reported that the attack was launched by the 55th Infantry.

The “Reporters” Facebook page posted that “this news came after a previous news story reported that an elderly woman had been killed in the same area, and the screaming woman was heard in the vicinity of the area. Our correspondent in the Janzour area reported that the people are appealing to the government to intervene quickly and asking the warring parties to open a saef corridor for them to get out of the areas of the clash..”

Al Ain also reported that Janzour Media Centre announced a power outage in several areas of Tripoli after the destruction of the power transmission towers, which were reportedly targeted by the 55th Infantry.

The incident occured around dawn.

The victims were named as:

Family members (1)

  • Abu Shaima family

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 5
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–5
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    Libyan rebel forces

Sources (22) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (9) [ collapse]

  • "A family of five died when an RPG bomber fell on a house near Jamila Triangle" on May 14th 2022 in Libya (Image via Libyansknoweachother / Facebook)
  • Al Ain reported that clashes between militias resulted in deaths and injuries on May 14th 2022 in Janzour, Tripoli (Image via Al-ain.com)
  • Al Ain reported that clashes between militias resulted in deaths and injuries on May 14th 2022 in Janzour, Tripoli (Image via Al-ain.com)
  • Al Ain reported that clashes between militias resulted in deaths and injuries on May 14th 2022 in Janzour, Tripoli (Image via Al-ain.com)
  • Al Arabiya reported that the private clinics close to where the militia clashes took place in Janzour, Tripoli recorded one dead person and five injured.
  • "The Municipal Council of Janzour: We condemn the attack on our city, and we are surprised that the official authorities have not communicated with us" (Image via Alsaaa24.com)
  • @MOHAMME_MAHJOUB reported clashes with tanks in Janzour resulting in deaths and injuries (Image via Twitter)
  • @MOHAMME_MAHJOUB reported clashes with tanks in Janzour resulting in deaths and injuries (Image via Twitter)
  • @MOHAMME_MAHJOUB reported clashes with tanks in Janzour resulting in deaths and injuries (Image via Twitter)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Janzour (جنزور) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Janzour are: 32.823157, 12.986962. Reports specifically mention clashes around the gate of the West Tripoli Power Station (محطة غرب طرابلس للكهرباء), for which the coordinates are: 32.820877, 12.973548. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Libyan rebel forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Libyan rebel forces
  • Libyan rebel forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Ground operation
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 5
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–5
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    Libyan rebel forces

Sources (22) [ collapse]

Published

May 10, 2022

Written by

Imogen Piper

Number of civilians killed decreases across monitored conflicts, while focus on explosive weapons use grows

Civilian harm dropped across most of the major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, Airwars’ annual report has found.

The number of allegations of civilians killed by nearly all belligerents monitored by Airwars fell in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, though there was an escalation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which caused significant human suffering.

Read Airwars’ full annual report here

US actions decline

The United States, which has fought multiple campaigns across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia over the past two decades, saw a significant decrease in its activities.

Across all the US campaigns Airwars monitors, including in Syria and Iraq, as well as counterterrorism campaigns in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, civilian harm from US actions fell in 2021, continuing a downward trend in recent years.

In Iraq there were no reports of civilian harm from US actions, while in Syria at least 15 and up to 27 civilians were likely killed by US-led Coalition actions in 20 incidents throughout the year – mostly in combined air and ground actions that appeared to target alleged remnant ISIS fighters.

In Yemen at least two civilians were reportedly killed by US strikes during the year while there were no reliable local allegations of civilians likely killed by US strikes in Libya or Pakistan, according to Airwars’ assessment of local sources.

Even taking into account hundreds of airstrikes in Afghanistan which both the Trump and Biden administrations had initially kept secret, 2021 saw the lowest numbers of declared US military strikes globally since 2006.

