Explosive weapons: a humanitarian perspective

The legal regulation of explosive weapons within international law is incoherent and fragmentary. A 2012 UNIDIR study found that “existing regulatory categories and notions are at times vague, ill-defined and overlapping and do not formally recognize the common functioning of explosive weapons through blast and fragmentation.”

While there is no specific treaty prohibiting or regulating the use of explosive weapons as a category, their use in war is subject to international humanitarian law (IHL). However, while providing context against which arguments for regulation can be made, IHL is currently insufficient to adequately regulate explosive weapons use.

International human rights law (IHRL) does not directly govern the use of explosive weapons, as there is no developed approach within IHRL to assess the risk and effects that weapons have on human rights. However, this body of law does include provisions to protect individuals and groups, and sets out obligations for states to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights that indirectly affect the legality of the use of explosive weapons.

Because the use of explosive weapons, especially in populated areas, causes not just immediate physical harm, death, and destruction, but also long-lasting effects to individuals and communities, the humanitarian consequences of the use of these weapons needs to be acknowledged, further investigated, and addressed by stronger international standards in order to prevent humanitarian harm.

Through INEW, we are urging states to:

• Acknowledge that use of explosive weapons in populated areas tends to cause severe harm to individuals and communities and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure;
• Strive to avoid such harm and suffering in any situation, review and strengthen national policies and practices on use of explosive weapons, and gather and make available relevant data;
• Work for full realisation of the rights of victims and survivors;
• Develop stronger international standards, including certain prohibitions and restrictions on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

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