News

News

The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.

start date
end date
320 Results
sort by:

Published

May 23, 2024

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.

Today Airwars is laying out 16 recommendations for the Dutch Ministry of Defence on its approach to civilian harm mitigation, in collaboration with PAX for Peace, Center for Civilians in Conflict, and Utrecht University

These recommendations reflect on our engagement with the MoD over the last four years in the so-called Roadmap Process. This Process has consisted of regular meetings, intensifying over the last year to multiple technical workshops which brought in world-leading experts and CHMR practitioners.

The Roadmap Process was established in early 2020, after it was revealed that the Dutch military was responsible for an airstrike which has killed over 85 civilians in Hawija, Iraq, and that the Minister of Defence has subsequently tried to cover up Dutch involvement for over 4 years.

In the years since, the Dutch MoD has made progress on its policy approach; for instance, in 2022, Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren announced a 10-step plan for improving the MoD’s approach to civilian harm mitigation, based in part on the consortium’s recommendations from the first phase of the Roadmap Process, which finished in 2021. As part of the 10 step plan, the MoD established a team specifically focused on the Protection of Civilians, which has since expanded. New regulations were also introduced, requiring the MoD POC team to specifically analyse risks to civilians and mitigation approaches to be used for all new deployments under Article 100 of the constitution. The regular engagement with civil society and experts, and improvements made already, places the Netherlands at the forefront of efforts to review and improve national approaches to CHMR.

At the same time, areas for improvement remain – some significant. Most importantly, from an Airwars perspective, the MoD should formalise how it tracks and investigates allegations of civilian harm, through the creation of a civilian harm tracking cell. The cell should have a clear methodology and data management system to ensure allegations of harm are not processed in an ad-hoc manner as one-off incidents, but are examined thoroughly with an established rigorous approach to ensure accountability to those affected and lessons learned for a stronger mitigation approach in future operations.

The MoD should also make it a priority to release their Baseline Study, a recent internal review of current best practice on CHMR within the military, as well as gaps that should be addressed. Releasing this study would allow civil society and experts to best understand the best practices emerging from the Netherlands and to work with the military to find the most effective solutions to current or emerging gaps. Beyond that, the Baseline Study could also provide an invaluable methodology for other militaries who are willing to review their own approaches to CHMR, but are unsure where to begin – as many are.

The Roadmap recommendations released today include an overview of our process to date, a summary page on our recommendations, and finally the full recommendations with examples of best practice. While they were developed for the Dutch MoD, many of these reflect years of research and advocacy across national contexts and will apply to many of the Netherlands’ allies as well. We urge the Dutch MoD and its allies to review and implement the recommendations to further strengthen their approach to civilian harm mitigation.

You can find the full list of recommendations here.

▲ The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.

Published

April 18, 2024

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

Photo by Ahmad Al-Basha/Agence France-Presse, taken from Flickr under Creative Commons

In November 2023, Airwars and Article 36 co-convened a workshop to explore military perspectives on the opportunities and challenges arising in the implementation of the Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas.

In the workshop report, we summarise the discussions held and challenges identified during the two-day workshop. We draw on these lessons, and our wider work on EWIPA, to make recommendations to states and militaries working to implement the declaration, and civil society organisations focused on supporting this process.

The workshop focused on exploring operational policies and practice regarding the use of explosive weapons during military operations in populated areas, with reference to the Declaration. Using a scenario-based approach, the workshop aimed to identify, and raise awareness of, changes to policies and practices that are necessary for the effective implementation of the operational provisions of the Declaration, ahead of the first official follow-up meeting of states and civil society which will be held in Oslo next week.

Participants in the workshop included active and retired members of national armed forces and defence ministry officials from 8 Western states, as well as participants from NATO, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and civil society organisations.

Key findings 

A summary of the key recommendations and good practices outlined during the workshop are summarised below:

    Efforts to disseminate and promote engagement with the Declaration at the national level are required within relevant ministries and departments as well as the armed forces. A process of policy review, revision and development by signatory states is an essential element of the implementation process. To promote and implement the Declaration, it is vital to include both leaders at the strategic/political level as well as commanders at the operational level. Commanders have a key role to play in ensuring civilian harm is mitigated, particularly from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The Declaration’s central commitment points towards national-level policies and doctrines as the framework through which it should be implemented. Weapon selection, including a proper understanding of the technical effects of different weapons and how those effects will be influenced by the built environment, is critical to mitigating civilian harm from explosive weapons. States should critically review their approaches to and capacity for undertaking civilian harm tracking in line with established good practice.