However, 2021 was also a year in which focus was again placed on civilian harm caused by historic US actions.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, Airwars conducted an investigation to estimate how many civilians were likely killed by US forces alone in the subsequent 20 years of the so-called War on Terror. The research concluded that an estimated 22,000 to 48,000 civilians had been killed directly by US actions in two decades of war according to public records –  the vast majority of fatalities were in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  The findings were cited in the opening remarks of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “’Targeted Killing’ and the Rule of Law: The Legal and Human Costs of 20 Years of U.S. Drone Strikes,” and were covered by more than 60 news outlets globally, in at least ten languages.

The Pentagon’s troubling management of civilian harm allegations was highlighted by another Airwars investigation during 2021, leading the Pentagon to withdraw and republish their own annual report to Congress. Airwars uncovered nine historic incidents in Iraq and Syria that the US had declared responsibility for killing civilians in, which were actually conducted by US allies including Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Brief but brutal Gaza conflict

In May 2021 an intense and deadly conflict lasting just eleven days erupted between Israeli and Palestinian forces. As on previous occasions, civilians paid the highest price. Airwars documented the human impact of this short but brutal conflict in both Gaza and Israel, working for the first time in three primary languages – Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The research found that Israeli strikes, continually impacting across the densely populated streets of Gaza, led to the likely deaths of between 151 and 192 civilians. Over a third of civilians killed in Gaza were children and in more than 70% of the allegations documented by Airwars, civilians – not militants – were the only documented victims. In Israel, ten civilians were directly killed by rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza.

The report also documented civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Syria, which across eight years had led to the deaths of between 14 and 40 civilians. Comparatively this civilian harm estimate stands in stark contrast to the numbers of those killed in just eleven days. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, whilst Israeli strikes in Syria were conducted on military targets mostly in sparsely populated areas.

Airwars’ Senior Investigator Joe Dyke partnered with the Guardian on a piece interviewing the residents of a tower destroyed by Israel Defence Forces during the May 2021 conflict. Al-Jalaa Tower was home to dozens of civilians and a number of offices, including those of Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. All were given an hour’s notice to evacuate the tower and scramble together their possessions before seeing their homes destroyed in front of them. The investigation recently won an Amnesty Media Award.

Russian assault in Syria

Long before Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February 2022, Airwars had been tracking civilian harm caused by extensive Russian actions in Syria.

Whilst allegations of civilian harm fell to their lowest rate this year since 2015, after a 2020 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey continued to hold, Putin’s forces continued to strike Idlib and other rebel-held areas of Syria with air and artillery strikes.

Approximately 48% of civilian harm allegations against Russia during 2021 occurred in Idlib, whilst 2% occurred in Hama, and 23% in Aleppo governorate. In total as many as 280 civilians were killed by Russian and/or Syrian regime air and artillery strikes.

This significant but comparatively lower civilian casualty count came alongside Russia’s escalation of military operations in preparation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has subsequently led to mass civilian harm.

Explosive weapons

An overarching theme throughout Airwars’ work during the year, and a key focus for our advocacy outreach, was on restricting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Whether in Syria, Iraq, Gaza or any of the other conflicts Airwars monitors, when explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas, the potential for civilian harm dramatically increases.

Throughout 2021, Airwars worked with international partners to support a strongly worded UN-backed international political declaration against the use of EWIPA. The final UN-backed conference debating this declaration will be held in summer 2022, with Airwars playing a key role advocating for change.

▲ An airstrike in Gaza is the front cover image for Airwars' 2021 annual report (Credit: Hani al Shaer)

Published

April 8, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

International gathering brings nearer a protocol on restricting explosive weapon use in urban areas.

States edged closer to a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on April 8th, after three days of crunch talks in Geneva.

More than 65 states descended on the Swiss city for key talks on the wording of a political declaration that advocates believe would save thousands of lives by restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). Detractors, such as the United States government, argue it would unfairly limit the freedom of their own military actions and have threatened not to sign.

While no final text was agreed upon Friday, all sides struck an optimistic tone at the end of the three-day meet – saying a deal was nearer than ever. Delegates will meet again for one day in two months before an adoption ceremony expected in the summer.

