Mobilising the support of politicians to end the bombing of civilians
HI is committed to ending the bombing of populated areas, a practice now commonplace in current conflicts, and which mainly affects civilians. What’s the best way to mobilise the support of politicians on this issue? What is HI doing to warn them and to encourage them to take a stand? HI’s weapons advocacy officer, Baptiste Chapuis, explains the advocacy work carried out since the beginning of 2017 with politicians in France.
A favourable context
“We’ve been able to take advantage of a political environment that’s conducive to change, with legislative and presidential elections in 2017, the arrival of many new MPs in the French National Assembly, and the appointment of a new government in May 2017.
Another major factor in our favour has been the fact that Emmanuel Macron responded to our questionnaire on the protection of civilians during conflicts, which we sent to presidential candidates in early 2017. He was the only one to reply and he responded positively, saying: yes, I will join the European countries that have called for measures to be taken against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, and “the UN Secretary General's call for an international political declaration on this subject.” This response gave us a strong political basis from which to approach the members of his political group.
Last summer, our first task was to find out more about the 577 new MPs. What was their background? What responsibilities had they held in the past and what role do they play in the current parliament? We focused particularly on people sitting on parliamentary foreign affairs and defence committees.
We reviewed their preferred mode of communication: if they have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and so on. We also worked out what they were interested in: one had visited Gaza 10 years ago, another had already worked with humanitarian organisations, and so on. And in this way, we were able to identify people potentially sympathetic to our cause.
After completing this stage, we wrote eight personal letters to MPs from the governing party, La République en marche, selected for their role in the current parliament - on foreign affairs or defence committees - and their interest in our cause or past work. We managed to arrange six meetings, during which we convinced them to take action. Six of these MPs invited us to come and see them and we got a clearer idea, both from their words and actions, of how committed they are to the issue of the bombing of civilians, in the French National Assembly. It was an important first step.
At the same time, we invited 36 MPs with a background in the medical sector to attend rehabilitation and prosthesis workshops during our Shoe Pyramids on 26 September. We had to change the date of the Pyramids at the last minute so, unfortunately, we cancelled the initiative, but we got a lot of positive replies.
Last summer, we began putting together five document packs for MPs, to provide them with additional information, most of it from the field, to help them prepare for the questions they were planning to ask in parliament. When an MP tables a written question, the ministry concerned is obliged to respond. These questions are important because they force the government to define, clarify and explain its position. Each time we contacted an MP and they asked us how they could help, we provided them with these documents containing information and data from the field, and suggested they table a parliamentary question for the Department of Foreign Affairs or Defence.
Last November, Fabien Gouttefarde, an MP from the governing En marche party, a legal specialist in armed conflict and a member of the Defence committee, submitted a question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on France’s commitment to ending the bombing of civilians. The ministry replied on 26 December. We are analysing this reply to see how we can use it as a basis for continuing our talks with the ministry.
Questions can also be oral, and put during sessions of the National Assembly on Wednesdays, when ministers are present in the chamber: for example, after an oral question from the Vice President of the National Assembly, Sylvain Waserman, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, last December, the Ministry for European and Foreign Affairs had to clarify France’s position on the bombing of civilians.
Our advocacy with the government is making headway and we’re gradually getting it to define its position.
Putting pressure on the executive
Our goal over the next few months will be to step up our advocacy work with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, and to push the executive to take a bolder approach.
We also want to expand our contacts by approaching MPs from all political parties, and by working with the “Association of mayors for peace”, for example, which could also support our advocacy work. Over the next few months, we’re going to organise a second major series of meetings with MPs from all political backgrounds.
HI is running a campaign called Stop Bombing Civilians and calling on the public to sign its petition in order to pressure States to take action against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas - an indiscriminate practice that mainly kills and injures civilians. At least 43,000 people were killed or injured by these weapons in 2016. When used in populated areas, 92% of casualties of explosive weapons are civilians. Say no to the bombing of civilians, sign the petition.