Sir, – The devastating damage caused by explosive weapons, especially when used in places where many people live, is evident each night on our television screens. The current conflict in Ukraine is just the most recent example of the effects on cities and towns when shells, missiles, mortars, improvised explosive devices and similar explosive weapons are used. Since late 2019, Ireland’s diplomats in Geneva have been leading an important global process to develop a political declaration to reduce the humanitarian consequences of explosive weapons when conflict takes place in populated areas.
Despite unwelcome delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland looks set to finalise the text in the coming weeks and will be hoping for a considerable number of UN member states to join the declaration and pledge to implement its commitments.
Food security, also receiving renewed attention, is often negatively affected when explosive weapons are used. Reducing the impact of conflict on food systems is a key priority for Concern Worldwide, which is why, through our ongoing campaign Nothing Kills Like Hunger, we called on Ireland to ensure that the declaration highlighted this critical issue.
Although Ireland’s declaration will not be legally binding, there is reason to hope that fewer people will suffer if military powers sign on.
However, at a recent consultation in Geneva, some strong military powers sought to lower the level of ambition by calling for weaker language. This risks undermining the added value of the declaration beyond existing commitments under international law.
Much of the debate was focused on the central commitment, to either “restrict”, “refrain from”, or “avoid” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas when they have wide area effects. Key UN agencies and NGOs have called on states to commit to the strongest of the options – to “avoid”.
Overall, diplomats at the meeting showed a desire to make a meaningful difference for people at the centre of the initiative – those threatened by conflict.
Now, as we near the end of this international process, Ireland must maintain its ambition and deliver a strong declaration that, when implemented, will protect people from the worst effects of war. – Yours, etc,