“There are clearly differences of opinion but we have seen a very positive, solution oriented approach,” the chairperson, Ambassador Michael Gaffey of Ireland, said. “We are not simply working on a formula of words in a political declaration –  we want to make a real difference and impact on the ground and foster behavioural change.”

The talks were given additional urgency by the ongoing war in Ukraine, and Russia’s extensive use of explosive weapons on its cities. Moscow did not attend the talks.

Even the United States, widely viewed as one of the most hostile states to a declaration with teeth, struck a more positive tone than in previous meets. “There are still tough drafting issues and decisions ahead, and we have to get them right. The US delegation pledges our goodwill, to help to get to a positive outcome. We look forward to doing so.”

Since 2018, Ireland has chaired consultations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In the sessions since, the need for such a declaration – which is not legally binding and so does not create new legal obligations – has only become clearer.

“The draft declaration text holds the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the protection of civilians, and negotiations over the past few days have overall been constructive,” Laura Boillot of INEW, a network of NGOs pushing for the protocol, told Airwars.

“But decisions will now need to be made if the final text is going to have humanitarian effect. Most importantly it needs to establish a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in towns, cities and other populated areas.”

It will be a failure to leave this room agreeing that simply restating existing laws will reduce civilian harm – a failure for all of us who came here with the intention to reduce that harm in the first place." @alma_osta in HI concluding remarks at #EWIPA negotiations today. pic.twitter.com/pTKpgfqWWU

— HI_Advocacy (@HI_Advocacy) April 8, 2022

Civil society groups and international agencies made a strong case for restricting EWIPA.

Three days of consultations

During three days of focused talks, several key fissures bubbled. While states in attendance – and civil society organisations – repeatedly emphasised the shared desire to produce a tangible and meaningful political declaration that could help save civilian lives on the ground, the practicalities of the process made clear that good intentions weren’t going to be enough.

On the first day of the informal consultations on April 6th, states made general remarks – affirming their support for the proceedings as well as their national positions – after an introductory statement from Ireland, the penholder.

In these general remarks, most states tended towards re-affirming the positions they had made clear in previous negotiations. On the hawkish side, the UK, US, Israel and Canada all emphasized that their positions as militarily active states meant that they would not sign a declaration in its current form, which included strong language about avoiding the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. Throughout the week, the delegates from these countries could often be seen meeting as a bloc outside of formal proceedings.

Many of the sticking points that emerged on the first day continued to dominate both the main floor and side conversations. The predominant line of argument was between those who argued that the declaration needed only to reaffirm the importance of international humanitarian law and provide further guidance about how to do so in this context; and those who asserted that this declaration needed to strengthen existing commitments and add new ones for states around the use of explosive weapons.

The second day of discussions took a more technical turn, with the majority of interventions focused on the wording of specific clauses and paragraphs of the text.

Clause 3.3, which attracted much attention in previous consultations, was once  again hotly debated. It is one of the first clauses in Section B, the operative section – which lays out the actions that states have to comply with if they choose to sign onto the declaration.

In the current draft, Clause 3.3 says states must: “Ensure that our 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 with wide area effects in populated areas, when the effects may be expected to extend beyond a military objective.”

The bulk of the discussion around this clause was on the second sentence, as many states intervened on the use of “restricting or refraining,” with some suggesting it was strong enough while others lobbied instead for the use of “avoid”.

A split between the majority of civil society organisations and militarily-powerful states was apparent during these parts of the discussions, with NGOs and international agencies pushing for stronger language, rather than trying to place limits on what kinds of civilian harm would be protected under this new declaration.

Airwars’ incoming director and current head of research Emily Tripp also made an intervention – emphasising how crucial it was for states to actually track civilian harm.

Airwars’ incoming director Emily Tripp addresses a UN-backed conference on explosive weapons in Geneva on April 7th, 2022 (Image: Airwars)

At the end of day two INEW, one of the organisers, named nine states – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – that it said had “worked to weaken declaration provisions.” The UK delegation, for example, agreed that tracking civilian harm was a ‘moral obligation,’ but then highlighted ways in which it claimed this was not feasible – arguing that live hostilities made it near impossible to monitor casualties properly.

