Final Draft of Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas Released
The Government of Ireland released the final draft of a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas after the conclusion of a three year process. Mines Action Canada participated in the process in person and online over the past three years. We were pleased to be in Geneva for the final meeting and were able to deliver the following statement.
Thank you Chair.
Mines Action Canada would like to thank the Government of Ireland and you Ambassador for your able steering of this process through quite choppy waters.
We welcome the final text and as a founding member of INEW, we support the comments made by our colleagues but we would like to take this opportunity to add a few comments in our organizational capacity.
We, of course, would have liked to see a strong commitment by states to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas but we believe that this political declaration will be a stable foundation for ongoing work to protect civilians from the harm caused by explosive weapons use.
Mines Action Canada appreciates the recognition of the impact of unexploded ordnance on civilians in paragraph 1.6 and the commitment to undertake “marking, clearance, and removal or destruction of explosive remnants of war” and explosive ordnance risk education in paragraph 3.5.
We welcome the commitments towards victim assistance. Victim assistance is crucially important as the impact of EWIPA lasts long after the bombs fall silent. The references to gender in 1.10 and 4.5 are also very important as effective policy and practice must recognize the different impacts of EWIPA on people of different genders and ages.
Mines Action Canada believes that it is always appropriate and feasible to make publicly available disaggregated data on the direct and indirect effects on civilians and civilian objects of military operations involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
We are pleased that the political declaration recognizes the crucial role that civil society has played in the development of the declaration and will continue to play in its universalization and implementation.
We join INEW in pledging to support the ongoing work on this declaration. Although Canada has not seen bombing and shelling of our cities and towns, the reverberating effects of EWIPA have shaped countless Canadians. In my family, my 97-year-old aunt still speaks of how “horrid” it was to be sent away from her family in Edinburgh as a child during the Blitz. But she is not alone, Mines Action Canada recognizes that many Canadians are Canadians strictly because they or their parents sought safety from bombing and shelling - whether it is was from Vietnam in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s, the Balkans in the 1990s, Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, Syria in the 2010s or the Ukrainians who are arriving as we speak. The use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas has impacted hundreds of thousands of people who now call Canada home.
For more than a decade we have seen a deadly pattern of harm that requires changes in policy and practice to protect civilians and civilian objects. There needs to be stronger restrictions on the use of these weapons. The commitments in this declaration are a good starting point for the international community’s shared goal of reducing civilian harm. To echo the words of you Ambassador Gaffey, we hope the conclusion of these negotiations “is just the beginning rather than the end of this important process.”
The process thus far has shown that the problem of explosive weapons use in populated areas is a global problem that needs a global solution. So today we call on not just our own country, Canada, but all states to endorse and implement the declaration.
The political declaration will open for endorsement in the fall and we hope to see Canada in Dublin to sign on to this important commitment. Canada was one of the few states to not commit to signing the Declaration in today's meeting so we call on Canada to make their support for the declaration clear and sign on in Dublin. Read more about the whole process on the Government of Ireland's website.
Comments on Draft Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons Use in Populated Areas
In light of the ongoing events in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, this week's consultations on a Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons Use in Populated Areas are very important.
MAC is a member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) and we strongly support INEW's position on the draft declaration but since we are unable to travel to Geneva this week for the consultations, we have submitted some short written comments to the chair. Read our comments here.
Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: A Student Perspective
In Canada, we are fortunate to be able to live relatively safe lives, the risk associated with leaving our households to do simple daily tasks is relatively low. Unfortunately, not all countries around the world share this same experience. In some countries, even running errands can be considered a dangerous affair due to frequent attacks on civilians. Every year, the detonation of explosive weapons such as grenades, missiles and bombs, kill and injure thousands of civilians indiscriminately with their blast and fragmentation. However, despite this worrisome trend, many students remain uninformed on the issue of explosive weapons. While not occurring on our home territory, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a prominent issue that needs international efforts to be resolved. Here are five of the many reasons why students should expand their knowledge of disarmament issues, specifically the use of explosive weapons in cities and towns and what is being done politically to reduce their impact on civilians
- Effect on Civilians: First, the impact of explosive weapons in populated areas felt disproportionally by civilians, rather than military targets. In 2020, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 18,747 deaths and injuries as a result of explosive weapons; of those, civilians accounted for 11,056 or 59% of the deaths. When used in populated areas, the percentage of civilians affected was even higher; in 2020, 89% of those harmed by explosive weapons in populated areas were reportedly civilians. In addition to the immediate civilian casualties caused by explosive weapons, casualties can also occur as a result of a disruption of essential services such as damage to essential healthcare infrastructure. The indiscriminate and disproportionate harm these weapons cause to civilians is one reason that students should pay attention to the issue.
- Urbanization and Increasing Threat: Second, with the tactics of war changing and urbanization trends increasing, civilians are more greatly at risk of being affected by explosive weapons than ever before. While wars were traditionally fought strictly between soldiers on open fields, in today’s world, it is not uncommon for wars to take place in city centres and for civilians to experience harm as a result. Civilians now face the burden of war more than ever before with higher risks of experiencing death, injury or displacement. This trend will be exacerbated by the rapid urbanization occurring in developing nations. By 2030, two-thirds of the global population is predicted to be living in cities; 96% of this urban growth is expected to take place in developing countries in cities that are already at a higher risk of experiencing fragility. Together, the trends of wars increasingly being fought in urban areas, and more individuals re-locating to urban areas will cause more civilians to be at risk of experiencing the traumatic effects of explosive weapons in populated areas. Many students may have friends or family who live in the areas that are most affected by explosive weapons; these worrisome trends may put loved ones at risk of being targeted by such attacks.
- Environmental Impact: Third, explosive weapons have negative implications on the environment. Currently, our world is facing a climate crisis that continues to worsen and accelerate. It is well-known that we are quickly approaching a point of no return for global warming, which could have devastating effects on our planet in the future. Unknown to many, explosive weapons can have devastating effects on the environment in numerous ways. One example of such is how explosive weapons leave behind unexploded ordnance, which results in long-term harm and can cause contamination of water, soil and air for years. In Syria, it is believed it will take more than 30 years to clear the contamination. This contamination can as a result hinder agricultural efforts, kill livestock and cause harmful human health effects. In addition, the destruction caused by the crumble of infrastructure can release other hazardous materials into the air and the ground, such as toxic smoke. With explosive weapons having such negative environmental effects on our planet, it is essential students educate themselves on these weapons, so student climate activists can take these negative consequences into account when advocating for climate action and building their climate platforms.
- The Power of Education: Another reason for students to inform themselves on the issue is the power of education and the positive effect it can have. By educating themselves on explosive weapons and the political efforts being put forth to help reduce the consequences they have on civilians, students can help to create change on the issue by raising public awareness, as well as, empowering more individuals and future generations to explore the subject. Education is believed to be crucially important in keeping peace and reducing future risks of violence and is recognized by many NGOs as critical to creating positive change in the world. Another political declaration, the Safe Schools Declaration, focuses on the impact of armed conflict on education and the military use of schools and universities. It has commitments designed to strengthen the protection of education and ensure it continues during armed conflict and those commitments are having an impact on behaviour in conflict. A political declaration on explosive weapons used in populated areas could build on this success further.
