Extensive civilian harm being inflicted in Gaza and Israel as a direct result of the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas is in direct contravention of customary International Humanitarian Law and in contrast with a Political Declaration to strengthen the protection of civilians that was signed by 83 States in Dublin last year and the wider tenets of international law underpinning it. 

The Declaration augments a wider framework of principles and norms that address the human suffering caused by armed conflicts, including customary International Humanitarian Law that is binding on all parties.

These principles and norms are unambiguous and the international community has repeatedly confirmed that the freedom to choose the type of weapon to use in an armed conflict is limited by considerations of humanity, including those protecting civilians or limiting ‘superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering’.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas is fundamentally indiscriminate. Such use deprives people and communities of full enjoyment of their human rights and impedes recovery and development for years or even decades.

Customary International Humanitarian Law also prohibits indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and objects, as well as those attacks that destroy food, water, and other critical means of survival, and this determination is confirmed in the preamble to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The severe bombardments that have taken place in Gaza and Israel over the last week, including along the designated Gaza evacuation route and within the evacuation zone, comprise a combination of aircraft-dropped bombs, mortars, drones and artillery shelling, exacerbating already perilous conditions for evacuees. 

The debris from destroyed buildings combined with extensive explosive ordnance contamination poses additional, severe hazards to the population. 

These conditions are impeding safe and swift evacuation, making the journey dangerous for the evacuees, and the evacuation zone itself is unsafe because of these hazards. Where older and non-precision ordnance has been used, a lower degree of accuracy also means an even greater risk to civilians. 

Working in partnership with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), MAG has been using Facebook since the outbreak of hostilities to deliver digital risk education messaging to warn the affected population in Gaza about the dangers of unexploded ordnance. At this time, MAG’s response will continue to focus on Digital Explosive Ordnance Risk Education (DEORE) messaging but we stand ready to partner with UNMAS and others to assist in any way. 

Beyond the immediate danger to civilians, the use of explosive weaponry will leave a long-term legacy of unexploded ordnance that will pose a severe residual risk to communities and aid workers, cost billions of dollars to clear and significantly hamper post-conflict recovery and reconstruction, leaving large numbers of people unable to return to their homes.

The sheer scale of the damage being inflicted through the use of heavy explosive weaponry, along with the devastatingly high number of casualties, reinforces the importance of international humanitarian law, under which civilians must be protected at all times. 

MAG therefore urges all parties to the conflict to take precautionary measures to abide by International Humanitarian Law and to limit the harm to civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure.