Blog: Sarah Fenstemaker

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November 7, 2011

Setting the Terms: Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas

Posted by Sarah Fenstemaker, JD '12

In preparation for this week’s United Nations Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the International Human Rights Clinic and Human Rights Watch have released a briefing paper on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The paper examines the concept of “explosive weapons in populated areas,” an emerging term in the field of international humanitarian law.  Although the term is new, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has for decades documented and sought to minimize the significant effects on civilians of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.  Explosive weapons, which cause injury through blast and fragmentation, range from hand grenades to air-dropped bombs.  Earlier this year, HRW helped found the International Network on Explosive Weapons, which seeks to raise awareness of the concept and reduce the human suffering explosive weapons cause.

This paper released on Friday  illuminates the humanitarian problems associated with the use of explosive weapons in populated areas through three recent case studies—Sri Lanka, Somalia, and Libya.  For each, the paper provides information, drawn from past HRW research, about users and types of explosive weapons, patterns of use in populated areas, and civilian harm.

The case studies exemplify the ongoing nature of the problem as well as the range of responsible actors, categories of munitions, and location of attacks.  The case studies also shed light on the shared characteristics of the harm to civilians, which include death and bodily injury, destruction of infrastructure, and long-term effects on individual lives and livelihoods.  Commonalities in the use of these weapons and the harms they produce underline the need for the international community to focus on and address the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The Clinic’s Explosive Weapons team—Ian Boyle Harper, LLM ’12, Anna Crowe, LLM ’12, and Sarah Fenstemaker, JD ’12—researched and drafted the paper under the supervision of Senior Clinical Instructor Bonnie Docherty.  Their work  is part of an ongoing partnership between the Clinic and HRW.

Sarah Fenstemaker, JD’12, is a member of the Clinic and a student in Bonnie’s seminar The Promises and Challenges of Disarmament.

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