News & Investigations

News & Investigations

The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

Published

November 25, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

An overview of the actions needed

On Friday November 18th, states and civil society joined together in Dublin Castle to officially endorse the long-awaited international Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). So far, 82 states have signed onto the declaration; this is a similar number to the initial signatories to other international declarations that have created new norms and standards in warfare, such as the Safe Schools Declaration. Among the signatories to the EWIPA declaration are states such as the US, UK, Netherlands, and Belgium, all of which made sizable contributions to the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that killed an estimated 8,194–13,249 civilians.

According to Action on Armed Violence, when EWIPAs are used, over 90% of those harmed are civilians. Airwars recently put together a series of maps showing the clear and troubling connection between population density in cities and civilian deaths during urban warfare. Even beyond those who are killed immediately, the reverberating effects are often severe and pervasive, with schools, hospitals, livelihoods, and basic resources like food and water becoming inaccessible for years. This has played out in recent conflicts in cities such as Mosul and Raqqa, in which entire city parts were destroyed and have been made uninhabitable.

The Irish-led, UN backed international declaration is a groundbreaking step towards curbing the use of such weapons. It comes at the back of a decade of civil society focus and pressure on this, led by the INEW network, which Airwars is a part of. As with any political declaration, the results are only as good as the implementation. Below, we outline some of the challenges states must address as they begin the process of implementing the EWIPA declaration.

States must be frank about gaps in their current approach

The first step in understanding how to implement the declaration to limit the use of EWIPAs must be for each state to critically examine current gaps in its own approach and engage in a meaningful process to address these. This in itself might be a stumbling block for some; while states such as the US and the Netherlands have shown increasing willingness to address gaps in their approach to the protection of civilians by working with civil society and experts, others have not.

The UK for instance, still falls behind allies in terms of transparency on evidence collection around civilian harm. Under the declaration, states committed to: “Collect, share, and make publicly available disaggregated data on the direct and indirect effects on civilians and civilian objects of military operations involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, where feasible and appropriate”. Despite the UK representative in Dublin noting during the signing ceremony that “the UK already has policies and procedures in place to support the implementation”, this has to date not been evident when it comes to public reporting on the effects of UK military actions.

As it stands, the UK maintains that it has evidence of only a single civilian casualty from its actions in the seven year anti-ISIS campaign, for example, despite extensive military involvement. The US, by comparison, has admitted to over 1,400 civilian casualties as part of the Coalition.  When challenged, UK officials tend to emphasise that they are aware that is not a case of lower civilian casualties than in previous conflicts – but of poor evidence gathering. This position was summarised by former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Lancaster, who emphasised in 2019 that; “[I]t is not our position that there has been only a single civilian casualty as a result of our military action. What we are saying is that we have evidence of only a single, or what we believe to have been a single, civilian casualty.”

In spite of this oft-repeated recognition that the evidence gathering mechanisms of the UK are not able to accurately reflect the reality on the ground, there is, to our knowledge, no process in place to improve this approach and little willingness to engage with civil society to address this. If this is not addressed, there will be a significant gap between the rhetoric of UK leadership when it comes to EWIPA and the reality on the ground.

States must build clarity on who is responsible for implementing the EWIPA declaration on a national level

The second step states must take to implement the EWIPA declaration is to gain better internal understandings of who will be involved in its implementation. This must include those focusing specifically on EWIPA, but also those focusing on topics such as human security, the protection of civilians, humanitarian response, development, diplomacy, and all the other elements required to protect those caught in conflict from being harmed by explosive weapons.The structures behind overseas military engagements are complex, quick changing, and lines of responsibility are often murky. Yet it is only if all involved in such operations, across parliament, ministries of defence, and ministries of foreign affairs and overseas development, are dedicated to limiting the use of EWIPA, understanding their impact, and tracking civilian harm that occurs if they are used, that implementation will be effective.

States must be open to civil society inclusion in the implementation of the EWIPA declaration 

Civil society actors, many of us united under the INEW banner, played a significant role in the development of the EWIPA declaration and the advocacy that brought states to the process, a fact that was acknowledged by a large number of states at the conference in Dublin. We stand ready to support the implementation in national contexts and across international coalitions. Many civil society organisations have spent years – sometimes decades – developing protection mechanisms and civilian harm tracking mechanisms, as well as conducting research into valuable lessons on the impact of EWIPA. Civil society organisations are also often direct links to the communities affected. It is in all of our interests that these resources are effectively shared with those in power.