- Immigration / Past Experiences: Lastly, while explosive weapons may not be a large threat within Canada, the country’s large immigration numbers mean that it is likely that most students have a relative or a friend who has in some way been impacted by the use of explosive weapons. In Canada, immigrants make up around 9 percent of the total population, meaning that Canada is compiled of individuals from all different walks of life with different experiences. In 2019 alone, Canada welcomed 10,121 new permanent residents from Syria, that same year, 7,268 civilian casualties were recorded in Syria as a result of explosive weapons, the most of any country. This is one current example of Canada welcoming individuals who have possibly experienced first-hand the negative consequences of explosive weapons. For other individuals, the connection to explosive weapons may date back further to their grandparents or great-grandparents fleeing bombings from World War II or other conflicts since then. Regardless, most students likely have at least one connection to someone who has in some been negatively impacted by the use of explosive weapons, whether they be a friend, family member, neighbour, or simply an acquaintance. By educating themselves on the topic of disarmament of explosive weapons, students can show empathy and compassion for their fellow Canadians who may have been exposed to explosive weapons in their family histories.
It is essential for students to remain invested in the progress being made in the disarmament of explosive weapons. It is through the expansion of knowledge on this subject that progress can be made, so that future generations can live in a world without the dangers associated with explosive weapons that many individuals around the world know and fear today.
Danika Brown is an Undergraduate Student at the University of Ottawa and completed an extracurricular volunteer placement as a Research Assistant at Mines Action Canada.
Put civilians at the centre
On the second day of informal consultations on the draft political declaration the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Mines Action Canada took the floor to share our views on Section 4 of the draft text.
Here is the statement:
Thank you Ambassador.
One strength of a political declaration over a legal document is the increased availability of descriptive and human-centred language. Section 4 of the draft Political Declaration allows states to commit to making real life-saving change using language that puts civilians at the centre of their actions. We support INEW’s stamen on this section but would like to highlight a few key points.
In particular Paragraph 4.4 should be strengthened significantly to put civilians at the centre. Revising this paragraph with more detail of what victim assistance includes will avoid creating differential obligations towards victims of different weapons. INEW, HRW and HI have all made excellent suggestions so I will put our support behind those.
The reference to urban warfare in paragraph 4.1 should be deleted since not all populated areas can be considered urban. The mention of urban here focuses the paragraph too narrowly on civilians who live in urban areas rather than civilians living in all populated areas.
We welcome the commitment to make data collected public in paragraph 4.2, however, we would like to see the phrase “where possible” deleted as it weakens this paragraph. Data is crucial for understanding how explosive weapons impact civilians and for providing life-saving services as mentioned by MAG therefore that data should be available widely.
Paragraph 4.3 like others, should refer to all use of explosive weapons, not just that with wide area effects. Our efforts to limit the harm caused by explosive weapons should not exclude some types of these weapons. Additionally, the word “relevant” in qualifying civil society should be removed from this paragraph. We share Chile and Mexico’s questions about this language.
We support the suggestion by the Conflict and Environment Observatory to include language encouraging state signatories to support the work of the United Nations and other international and domestic stakeholders in identifying and implementing best practices in the assessment and environmentally sound management of conflict debris and pollution resulting from the use of explosive weapons.
We also support the inclusion of civil society in section 4.6 as mentioned by New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, Italy, Switzerland and others. We agree with Canada’s suggestion to ensure participatory and gender sensitive inclusion of civil society at all levels.
Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to strongly encourage states to be ambitious as we move towards a final version of this declaration. An ambitious document like the treaties adopted in Oslo in 1997 and Dublin in 2008 will save lives. Please keep people at the centre of your work here today and in the future.
Thank you Ambassador for your able and open chairing of week. We look forward to continuing the process.
No Need to Wait
On the second day of informal consultations on the draft political declaration the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Mines Action Canada took the floor to share our views on Section 3 of the draft text.
Here is the statement:
Thank you Ambassador.
We support the comments from INEW on this section which will be delivered later.
Like our colleagues at Norwegian People’s Aid, we believe risk education should be added to paragraph 3.5. The Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions and CCW Protocol V have all shown the need for and the value of risk education.
Because our purpose this week is to protect civilians, we note that there is no need to wait for the end of active hostilities to conduct risk education especially because explosive weapons use causes new contamination and during armed conflict civilians are often forced to undertake risky activities or travel to new areas with contamination due to displacement or infrastructure damage.