But INEW also said that there had been a “shift in the collective tone set by states since the last round of negotiations, with more governments explicitly committed to strengthening the protection of civilians through the declaration.”

The statement said this was likely as a response to the bombing of Ukrainian towns and cities, and the Ukraine crisis loomed large over the conflict. Not only did the majority of states open their remarks with condemnation of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, many also emphasised the importance of a meaningful political declaration with specific reference to Ukrainian cities and towns such as Mariupol, Bucha and Khrarkiv.

There was also an emphasis on the value of protecting civilian objects and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, with states such as Mexico and the delegate for the Holy See (which holds observer state) urging specific language around the need to protect hospitals, blood transfusion centres, and environmental and religious sites.

Speaking at the end of the latest talks, Ambassador Gaffey said Ireland and organisers would review the submissions from all parties before a month or two of further work on the text. He said states and NGOs would then hold a final one-day consultation in a couple of months, before a political adoption ceremony where states would declare their support for the text.

As Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, of Humanity and Inclusion, noted in her own concluding remarks to delegates: “Eleven years in Syria, seven years in Yemen and over a month in Ukraine have taught us that explosive weapons with wide area effects should not be used in towns, cities and populated areas. The status quo is no longer an option.”

Civilians increasingly bear the brunt of modern conflicts. Addressing the devastating harm to civilians from Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas is a priority for 🇮🇪. We welcome states, international organisations and civil society to consultations in Geneva this week #EWIPA pic.twitter.com/pAyglwZO9D

— Disarmament IRELAND (@DisarmamentIRL) April 6, 2022

Ireland chaired Geneva talks on restricting urban use of explosive weapons

▲ The three-day EWIPA conference in Geneva sought to reach a deal on the use of explosive weapons in urban environments (Airwars)

Published

April 7, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

Crunch talks in Geneva aim to hammer out protocol on explosive weapons in urban areas

The shadow of the Ukraine conflict loomed large over the first day of the informal UN-backed consultations on a political declaration on restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), currently underway in Geneva.

Delegates from more than 65 nations have gathered to fine tune the language of the political declaration, along with more than 15 civil society organisations including Airwars. The chairperson, Michael Gaffey of Ireland, opened the proceedings by calling for a minute of silence for Ukraine.

Nujeen Mustafa, who had fled the war in Aleppo, then powerfully testified via a video message, saying, “throughout history, diplomats have discussed world problems while sitting at a table with a nice coffee. People trapped in a conflict zone cannot do that. Today, you have the possibility to change a terrible situation and protect civilians.”

Nujeen Mustafa, a Syrian who fled Aleppo after it was largely destroyed by explosive weapons, addresses delegates:“While you’ve been negotiating whether a declaration should be made, 11,076 people have fallen victim to these weapons" she sayshttps://t.co/DI9vYhD6nq

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

While there are two days of discussion left before proceedings close on Friday evening, many of the most pressing issues arose in proceedings on Wednesday – particularly as states laid out their own positions during opening remarks. Here are five key themes from the first day of EWIPA negotiations.

1. The conflict in Ukraine adds a sense of urgency

The first statement was made by the Ukrainian delegate, who noted that “our cities and towns have been turned into dead ash because of the use of these explosive weapons” – highlighting a new sense of urgency and relevance which the negotiations have taken on.

Every delegate who spoke made reference to the Ukraine conflict, with many emphasising that the violent and horrific violence against Ukrainian civilians must move states to act more effectively. The French delegate noted that Russia did not attend the proceedings, while the Japanese delegation emphasised the importance of documenting civilian harm in Ukraine.

Many other states called on Russia to cease its aggression and indiscriminate bombing of civilians and it was noted multiple times that Russia’s campaign has targeted and destroyed civilian neighbourhoods using wide area effect explosive weapons – referring to the scenes of destruction in Kherson, Mariupol, and Kharkiv.

