In an increasingly urban world, armed conflict and violence has also been urbanizing. Today, approximately 50 million people are affected by urban armed conflict, leading to mass displacement, destruction of critical infrastructure and interrupted or inadequate provision of basic public services. What steps can be taken to better protect civilian population in urban centers and ensure continuity in the provision of vital services in times of conflict? What are the specific challenges faced in urban warfare? Is IHL still adequate for the conflicts that take place in these settings? This edition of the Reviewattempts to answer these questions, and provide some insights into how the international community should approach war in cities.
A scene of devastation, blanketed with grey dust, stretches into the distance in eerie silence. Walls riddled with bullets, buildings collapsing in on themselves, external walls blown away to reveal an intimate view of a bedroom or living room, streets blocked by piles of rubble. These sickening images of destruction – filmed from above by drones and shared on social media – probably best symbolize the current resurgence in urban warfare. Other images come to mind: bombed-out hospitals, children being pulled from wreckage, snipers roaming the maze of tunnels and walkways that have been blasted through the walls of now-uninhabited houses.