Finally, I would like to make a general comment. Yes it is important to take into account the views of states with operational experience and of civil society but it is crucial to include the experiences of states and communities living with the long term and extensive impact of explosive weapons use.
Going beyond IHL on Explosive Weapons
On the first day of informal consultations on the draft political declaration the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, Mines Action Canada took the floor to share our views on Section 1 of the draft text.
Here is the statement:
Thank you Ambassador and thanks to the whole Disarmament Ireland team for their work to keep this process going.
The purpose of this political declaration is to change behaviour and therefore the text must go beyond merely restating International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The evidence gathered over the past decade has shown that civilian harm continues even when IHL is applied. IHL is the bare minimum and all actors must take additional measures to prevent harm to civilians when using explosive weapons. As a member of INEW, Mines Action Canada has the following suggestions for strengthening section 1.
As many state and civil society speakers have noted, the word “can” in the title and in paragraphs 1.2, 1.3 and beyond should be removed because there is significant evidence of the harm caused by explosive weapons. We have noted a small number of states have said that explosive weapons use in populated areas do not necessarily result in civilian harm but we have not seen any evidence to that extent, the evidence shows that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, civilian harm will result. Like others in INEW, we would also recommend removing the qualifier “with wide area affects” throughout the declaration.
On the title specifically we support INEW’s detailed comments.
Articulating the harm caused by explosive weapons use in populated areas in paragraph 1.2 is a key part of the political declaration. This paragraph should clearly outline the direct, indirect and reverberating effects of explosive weapons used in populated areas as mentioned by many of my colleagues. Adding a direct mention of the gendered impacts in this paragraph would be beneficial here. Though we would also support Mexico, Chile and Spain’s suggestion of a specific paragraph on gendered impacts.
Reference to environmental harm in paragraph 1.3 is welcome. This point could be strengthened by referring to the environment rather than the natural environment. Also, as mentioned by Finland and perhaps others replacing the word urban with populated would strengthen this paragraph by not limiting the declaration to one type of populated area.
Like Switzerland we believe that in Paragraph 1.4 the term “unexploded ordnance” should be changed back to the appropriate technical term “explosive remnants of war,” which includes both unexploded ordnance and abandoned ordnance since they both cause harm to civilians. This change is also in line with the mention of explosive remnants of war in paragraph 3.5.
We welcome the reference to the need for additional data on the gendered impacts of explosive weapons made in paragraph 1.8, however, WILPF has said the word “potential” should be removed as there is significant evidence that there are gendered impacts of explosive weapons use.
In the last three decades there have been numerous additions to IHL in response to the changing nature of conflict and human settlement. These changes have been motivated by preventing death, injury and destruction from different weapon systems. They have been welcome additions to IHL making it more robust. Nevertheless, we should not be afraid to do more than existing IHL requires to protect civilian populations.
An opportunity for action: EWIPA and Canada's Feminist Foreign Policy
In 2017, Canada became the one of only five countries to commit to developing an explicitly feminist foreign policy. So far, this effort includes multiple specific directives, including the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), but an official outline of the feminist approach to Canada’s foreign policy has yet to be published.
During this period, the world has seen continued conflict in multiple regions, with frequent use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). The use of EWIPA poses specific humanitarian threats to civilians. In addition to immediate death and injury, EWIPA causes severe damage to critical infrastructure including roadways, electrical grids, schools, water and sanitation centres and hospitals. Many people are forced to flee from unlivable and dangerous conditions, including women and children.
The international community took notice of this humanitarian problem and has come together for negotiations of a political declaration to protect civilians in populated areas from explosive weapons. This declaration has the potential to set a benchmark for Canada’s feminist foreign policy. The text of the agreement adopts a non-partisan, rights-based, humanitarian centred approach to restricting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The political declaration aims to be transformative to those living in conflict affected areas by having states commit to updating military policy to protect civilians in populated areas from explosive weapons.