In those states where there is a history of poor transparency and accountability on civilian harm and civilian harm tracking, governments and their militaries must also commit to a certain level of transparency on the implementation of the EWIPA declaration. They should work with civil society actors to understand the gaps in their current approach and set up milestones for implementation.

Looking forward

The endorsing ceremony was a promising step towards recognising the immense harm that these weapons have caused in recent years – and the harm they will continue to cause as their impact reverberates through communities. If the declaration is implemented well, fewer civilians will be harmed by explosive weapons in their cities, towns, and camps.

Yet there are pitfalls each state must avoid if their implementation of the declaration is to be meaningful. They must be frank about current gaps in their system and must be willing to address them. They must gain an oversight of everyone who will play a role in the effective implementation of EWIPA. And they should work with civil society actors who have resources to share and stand ready to support implementation.

Additional resources:

    Implementation Brief: Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, CIVIC, November 2022 (here) Safeguarding Civilians: A Humanitarian Interpretation of the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, Human Rights watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law school, October 2022 (here) Implementing the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Key Areas and Implementing Actions, INEW and Article 36, November 2022 (here) Over 80 Countries Committed to Curb Use of Explosive Weapons, Now Comes the Hard Part, Bonnie Docherty, Human Rights Watch for Just Security, November 23rd 2022 (here)
▲ The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

Published

August 26, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

New action plan contains positive steps - the focus now is on implementation and renewed efforts to ensure past cases are not forgotten.

Airwars joins our civil society partners in welcoming the publication of the much awaited Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP), released yesterday by the US Department of Defense.

The CHMR-AP reflects a years-long process of sustained pressure by individuals, civil society, journalists, activists and legislators to challenge the way the US military conducts itself in the battlefield, and force the Department of Defense to review practices that have had deadly outcomes for civilians across the globe – from the battles of Mosul and Raqqa in the war against ISIS, to the botched Kabul strike last year.

In response to this sustained pressure,  catalysed by a series of Pulitzer-winning New York Times articles exposing serious concerns with US military practices in January 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum calling for the creation of the CHMR-AP. Austin called for the CHMR-AP to set up a process for the establishment of a new centre of excellence, and a framework for standardising civilian harm reporting, investigation and mitigation.

The 46-page document is an unprecedented move toward transparency, and was put together following a series of key engagements with civil society actors and independent specialists. Presenting a far reaching future-looking agenda, it is applicable to the ‘full spectrum of conflict’ – from current operations, large and small, to any future situations of high-intensity conflict.

Covering 11 distinct objectives – ranging from actions to reduce confirmation bias to implementation of a new data management system; each with a proposed set of phased actions and associated resource plan, the CHMR-AP presents an ambitious set of actions that, if implemented appropriately, could present a radical departure from existing policy in some areas. It sets a strong precedent for future US military action – and, importantly, an example for allies to follow.

Read the DoD factsheet here and the full action plan here.

Why is the CHMR-AP so important?

While the action plan itself is focused on reviewing and reforming the US’ policies on civilian harm mitigation and tracking, it should also have significant implications for the partners that support the US in modern conflicts, such as the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and others. As it stands, US allies have been shown to have limited oversight, transparency, or accountability for civilian harm from their own actions. The UK, for instance, admits to only a single civilian casualty from its 8 years of support to the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria, in which the UK has been second only to the US in the number of munitions dropped in some battlefields. Airwars’ estimates of civilians killed by this coalition could be well over 8,000.

Over the last few years, Airwars and our civil society partners have advocated with several of these states to review and improve national approaches and policies to civilian harm mitigation; yet, while some states have taken on such reviews, none have been as far-reaching or ambitious as the CHMR-AP.

Beyond these national processes to improve approaches to civilian harm mitigation, the CHMR-AP also comes out in the context of a new international agreement on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, due to be signed by the US and key allies in October this year. The CHMR-AP’s introduction of the term ‘civilian environment’ presents a broad understanding of civilian harm – with reference to the need to understand population density, urban systems and the ‘the interconnected relationships between the civilian population, natural resources, infrastructure, and essential services’. This is an important move towards acknowledging the long-term consequences of military action on civilians caught in conflict.