2.  The gap between ‘IHL is enough’ and ‘IHL does not go far enough’

Broadly the delegates and countries fall into two groups – those that believe international humanitarian law (IHL) is enough to protect civilians under attack in urban areas – and those that argue more is needed to protect civilians.

States such as the USA, UK, France and Israel argued that any political declaration could not introduce new legal requirements (which it cannot) and that the requirements currently set out under IHL should be sufficient protection for civilians. Currently, these frameworks emphasise for example that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure constitutes a violation of IHL – and that any military actions must be both proportionate, and distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Those backing strong wording to the political declaration text – from Ireland to the ICRC – insist that adherence to IHL alone is not doing enough to protect civilians during much urban fighting.

The US nevertheless called on those states gathered not to produce an “unrealistic impression” that civilians would not be harmed in conflict, while emphasising that explosive weapons are “considered a legitimate and lawful means of warfare when used in accordance with IHL.”

But other states, as well as civil society organisations such as Human Rights Watch, emphasised that any resolution which merely restated the value of IHL – and how states must abide by it – would effectively be useless, as it would be an iteration of what states have already committed to.

States such as Finland and Sweden remarked that there are gaps within IHL around EWIPA , and mere compliance with IHL is not enough to protect civilians.  This has been an ongoing fissure during previous consultations, and continues to be a major fault line.

3.  Reverberating effects

The particularities of the language used in the eventual political declaration are at the heart of the ongoing consultations in Geneva – with discussions about whether to “avoid” or “restrict” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas already a key sticking point.

An additional area of tension appears to the so-called “reverberating effects” of EWIPA, which are essentially the long-term effects.

An example of a reverberating effect would be the destruction of a bridge. If destroyed, it has the immediate effect of removing a crucial piece of civilian infrastructure. But even after the conflict finishes the destruction could also mean that people can’t travel across a certain river, making it harder to access other kinds of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals or schools.

These long-term impacts were the subject of much discussion on Wednesday – with some states, such as the US, Israel, and the UK all noting that ‘reverberating effects’ is neither a legal term nor – they claimed – a widely accepted term with a clear definition. The US also said it would not accept a ‘novel’ term such as reverberating effects in the eventual political declaration.

However, civil society organisations such as PAX and observer states such as the Vatican suggested that it would be difficult to meaningfully understand the full implications of how civilian populations were impacted without incorporating ‘reverberating’ effects.

4. Focus on the humanitarian impacts

The Holy See opened its own remarks by noting that it believes conventional weapons should be named “weapons of mass displacement,” a nod to the ongoing long term effects that explosive weapons can have. The Danish Refugee Council also noted that the use of EWIPA can contribute to displacement, and in time, continuously produce forms of renewed displacement.

Some other states such as Uruguay emphasised the need to collect and monitor the impacts of EWIPA on specific groups – such as those with disabilities, or those who face discrimination because of their gender. Organisations such as CIVIC, PAX and Humanity and Inclusion also spoke about the psychological and mental effects of the use of explosive weapons, notably the need for a survivor-centric approach to any kind of political declaration.

 5. The impact of non-state actors 

While the political declaration is primarily a matter between states, the UK, Israel, the US and others asked that the considerations around EWIPA must also extend to non-state actors, such as armed groups, in the interest of maintaining what they termed a balanced account of how explosive weapons are actually used in populated areas.

The US noted for example that “the declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non-state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects.” The Turkish delegation argued that asking non-state actors to really consider these impacts would also mean they would be considered as legitimate parties to an international armed conflict – which they are currently, for the most part, not.

The declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects,” says the USA, intervening for the second time today. pic.twitter.com/cNBYvzncqN

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

▲ MPs from various European countries attend the first day of EWIPA talks on April 6, 2022 (Photo: INEW)

Published

April 6, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

Assisted by

Joe Dyke

Speaking at key Geneva talks, SNP's defence spokesperson calls on nations to back strong EWIPA protocol

Stewart McDonald MP, the defence spokesperson for Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), called on Wednesday for the United States and United Kingdom to join those nations backing restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in urban environments during key talks in Geneva.

