International Committee of the Red Cross

Explosive weapons in populated areas: Humanitarian, legal, technical and military aspects

Report 15 June 2015

Cities have never been immune from warfare. But over the last century, armed conflicts have increasingly been fought in populated areas. This has exposed civilians to greater risk of death, injury, and displacement. And the trend is likely to continue as urbanization intensifies. To make matters worse, belligerents often avoid facing their enemies in the open, instead intermingling with the civilian population. That is particularly true of non-State armed groups.

At the same time, armed conflicts continue to be waged with weapon systems originally designed for use in the open. That is generally no problem when such weapons are used on open battlefields. But when they are used against military objectives in populated areas their effects are likely to be indiscriminate, often with devastating consequences for civilians.

In 2011, the ICRC stated that explosive weapons with wide-area effects should not be used in densely populated areas due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.

In February 2015, the ICRC convened a meeting of experts on the topic of explosive weapons in populated areas. The meeting brought together government experts from 17 States, plus 11 individual experts, including weapons experts and representatives of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations.