Limits on bombing urban areas

ByNoor Israr

Discerning taste in music and is currently studying development economics at UCF


June 28, 2022

An extremely significant development has taken place that may have far-reaching consequences and augurs very well for human kind. Britain, America, France and Japan have reportedly signed a declaration aimed at committing nations to avoid bombing and shelling populated towns and cities. This is quite a revolutionary step taken by the developed world that has been subjected to horrors and destruction of urban areas indiscriminately killing civilians during the Second World War. This despicably barbarous practice has since been witnessed in uncounted such instances creating a tremendous revulsion amongst vast segments of global population particularly in the Western world that believe that such an agreement will save thousands of civilian lives. In this context it is reported that Ireland presented a final draft of the declaration to the United Nations in Geneva after nearly three years of negotiations by member states and civil society organisations.

This declaration has still a lot to desire as its final draft was significantly watered down compared to initial drafts. Most significantly the declaration is not legally binding but it commits signatories to avoid using explosive weapons, like aerial bombs, rockets, artillery projectiles and missiles, in urban areas as they have such devastating effect. This development has occurred amidst the UN reporting that more than 90 per cent of global reported civilian casualties each year are the result of the use of these weapons in populated areas. The disastrous impact of the destruction caused globally is reported to be responsible for more than 5,000 civilian deaths or injuries this year alone and several thousand of those casualties are in Ukraine which Russian invaded in February.

This declaration is widely applauded and it is held that the states that join this declaration will contribute to creating a new international norm around the use of explosive weapons and will require militaries and governments to review their own practices and create robust national policies. It is an acknowledged fact that many militaries show a poor understanding of the impact of their own weapons in towns and cities and that so called precision warfare has not improved civilian death and injury tolls. The political representatives of many developed countries have shown marked consciousness to the fact that the current laws of war were falling short and even under international law explosive weapons with wide area effects can still be legally used in urban areas.

The most pressing reason for taking up this issue is the obvious consequence of the Russian indiscriminate bombing campaign in Ukraine had made the issue an urgent priority. The scale of the death and destruction shows that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas must become an urgent priority for the international community in order to protect civilian life and that those responsible must be held to account. This consciousness had always remained latent in almost all global segments but they were kept quite by the considerations of sovereignty held by the nation-state that is widely believed to be vital for the conduct of the chaotic international affairs. However, side by side, it is realised that the nation-state may not be left on its own to play with the lives of human beings in the name of national interest.

Even though the disastrous consequences of bombing urban areas are more than evident yet the declaration in point being a political declaration is not legally binding but rights groups and the UN say they are an initial step in countries committing to make a change. They can help clarify what constitutes legal conduct and establish a framework for best practices and reform among states for the future. Now more than ever this is vital, with the devastating Russian invasion of Ukraine that has seen urban centres be obliterated and towns littered with land mines and unexploded bombs. The realisation is very acute of the fact that this issue is very vital for the future of war-ravaged states that are helpless to stop such atrocities.

It is more than evident that explosive weapons not only maim and kill civilians at the time of the attack but often do not explode on impact leaving behind deadly remnants continuing to threaten people’s lives, often for generations. It is mentioned that unexploded ordnance is left around homes, schools, water stations, and other vital infrastructure with the result that people are not safe while explosive items litter their communities and clearing these areas takes years of costly and resource-intensive work. Many quarters mention that the use of explosive weapons in built up areas can also cause environmental damage, obstruct health care and education and displace communities.

Many critics opine that the declaration is quite unequivocal and is a far tamer version of what was initially tabled. They argue that such an important issue should be tackled head-on and with lot of clarity and force. However, many analysts appreciate the declaration as the crucial first step towards a ground-breaking agreement that will go a long way to protect the hapless civilian populations and will provide them a much needed security cover. TW


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