On April 4th the SNP became the largest British party – and one of the largest in the world – to lend its support to restricting the use of explosive weapons in urban areas (EWIPA).

The policy – part of a wider SNP Protection of Civilians paper expected soon – was announced to coincide with crunch talks in Geneva, where dozens of countries are meeting to hammer out the wording of a protocol, or political declaration, on EWIPA. While the proposals are supported by the United Nations and many other nations, both the United States and United Kingdom are currently expected to oppose the protocol, while Russia is not attending the talks.

“It is unlikely that the United States or Russia are going to be signatories to it and that is deeply unfortunate – in fact it is worse than unfortunate,” Stewart McDonald MP told Airwars. “I am convinced that deeper cooperation internationally is what we need right now.”

During three days of talks, representatives from more than 65 nations are meeting in Geneva to discuss the potential final language of the political declaration. In Wednesday’s opening session, the US again said it had major reservations about restrictions on explosive weapons use.

The US and other states critical of the protocol argued that international human law is enough to limit civilian harm, but advocates say that when used in cities weapons designed for the open battlefield will always disproportionately harm civilians.

McDonald added that he was “optimistic” rather than confident that a strong text could still be agreed. But he raised concerns that the wording could be watered down by obstructive nations, including the United Kingdom, making it effectively meaningless.

“We will see what comes at the end of it, but anything that is not robust, that doesn’t have broad, multilateral buy-in to it, might make some people feel good – but I am not sure I would call that a success.”

🇺🇳 My remarks at today’s session at @UNGeneva on the #EWIPA negotiations, being led by 🇮🇪 @dfatirl. It was a pleasure to speak alongside fellow parliamentarians from Belgium 🇧🇪 and France 🇫🇷. The growing international consensus needs to coalesce around robust civilian protections pic.twitter.com/PWpUTSb8zz

— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) April 6, 2022

McDonald said the new SNP declaration was a significant moment for both his party and the United Kingdom. The text declares that there “must be a presumption against the use of wide-impact explosives in conflicts that take place in populated and urban territories. SNP fully supports the ongoing UN-backed process to develop a political declaration addressing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

The announcement comes ahead of a full approach the party intends to announce later this month outlining how the SNP, and potentially a future independent Scotland, would seek to protect civilians in conflicts.

“I believe my party should think like a state and act like a state – so if Scotland were independent, how would it approach these issues? That’s why we have taken the time to develop a policy around protection of civilians to show people where we think people would go.”

“But importantly, in the here and now what the UK government should be doing.”

While the SNP’s defence spokesperson said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which has seen thousands of civilians killed while trapped in cities – had focussed attention on the scourge of explosive weapons use, McDonald also highlighted similar civilian suffering in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere. Research by Action On Armed Violence indicates that around 90 percent of those killed and injured by explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians.

“Ukraine has gathered the public and political momentum now [and] I think that does mean correctly that these negotiations take on a particular urgency to succeed and deliver something meaningful.”

“How do you scroll through social media right now, and not want something serious to happen?”

The political declaration talks are continuing until April 8th. Airwars’s social media coverage of the first day can be viewed here.

Full text of SNP policy extract: Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

When explosive weapons are used in populated areas – where conflicts increasingly take place – studies suggest that more than 90% of those killed and injured are civilians. Vital facilities such as sanitation systems and hospitals are disproportionately destroyed in attacks using these weapons, exacerbating risks to civilians who become further exposed to deadly diseases and further robbed of medical assistance. There must be a presumption against the use of wide-impact explosives in conflicts that take place in populated and urban territories.

SNP fully supports the ongoing UN-backed process to develop a political declaration addressing the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. An independent Scotland would look to sign on to this declaration. Additionally, Scotland should ratify the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions as well as the 1997 Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention.

▲ SNP Defence Spokesperson Stewart McDonald (centre) addresses a UN-backed conference on explosive weapons in urban areas with fellow European MPs on April 6th 2022 (Photo: Airwars)