Two types of explosive weapons—antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions—have been prohibited outright due to their indiscriminate and devastating  effect on civilians but the use of explosive weapons causing wide-area effects in populated areas requires urgent attention too. Today, victims of war are all too often civilians in populated areas, as air strikes, rocket attacks, and artillery shelling in Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere show. Civilians in towns and cities in these conflicts are often killed directly by the strike, crushed by the buildings it flattens, or maimed by the unexploded ordnance left behind. The use of imprecise weapons in urban areas has highly destructive consequences. Explosive weapons with wide-area effects should be avoided in populated areas due to the foreseeable harm to civilians.

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

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    While the current pandemic has delayed negotiations of a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, recognition of the human suffering caused by this method of war continues to drive the process forward. Ireland held diplomatic consultations in November 2019 and February 2020 and, in lieu of the postponed negotiating conference, recently collected written comments on its March 2020 draft declaration. Ireland expects to release a revised draft in June and finalize the text as soon as an in-person global gathering is feasible.
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    A man looks at damaged buildings after deadly airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, on May 7, 2018. 
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    Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic welcome Ireland’s March 2020 draft of a political declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians from the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. We appreciate the improvements made since the January paper that outlined draft elements of the declaration. We also commend the efforts to make progress during complicated times and amidst new realities of remote collaboration.

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