FEEDBACK – Belgium makes an unprecedented step by adopting a resolution that unequivocally calls against bombing and shelling in populated areas | April 22, 2021

Screenshot of the resolution with the mention "approved" written on it

On 21 April the National Defense Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament adopted a historical resolution on the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas. After a lively debate over the past year, Belgian Federal Parliamentarians have eventually adopted a ground-breaking resolution against bombing and shelling in populated areas. By voting in […]

On 21 April the National Defense Commission of the Belgian Federal Parliament adopted a historical resolution on the protection of civilians from bombing and shelling in populated areas.

After a lively debate over the past year, Belgian Federal Parliamentarians have eventually adopted a ground-breaking resolution against bombing and shelling in populated areas. By voting in favor of such resolution, parliamentarians have called on Belgium to support the development of the international political declaration to end human suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in towns, cities and other populated areas.

Parliamentarians have a vital role to play in enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict, by defining a political ideal and by accompanying their Governments to set their international political agenda. Seized by the unacceptable harm explosive weapons cause to civilians, 11 Belgian Federal MPs had already signed on the INEW international appeal last year; five [1] of them had submitted a draft resolution on the protection of civilians against the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), n°s 1222/1, and had raised several questions to his Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this regards. 

Following the Public Hearing held on January 6th on EWIPA at the Belgian Federal Parliament (we had talked about this here), parliamentarians[2] have strived to find a cross-cutting support within the Vivaldi Coalition and presented a set of 12 amendments to the resolution. In particular, Parliamentarians have clarified that non-compliance of a party to the war (either a state or a non-state actor) is not an excuse to lower the threshold and weaken International Humanitarian Law; they have included a clarification on the fact that such political declaration will not ban the use of such weapons but set a principle to avoid their use and provide a framework for assistance to victims of these weapons. The text highlights the most recent international development concerning the diplomatic process around this political declaration.

These efforts went in parallel with others at European level, especially the joint parliamentary call to Ministers of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas presented by more than 210 French and German Parliamentarians.

Bombing a target in an open battlefield, or in a populated area, is not the same thing! We need to learn lessons from the ravages of war in the cities reduced to ashes in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Gaza and elsewhere. A large parliamentary majority calls for the avoidance of artillery, rockets and heavy aerial bombs in densely populated cities, since the foreseeable effects are simply devastating for civilians,” commented the first signatory of the text, Samuel Cogolati.

Belgium was already the first country to ban antipersonnel mines. Today we are the first country to call for the protection of civilians against explosive weapons in populated areas, and to guarantee these victims unconditional access to humanitarian aid”, concludes Cogolati.

Heavy bombing and shelling in populated areas kills and injures civilians, destroys infrastructure and forces families to abandon all of their belongings to flee to safer areas. The adoption of the resolution to protect civilians from explosive weapons is strong sign that Belgian parliamentarians have clearly heard voices of all victims that have suffered and that are still suffering from these weapons: people that lost their limbs, families that have lost their members, their friends, neighbors and their homes. In a matter of days, heavy explosive weapons can destroy an entire city. Millions of civilians that have lost their neighborhoods, even entire towns and cities, and today they are living in refugee camps or still struggling to find homes for their families. On behalf of all victims that HI assists around the world, we would like to congratulate to Belgian parliamentarians for setting and achieving this ambitious national goal. But this is now just a beginning of a next chapter. We strongly encourage Belgian authorities to make this parliamentarian resolution an official national position that will reflect further engagement of Belgium in international discussion on the final political declaration to protect civilians from explosive weapons.” declares Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, HI Disarmament and Protection of Civilians Advocacy Manager.

These efforts and internal negotiations have definitely paid off and on 21 April Parliamentarians of the National Defense Commission from all walks of life and representing today’s governing majority have approved the EWIPA resolution and its amendments, thus showing protection of civilians from bombing and shelling is not a partisan struggle, but rather an urgent and shared concern.

Humanity & Inclusion applauds this enviable outcome and hopes Belgium will listen to the voice of its people and take action to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

[1] Samuel Cogolati, Wouter De Vriendt, Guillaume, Defossé (Ecolo-Groen); Georges Dallemagne (cdH); Nabil Boukili (PVDA-PTB); Sophie Rohonyi (DéFI).

[2] Samuel Cogolati and Wouter De Vriendt (Ecolo-Groen), André Flahaut PS (MP), Kattrin Jadin (MR), Hendrik Bogaert (CD&V), Jasper Pillen (Open Vld), and Kris Verduyckt (sp.a)

 


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