The draft declaration also supports policy coherence for Canada by reinforcing not only several action areas in FIAP, but also Canada’s commitments to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals generally known as the SDGs. Multiple SGDs are endangered by the use of EWIPA; specifically, goal 4 of good health and well-being and goal 16 of peace, justice and strong institutions. This declaration supports the achievement of these goals. The declaration also reinforces the government’s commitment to the Safe Schools Declaration, which aims to protect education in conflict by restricting schools as military targets. Due to infrastructure loss, education is often disrupted when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.
The Feminist Foreign Policy Working Group, a team of individuals from multiple civil society and academic organizations, has recently published a set of suggested core policy principles, including adopting a rights-based approach and upholding policy coherence, for Canada’s feminist foreign policy and the text of this declaration is in alignment with those core principles. While being a feminist document, it also promotes feminist outcomes; specifically, non-violence and sustainable development.
More and more people are moving to and living in populated areas, making them critical locations for sustainable development. The use of EWIPA is catastrophic to this ambition. Not only is infrastructure lost, but the economy grinds to a halt, the health of the population is endangered, and the next generation is forced out of school. This turns back the clock on the economic and social development strides that have been made in the last two decades; but this declaration allows for significant gains in development to be recovered and built upon.
We know what a future free from the impacts of EWIPA can look like. From the incredible work of humanitarian mine clearance organizations and others, including the Canadian government for their leadership with the Ottawa Treaty, areas that were once uninhabitable from landmine contamination are now thriving cities. Including Huambo, Angola, where Princess Diana made her famous landmine walk in 1997. Fast forward to today and women, men and children are safe, can get an education, can contribute to the economy and can continue to develop in a sustainable way. What was done once with landmines can be done again with explosive weapons in population areas.
Combating humanitarian consequences of the use of EWIPA must be central to Canada’s feminist foreign policy. As a first step, Mines Action Canada calls on Canada to lend its support and leadership to the Draft Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences that can arise from the use of Explosive Weapons with Wide Area Effects in Populated Areas negotiations and to implement the Feminist Foreign Policy Working Groups core policy principles in the official policy. Mines Action Canada has specific suggestions on how Canada and other states can improve the Draft Political Declaration in line with a feminist foreign policy available here.
Blog post by MAC Research Associate, Madison Hitchcock who is a graduate student in globalization and international development at the University of Ottawa.
Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh shows danger of explosive weapons use
A Fall recap post by MAC Research Associate, Madison Hitchcock who is a graduate student in globalization and international development at the University of Ottawa.
On September 27th of this year, conflict broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. While it is a self-governing, democratic region that holds independent, free and fair elections, it is a heavily disputed territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan while being home to mostly ethnic Armenians.
There has been confirmed use of explosive weapons and sustained heavy shelling in cities such as Stepanakert and Ganja, as well as multiple other areas. After multiple brief cease fire agreements, a peace seems to be holding. On November 9th, 2020, the two parties reached an armistice after six weeks of bloody conflict; with Armenia conceding territory to Azerbaijan.
The humanitarian cost of this conflict is heavy. Currently, hundreds of civilians have been confirmed dead and thousands have been displaced from the conflict. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas cause high civilian casualties from their wide area blast effects in densely populated zones, as well as damaging critical infrastructure including hospitals, homes, schools, roadways, electrical grids and sanitation centres. These reverberating effects will cause further death and injury, as well as continued displacement of survivors in the future.
These weapons have been utilized by those on both sides of the conflict. Azerbaijan has refused to allow additional humanitarian aid other than the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter the region which is extending the suffering of many survivors who are unable to access support. This crisis is all happening in the context of COVID-19 which puts civilians at further risk.
Additionally, there have been credible reports of the use of cluster munitions which have been banned by international convention – to which neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan are signatories. These weapons are especially harmful to civilians as they have wide blast areas and it is estimated that between 5-20% of the munitions fail to explode leaving incredibly dangerous situations for civilians long after their initial use.
Under international humanitarian law, Armenia and Azerbaijan have an obligation to minimize harm to civilians. Mines Action Canada strongly condemns the neglect of this duty and calls on all parties to uphold this obligation and refrain from using explosive weapons in populated areas and banned cluster munitions; as well as allowing further humanitarian aid organizations into the region. We also call on Armenia and Azerbaijan to immediately join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and support the draft Political Declaration on Strengthening Protections from Humanitarian Harm arising from the use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.
 Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/armenia-azerbaijan-civilians-must-be-protected-from-use-of-banned-cluster-bombs/
New Explosive Weapons Q&A
The International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) has released a new Question and Answer document. This publication tackles such questions as:
- Are some explosive weapons worse than others?
- If we are limiting the use of certain explosive weapons in populated areas, are we encouraging the use of other, more targeted weapons?
- Does international humanitarian law adequately address this problem?
- Won’t some armed actors/explosive weapon users take such a standard more seriously than others?
- What can be done?
For answers to these questions and more, check out INEW's new publication here.
How do the weapons used determine what's next for Mosul?
After years of occupation by the so-called Islamic State (Da’esh) the city of Mosul, Iraq is on the verge of being liberated. The urban battle there has raged for almost nine months leaving a devastating humanitarian disaster in its wake. The weapons which were used during this battle have a direct impact on what comes next for the city and its inhabitants.
Although the Iraqi Prime Minister has declared victory and the city liberated, the humanitarian suffering will continue for years or more likely decades due to the indiscriminate and inhumane weapons used.
The weapons used and their impact
For a number of years, civil society under the International Network on Explosive Weapons and a number of states have been concerned about the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. During the battle for Mosul, INEW expressed great concern about the weapons being used and encouraged all actors to cease using explosive weapons with wide area effects in the densely populated city. Despite these calls for restraint, populated areas of Mosul and especially west Mosul have seen the use of airdropped munitions, unguided bombs, multiple launch rocket systems, mortars, other shelling, and improvised explosive devices including car bombs for months.
The use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in a densely populated city results in high levels of civilian casualties. Mosul has seen this assertion to be true over the past nine months. Airwars, a civil society monitoring organization, estimated that as of July 1, 2017 between 900 and 1,200 civilians were killed by Coalition airstrikes or artillery in Mosul. That number does not include civilians killed when there was uncertainty about the user of the explosive weapon (International Coalition, Iraqi security forces or Da’esh) or casualty reports which could not be verified. The casualty toll from Da’esh’s use of explosive weapons and improvised explosive devices is expected to be quite high. The United Nations reports that in a three day period in March 2017, at least 95 civilians were killed in four neighbourhoods of western Mosul alone by Da’esh explosive weapons and snipers.
These numbers of civilians killed only show a small glimpse of the suffering caused by the explosive weapons with wide area effects used in Mosul. For each person killed, many more have been injured. The ICRC reported that their surgical team at Mosul General Hospital has received over 650 cases, many of them children. Hospitals in the area have been overwhelmed with the injured during the battle.
Those who are injured may need ongoing care to deal with their injuries and any resulting impairments. Rehabilitative services, prosthetics, mobility aids and psychological support will all be needed to ensure that those injured can participate in society fully.
Beyond immediate casualties the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in Mosul has resulted in extensive destruction of key infrastructure, housing and other buildings greatly compounding the ongoing humanitarian suffering.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports that water treatment plants and pumping stations in both eastern and western Mosul were damaged. Of the damaged facilities, nine are under rehabilitation in July 2017, however, ongoing insecurity and a lack of funding has inhibited rehabilitation. Water is currently being trucked into Mosul. Related to the damage done to the water supply is the destruction of sanitation infrastructure. In addition, the electrical grid has been seriously disrupted, waste disposal operations have been halted for months on end and schools, medical facilities and religious or cultural buildings were destroyed. All of these results of explosive weapons use have humanitarian consequences now and will make it much harder and costlier to rebuild a thriving city in the future.
