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Political declaration on the bombing of civilians

Handicap International is taking part in the Meeting of the First Committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations (disarmament and international security) in October. Anne Héry, head of advocacy at Handicap International, explains why this meeting is important and the actions taken by the organisation to end the bombing of civilians.

G. Lordet / Handicap International

What is the aim of this first committee on disarmament?

Anne Héry: The United Nations General Assembly is composed of six committees, which are large working groups, each with its own speciality. Their role is to hold talks, alert the General Assembly to specific points, and to make recommendations. Handicap International is taking part in the committee on disarmament and international security. For Handicap International, it’s an opportunity to talk with States and to encourage them to sign, if they haven’t already done so, the Mine Ban Convention (Ottawa Convention) and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention), areas in which the organisation has campaigned for many years.


Will you raise the bombing of civilians?

Yes, the meeting will be an opportunity to present the ‘Qasef: Escaping the bombs’ report, recently published by Handicap International, which establishes the link between the bombing of civilians and population displacement in the Syrian conflict. On the fringes of these UN meetings, we will also take part in a meeting of a group of experts on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. This meeting will be extremely important in identifying political solutions to the bombing of civilians.


What is the group of experts?

The group of experts is an Austrian initiative. Composed of a dozen States, for the last year it has been drafting a political declaration to condemn the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, recognise the suffering of civilians and call for victim assistance. This political declaration is a key objective in Handicap International’s campaign to end the bombing of civilians. As with a treaty, we eventually want as many States as possible to agree to the commitments it contains and to sign it.


What stage is the political declaration at?

At the first stage, which consists in agreeing on the key elements included in the declaration. This stage can be complicated and take several months or even years. Should the declaration require States to “no longer use” explosive weapons in populated areas” or to “avoid using” explosive weapons in populated areas? How should it be phrased? Do we include requirements on victim assistance? This stage of the discussion is vital because it establishes a basis on which States can agree. We’re keeping a close eye on the content of the text and will provide expert input based on our experience in the field and the central role we played in the adoption of two conventions - the Ottawa and Oslo conventions.


What does Handicap International want?

Handicap International wants to bring an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, particularly weapons with a wide-area impact, and we are working to ensure the declaration clearly reflects that. We are going to put pressure on States in this regard. We also want this declaration to include a strong commitment to victim assistance.


Do you think you’ll be able to get all States to agree on this point?

We’ll have the chance to make a presentation during the plenary session of the first committee on 12 October. This will provide us with a major platform to talk to States from around the world about the bombing of civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Our aim is to raise awareness of this issue. There’s an urgent need to implement concrete political measures to end this terrible conflict and the violence suffered by civilians. The petitions we’ve organised on this issue, including during our Shoe Pyramids[1], give us weight and a certain credibility when it comes to calling on State delegates to take action.


[1] In September 2016, more than 30,000 people signed the petition against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas during our Shoe Pyramids, demonstrating strong public support for Handicap International’s campaign.

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