ICRC President: "Avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will significantly decrease civilian suffering"

Speech given by Mirjana Spoljaric, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, at the Side Event in New York on Protection of Civilians from Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas
Statement 24 May 2023 United States of America

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In too many places around the world, the heavy bombing and shelling of cities and other populated areas continue to have an unacceptable toll on civilians.

The use of heavy explosive weapons is often the standard choice by belligerents, a choice that has devastating, and frequently illegal, consequences on communities – including children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.

I saw for myself the destruction of Aleppo and other urban centres across Syria. But not only - from Ukraine to Sudan, from Gaza to Yemen, the ICRC sees the tremendous harm that heavy explosive weapons cause, directly and indirectly.

These weapons include large bombs and missiles, heavy artillery, inaccurate rockets, and large improvised explosive devices.

Today, I call on all States and parties to armed conflict to avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas, due to the significant likelihood of indiscriminate effects.

The ask is clear: explosive weapons should not be used in populated areas unless sufficient mitigation measures are taken to limit their area effects and the risks of civilian harm.

Avoiding the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will significantly decrease civilian suffering. It will also facilitate respect for international humanitarian law, which requires that explosive weapons are used in compliance with the rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

When heavy explosive weapons are used in populated areas, compliance with international humanitarian law is often very difficult. Reviewing and adapting existing military policy and practice is necessary to make it happen.

The Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas is a groundbreaking achievement and a crucial step forward.


It is the first instrument committing States to curb the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. If properly implemented, it can contribute significantly to alleviating civilian suffering and to strengthening respect for international humanitarian law.

I commend the 83 States that have already endorsed the declaration and committed to take concrete action to change the unacceptable status quo. 

I urge all States that have not yet done so to join the declaration without delay.

The Political Declaration is an important tool. Provided it is followed by decisive action, its key commitments can improve the fate of hundreds of thousands, if not more, around the world.

Last year, ICRC published an indepth report (Explosive weapons with wide areas effects: A deadly choice in populated areas) to provide detailed practical recommendations to political authorities and armed forces on measures to reduce civilian harm.

ICRC is today also sharing our new comprehensive report, War in Cities, containing key recommendations to avoid harm to civilians during urban hostilities.

All States have a stake in strengthening respect for international humanitarian law – those engaged in urban warfare or directly affected by it; those suffering the impacts of food and energy insecurity from the effects of bombing and shelling; those hosting people who have fled across borders.

The tremendous civilian harm we witness today must not be considered a normal by-product of armed conflict. We all have a role to play in changing this narrative and in working towards minimizing the heartbreaking impacts of wars in populated areas on civilians.

Thank you.

Media contact:

Yuriy Shafarenko, ICRC New York, +1 917 631 1913 yshafarenko@icrc.org