What does this mean for civilians harmed by the US in past actions?

Perhaps the biggest gap in the CHMR-AP is that it includes no reference to reviewing past cases of alleged civilian harm; including addressing the 37 cases that are still open pending assessment for civilian harm claims made against the US-led Coalition in the war against ISIS.

According to Airwars’ archive, the likely death toll resulting from the actions of the US-led Coalition’s actions in the war against ISIS alone could be at least 8,192 and as many as 13,247 civilians. The US has conceded causing overall at least 1,417 civilian fatalities – but has rejected 2,674 harm claims. These rejected cases could account for thousands of casualties.

Total estimates for the last twenty years of US actions reach as many as 48,308 civilian deaths – with over 90,000 declared strikes across seven major conflict zones throughout the so-called ‘forever wars’.

Key questions therefore remain unanswered: will the remaining open cases be reviewed? Will they be reviewed with this new policy in mind? How might the new policy change the outcome of those investigations? And if these open cases are reviewed in line with new policies – what does that mean for the cases that have previously been rejected as ‘non-credible’ under a system that has now been widely acknowledged to have been in need of reform?

Looking back at past cases has significant implications for commitments to amends processes – a section outlined as an objective in the CHMR-AP, although with no mention of how the new action plan would affect outstanding claims or clear detail on implementation of future processes.

What should we be looking out for now?

The implementation of the CHMR-AP will be key. While the action plan outlines a comprehensive set of actions and resource plans, it is yet to be determined the extent to which the policy will be implemented effectively and with continued consultation with independent voices. This is particularly important as US actions are on-going across the globe – Airwars has recorded an uptick in strikes in Somalia since Biden announced his decision to redeploy troops in May this year, while a new set of strikes were announced in Syria on Iran-backed militants just as the CHMR-AP was released.

Additionally, as noted by Human Rights Watch Washington Director Sarah Yager in a comment to CNN, the staffing and resources required must be arranged as soon as possible in order to ensure that “the principles and values behind doing this are deeply embedded in the Pentagon”, before any significant leadership change in the US administration, which could delay or even derail current plans for improvements.

Allies of the US should also take notice – and take action. Particularly with key sections of the CHMR-AP including reference to the application of the new action plan to multinational operations, US allies will have to review their own practices.

Several crucial points in the action plan are also still lacking clarity, and it will likely be some time before the full extent of the policy has been reviewed in its entirety by experts. Airwars is coordinating closely with our civil society partners in the US to ensure a comprehensive and thorough review of the proposed action plan, in order to ensure appropriate oversight and support from civil society as the action plan enters into the next phase of implementation.

 

▲ Ruins of a family home in which 35 civilians died at Mosul on June 13th 2017 - in what is now known to have been US and Australian airstrikes (Image courtesy of the Al Saffar family. All rights reserved.)

Incident Code

LC434

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

زاوية الدهماني, Zawiyat Al Dahmani, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.896195, 13.206208 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Civil casualties resulted from unknown shelling of the radio building in Zawiya al-Dahmani on July 22, 2022.

@AnisAbdaljawad reported that shells fell next to the radio station, Zawiya al-Dahmani.

@taqarifatnews quoted the spokesman for the Emergency and Ambulance Service, Osama Ali, who stated that the shelling next to the radio building caused casualties.

No other additional information is available to Airwars at the time.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Zawiyat Al Dahmani (زاوية الدهماني) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Zawiyat Al Dahmani are: 32.896195, 13.206208. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC433

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

السبعة, Al Sab’a, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.846408, 13.258523 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

One civilian was injured by unknown shrapnel in Al Sab’a next to the Al-Qadi market on July 22, 2022

@tkyroogklshytk and @Bbttmm010100 tweeted that an African worker was injured by shrapnel in their foot in Al Sab’a next to the Al-Qadi market.

