The use of explosive weapons (shells, bombs, etc.) in populated areas causes grave humanitarian harm. This study analyses how explosive weapons are regulated in international law and policy, what constraints are placed on the use of explosive weapons, and how civilians are protected against the effects of explosive weapons. It concludes that the dominant legal and policy discourse fails to articulate the serious risk of harm associated with the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in a manner that adequately protects civilians. Systematic characterization of the humanitarian harm, and a detailed assessment of the risk of harm and the measures taken to reduce that risk, could further the elaboration of legal and policy standards that enhance the protection of civilians.