Urban warfare has a catastrophic impact on civilian populations and poses serious legal and operational challenges. In cities — where 55 percent of the world’s population currently resides — civilians account for 90 percent of the casualties during war.

Armed actors hide themselves among civilian populations, exposing civilians to increasingly dangerous conditions and potential harm. Civilians are often trapped between opposing forces and take enormous risks as they attempt to move to safer areas. Armed actors are not trained or equipped to fight in urban areas, thus heightening the risk to civilians and civilian objects. The use of explosive weapons with wide area effect often cause irreparable damage to essential services (water, electricity, sanitation, and hospitals), with enduring impacts on civilians’ health, safety, and well-being.

By speaking with civilians in conflict-affected areas, we see first-hand the challenges of urban war. We work with local communities to support their self-protection strategies and raise their protection concerns with governments and armed actors. CIVIC’s dialogue with armed actors, including through scenario based trainings, encourages the adoption of good practices, policies, and procedures to mitigate harm to civilians before, during, and after operations.

CIVIC also contributes to multilateral forums led by NATO, ICRC, Austria, Ireland, and OCHA, to highlight challenges and share good practices on civilian protection in urban war. CIVIC also participated in Ireland-led state and NGO consultations on a Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from Humanitarian Harm Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas. CIVIC is also a member of the Steering Committee for the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).

You can read and download CIVIC’s brief, “A Primer on Civilian Harm Mitigation in Urban Operations” here and learn more about civilian protection operations in urban warfare here.

For more information about CIVIC’s work on urban war, please contact Sahr Muhammedally, sahr@civiliansinconflict.org


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