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Explosive weapons with wide area effects and risk to civilians, Background Note| Feb 2020

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A background note to the consultations on a political declaration on explosive weapons in populated areas

In conflicts all over the world – in countries such as Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – the use of explosive weapons in populated areas is a major cause of harm to civilians. Explosive weapons are a broad category of weapons, all of which project blast and fragmentation around the point of detonation.

Explosive weapons that have wide area effects are especially problematic when used in populated areas. In this paper we elaborate on the link between the technical characteristics of these weapons and the risk they pose to civilians.
The weapon technology When explosive weapons are used in populated areas, their effects risk death and injury to civilians. Where warheads might land within a broad area, or where their blast and fragmentation will cause damage across a broad area, the risk and scale of likely harm becomes still more severe. Where these effects are likely to occur outside, or extend significantly beyond, the actual military objective being targeted, the civilian population can be expected to bear the brunt of these effects.

There are 3 characteristics that create such wide area effects, either individually or in combination:

x A substantial blast and fragmentation radius resulting from a large explosive content;

x Inaccuracy of delivery, meaning that the weapon may land anywhere in a wide area;

x Use of multiple warheads or multiple firings, sometimes designed to spread, affecting a wide area.