A tweet from @tkyroogklshytk reported that a shell fell on the house of the late Al-Sadiq Al-Suwai’i and a shop for building materials, adding in another tweet that shells and shrapnel fell on the house in Al Sab’a behind Raya al-Islam School.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (5) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (3) [ collapse]

  • Now in Al Sab’a area, the area of Gherisah, a shell fell on the house of the late Al-Sadiq Al-Suwai’i and a shop for building materials. The situation is a tragedy and the situation is dire. The people of the seven area are under the line of fire. The women and children are terrified and frightened. The missiles and bullets are above their heads and the presence of snipers in the Tahrir School
  • Shell and shrapnel now fall on the house of a citizen in al-Sabaa, behind Raya al-Islam School
  • Damage to a house in Al Sab’a area on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @taqarifatnews)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Raya Al Islam school (مدرسة راية الاسلام) in the Al Sab’a (السبعة) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for the Raya Al Islam school are: 32.846408, 13.258523. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (5) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC432

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

قرب مصحة سيول, near Seoul Clinic, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.872949, 13.247632 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

An unknown shell injured a woman inside her car in the June 11 area on July 22, 2022.

Two sources, @tkyroogklshytk and @taqarifatnews, reported that a shell fell on a car near the Seoul Clinic in the June 11 area, injuring a woman who was inside the car.

No other information is available to Airwars at this time.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Single source claim
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Seoul Clinic (مصحة سيول) in Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for the Seoul Clinic are: 32.872949, 13.247632. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

Unknown Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Unknown
  • Unknown position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Single source claim
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Weak
    Single source claim, though sometimes featuring significant information.
  • Suspected attacker
    Unknown

Sources (2) [ collapse]

Incident Code

LC431

Incident date

July 22, 2022

Location

مشروع الموز, Mashrou’ Al Muz, Tripoli, Libya

Geolocation

32.841729, 13.273353 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Local sources reported that a woman and her two children were killed and the father was injured in shelling during clashes in Mashrou’ Al Muz in Tripoli on July 22, 2022. One source asserted that this news was not true.

@tkyroogklshytk tweeted that a family near Mashrou’ Al Muz was killed due to shelling of their home, and later added that the “family of Abdul Hakim… in the village of Al-Gheraisah Mashrou’ Al Muz, a man, his wife and two daughters, and a shell fell on the family”. @taqarifatnews also tweeted about the death of a family, without providing specific details.

Emergency Medicine and Support Center posted on Facebook that the news of shelling of Mr. Mohamed Al-Muzoghi’s house and the death of his wife and children was “incorrect”.

However, a Facebook post from Libya Al Ahrar quoting the spokesman for the Emergency and Ambulance Service Osama Ali stated that “a woman and her two children were killed and their father was injured this morning as a result of the Tripoli clashes”. @AhmedElmadni added that the father was in intensive care.

Libya Al Ahrar reported that more than 20 families were evacuated from the Mashrou’ Al Muz area and @wady_dynar tweeted that a fire had erupted as a result of the shelling.

@gGY33TX9eprjsHt tweeted the names of the mother, Naima Mesbah Al-Qamoudi, and her children, Reem Muhammad Al-Mazoughi and Emad Muhammad Al-Mazoughi, who they said were killed, and that the father was in care, due to “more than one shell” falling on their house.

Al Marsad posted on Facebook that “the organs of the Presidential Council” were involved in clashes and shelling east of Tripoli, while @libyapress2010 tweeted that the clashes were between Al Radaa (Ministry of Interior RADAA Special forces) and Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. A tweet from @wagak_original reported that the attack was carried out by. a drone after “elements of Ayoub Abu Ras (Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade) holed up next to” the house.

The incident occured in the morning.

The victims were named as:

Family members (4)

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • (0–2 children0–1 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • House damaged by shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @tkyroogklshytk)
  • A shell fell in the "banana project villas" and street fighting near the immigration headquarters in the clashes taking place east of #Tripoli between "the organs of the Presidential Council". #Libya #observatory
  • Fire from shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @wady_dynar)
  • Fire from shelling of Mashrou’ Al Muz on July 22, 2022. (Image posted by @SosoRt19)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Mashrou’ Al Muz (مشروع الموز) neighbourhood of Tripoli (طرابلس). The generic coordinates for Mashrou’ Al Muz are: 32.841729, 13.273353. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

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Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • (0–2 children0–1 women)
  • Civilians reported injured
    0–1
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.

Sources (18) [ collapse]