UNOCHA reported that out of west Mosul’s 54 residential neighbourhoods, 38 are heavily to moderately damaged. The damage and fighting combined with the draconian rule of Da’esh has resulted in over half a million people being displaced from in and around Mosul. Studies conducted in similar situations around the region have shown that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a key driver of displacement and the ICRC gathered a number of reports from displaced persons from Mosul who stated they fled the city due to explosive weapons use. For many, return will be impossible until rubble has been cleared and reconstruction has been begun.
Not every explosive weapon used in the battle for Mosul functioned properly, especially considering the number of homemade mortars. These explosive remnants of war will need to be cleared before reconstruction and return of displaced persons can begin in earnest.
In addition to the explosive remnants of war, Da’esh has been using improvised landmines, booby traps and other victim activated weapons extensively to continue killing after they have retreated. In one village near Mosul, improvised mines have already killed ten and injured five. High levels of contamination are being reported across the region in areas liberated from Da’esh and Mosul is no exception. The improvised mines left by Da’esh aim to prevent civilian return to Mosul and surrounding villages.
Mines are being found surrounding essential infrastructure, schools and other public buildings further impeding reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Booby traps contaminate residential homes waiting in mattresses, kitchen sinks, doorways and other ordinary items for the residents to return. The contamination will take years to clear. Mines Advisory Group calls the situation in areas liberated from Da’esh a new landmine emergency, noting that the improvised mines created by Da’esh are often sensitive enough to be triggered by a child but packed with enough explosive to destroy a tank.
There is little doubt that significant work needs to be done to rebuild Mosul after the nine months of conflict and years of Da’esh rule. Iraqi officials estimate that recovery and complete reconstruction will cost billions of dollars.
The weapons used during the conflict in many ways dictate the next steps towards reconstruction. Of prime importance is rehabilitating water and sanitation facilities as well as the electrical grid. In terms of saving lives and limbs, the clearance of mines and ERW must be a priority. The presences of ERW and improvised mines will hamper reconstruction by making clearing rubble and navigating the city a very risky endeavor. Humanitarian demining organizations are on the ground outside the city and armed forces explosive ordnance disposal teams are also working hard to remove the mines and ERW. However, this is a task that will take many months or years. Without clearance, travel, shopping, attending school and other aspects of everyday activities will be life-threatening. Once this work is done, the city and surrounding countryside can return to a thriving community.
In the meantime, risk education will be needed to protect civilians still living in Mosul and those who may return. Risk education can show residents what common dangerous objects look like and warning signs will remind citizens to be on the alert. For communities that have never been contaminated with mines and ERW before risk education is crucially important. Such activities are already underway and will need to be expanded to populations who were recently liberated from Da’esh.
The destruction of buildings through explosive weapons use has resulted in significant amounts of rubble littering neighbourhoods across Mosul which will need to be cleared before reconstruction can begin in earnest. The rubble poses a threat to the health of residents as well as an impediment to reconstruction. Rubble may contain harmful chemicals while the long term inhalation of dust may impact breathing; these impacts will be magnified if industrial areas and infrastructure was targeted. Environmental remediation will have to be included in the recovery plans to ensure that the city remains a healthy place to live.
At the moment, reports indicate that not only is there significant amounts of rubble in West Mosul, but that the bodies of those killed in the bombing and shelling are still buried under the rubble. Collection of human remains and proper burial is needed to be able to start clearing the rubble and to allow family members and friends to grieve.
