Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 5 February 2009

Patterns of explosive violence

The shelling of a hospital in North East Sri Lanka has brought the battle that the government armed forces wage there against the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) back into international headlines. The humanitarian situation has deteriorated to the point of being called ‘nightmarish’ as hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped between the front lines, in an area now quite inadequately named ‘the safe zone’.

Like the recent events in Gaza, the situation in Sri Lanka is another sad illustration of the severe humanitarian harm that the use of explosive force in populated areas consistently causes. A recent Policy Brief by Landmine Action emphasizes the direct link between the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and the civilian harm that predictably results from it.

The policy brief notes that media coverage and policy analysis on the Gaza conflict tended to focus on the use of white phosphorous (including on this blog) and other ‘unusual’ weapons, a focus which risks to ‘normalise’ the use of explosive force generally. It should, however, be recognized that explosive weapons caused ‘by far the greatest number of deaths and injuries’ in the Gaza conflict, that explosive force in general is ‘particularly associated with psychological harm’, especially among children, and that in an armed conflict it is usually explosive weapons that cause most damage to infrastructure, such as houses, hospitals, schools, and the electrical power, water and sewage systems. Moreover, unexploded explosive ordnance presents ongoing health risks to the civilian population for years after a conflict has ended.

Landmine Action calls in its policy brief for more explicit recognition of the humanitarian impact of the use of explosive force in populated areas and encourages humanitarian organizations to challenge the prevailing attitude towards this ‘technological pattern of force’ as ‘normal’ or ‘conventional’. In order to further stigmatize the use of explosive force in populated areas ‘a collective and explicit recognition that explosive weapons used in populated areas tend to result in a predictable pattern of indiscriminate and severe humanitarian harm’ can help to ‘shape the public and political discourse about what is right and wrong’.

Maya Brehm

Photo Credit: 'p012877' by Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie / National Archives USA, available at: PhotosNormandie on Flickr.

Explosive violence: Israel and Gaza, Landmine Action Policy Brief, 30 January 2009.
Explosive Violence blog by Richard Moyes.