Once the deceased have been properly cared for and the rubble cleared, basic infrastructure will need to be repaired or rebuilt. Displaced persons will need to have access to water, sanitation and electricity prior to return. The destruction of Mosul is extensive as discussed above. Water, sanitation and electricity infrastructure have been severely damaged, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and roads are clogged with rubble. The rehabilitation of destroyed infrastructure has already begun but the process will be long. Standing buildings will need to be assessed for structural safety, as well as, for improvised mines, booby traps and other ERW. Partially destroyed buildings will need to be repaired following assessments. Destroyed buildings will need to have the rubble cleared away and the buildings rebuilt. In addition to essential infrastructure, houses, schools, hospitals, mosques, churches and markets will need to be rebuilt. Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed and will need extensive reconstruction to make them thriving communities again. This will be a long and costly process, but the city will need to be rebuilt in order for the citizens to be able to return and begin to re-establish their lives.
For those who lived through the conflict, re-establishing their lives will require more than just rebuilding the city and its infrastructure. As mentioned above, ensuring proper support and services to those injured by explosive weapons will be a major undertaking for the foreseeable future. Medical care, rehabilitation, mobility aids, assistance with social and economic reintegration and psychosocial support will all be needed. To provide services to the large number of injured, there will need to be a large increase in the availability of age and gender sensitive services. Under the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines and the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Iraq has an obligation to provide assistance to victims of those weapons. The principle of non-discrimination in victim assistance under those two treaties would likewise require the provision of services to citizens with similar needs regardless of the cause of those injuries. Those who were not injured but have lived under the bombing and shelling for months may require mental health care as well.
One consideration that is not entirely unique to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, but is greatly exacerbated by their use is the fate of unaccompanied children. Families get separated in armed conflict. The Red Cross/Red Crescent and other organizations have worked to reunite families in conflicts for decades. More than just getting lost in the chaos of fleeing conflict, UNICEF reports that a number of medical facilities have received injured or traumatized children who are alone and remain unclaimed. Often they are the sole survivor of a bombing or airstrike that destroyed their family’s home. The explosive weapons used in Mosul would frequently collapse an entire home or building on those inside, especially in the Old City, killing large numbers of the same family. This family destruction was intensified by the use of civilians as human shields by Da’esh which forced extended families to shelter together. Some of these unaccompanied children may be in the care of UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations but that is a temporary solution. These children will need to be reunited with surviving extended family or placed in safe and loving foster or adoptive homes to give them the best possible chance to recover from this trauma and become productive members of society.
All of this reconstruction work requires strong social cohesion and civil society. Years of displacement or occupation coupled with the long battle have weakened social ties as is evident by the extra-judicial retribution currently going on in Mosul. If the goal is to rebuild the city and defeat Da’esh work needs to be done on countering the damage done to the culture of the city, as well as, the buildings and people. Citizens are beginning this work already by bringing back music and cultural activities and that work should be supported. Civil society organizations should also be supported especially networks and peer support groups for survivors of explosive weapons use. We know from work on landmines and cluster munitions that peer support is key to adapting to new impairments caused by weapons injuries in terms of physical, psychological and economic recovery. It will also be crucially important to ensure that women and marginalized communities have a seat at the table while decisions are made about rebuilding the city. Iraqi officials and others must make sure these populations are included in the reconstruction process. In addition to supporting the physical rebuilding of the city, donors such as Canada should be supporting grassroots organizations to build their capacity to provide services in Mosul and to reconstruct society.
Moslawis experienced years of occupation by an inhumane terrorist organization and then suffered immensely during the battle to liberate the city from Da’esh. Much of this suffering was caused by the tactics used during the battle and the behavior of actors in the conflict, but the weapons used will determine what comes next for the city. The city cannot rebuild without dealing with the legacy of the weapons used and the ways in which the weapons have harmed and continue to harm the civilian population.
 This article deals solely with the humanitarian harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. There are a number of reports of humanitarian harm and extra-judicial killings taking place in areas liberated from Da’esh. These reports are concerning; they should be investigated thoroughly and perpetrators brought to justice.