The full workshop report can be found here.

▲ Photo by Ahmad Al-Basha/Agence France-Presse, taken from Flickr under Creative Commons

Published

March 27, 2024

One of ten winners from nearly 600 entries for prestigious journalism prize

Airwars has won a Sigma award recognising excellence in data journalism, while the organisation’s investigative work has also been nominated three times at the forthcoming Amnesty Media Awards.

The article, titled The Year of the Shahed, was one of ten winners selected by Sigma from a total of 591 submissions by more than 300 news organisations.

The investigation involved gathering all open-source allegations of Russia’s use of the Iranian-made Shahed drone to attack Ukrainian civilians, as well as researching the European links to the specific component parts found in them. It was produced in collaboration with the German newspaper Der Spiegel after a grant by Investigative Journalism for Europe.

A still image from the article

Commenting on the article, the Sigma prize committee said: “The increasing digitisation, mechanisation, and automatisation of warfare is a worrying trend that will likely accelerate in years to come. This story about affordable but highly effective Iranian drones (actually, pseudo-missiles) used by Russia in Ukraine is a good example of what investigative and data journalism can do to warn readers about such trends.”

“The piece combines in-depth data analysis of attack patterns, first-person accounts of their consequences, and plenty of context of both the history of this weaponry and of the way it’s operated. The story weaves the narrative with photographic and audio evidence, along with a simple but effective series of data visualizations, scrollytelling sequences, and well-executed vector 3D renderings of the drones. In summary, it’s a rich multimedia experience.”

The article was written by Sanjana Varghese, Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen, Iryna Chupryna and Rowena De Silva of Airwars, as well as Oliver Imhof and Alexander Epp of Der Spiegel. It was designed visually by Airwars’ Júlia Nueno and Azul De Monte.

Among the other projects recognised by the judges were international news organisations including the Financial Times and Bloomberg, as well as local news organisations in Nigeria, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

The full award ceremony can be viewed below and Nikolaj Houmann Mortensen will discuss the article at a panel discussion during the International Journalism Festival 2024 in Perugia, Italy on April 20, 2024.

Separately, Airwars received three nominations for the forthcoming Amnesty Media Awards. The awards celebrate vital stories related to issues of human rights, with the winners to be announced on on May 9th, 2024.

Airwars was the smallest organisation to have been nominated, with almost all other candidates major international news organisations. Only the BBC and The Guardian received more than three nominations.

Airwars and The Guardian were nominated in two categories for a joint investigation into the hidden civilian toll of British airstrikes in Iraq and Syria during the campaign against the so-called Islamic State. The two-year investigation combined months of document analysis to identify likely UK strikes, with reporting from the ground in Mosul speaking to victims.

The longform reportage from Iraq, written by Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian and Airwars’ Joe Dyke, was nominated for Best Written Feature, while the Airwars immersive article was nominated in the digital creativity section. The entire investigation has also been nominated in the Outstanding Investigative Reporting category at the forthcoming Fetisov Awards.

Separately Airwars’ Sanjana Varghese was among four nominees in the The Gaby Rado Award for New Journalist category for her work leading the Shahed investigation.

Published

February 26, 2024

Written by

Airwars Staff

Palestinian civilians allegedly killed every day in the two weeks following the International Court of Justice's ruling on Gaza, Airwars finds

On January 26th, the International Court of Justice ordered provisional measures in a case brought by South Africa alleging that Israel was violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in Gaza. Israel refuted the claim, stating it was taking all possible measures to protect civilians during its attempts to destroy the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The ICJ found that a plausible risk of genocide in the Gaza Strip exists and that Israel must take all measures within its power to prevent genocide, to prevent and punish incitement to genocide, make provision for access to humanitarian aid, ensure preservation of evidence related to South Africa’s allegations, and must report back to the Court within a month about how it was complying with this order.

However concerns have mounted over the destruction of evidence related to civilian harm claims given widespread attacks on healthcare facilities and the highly restrictive operating environment.

To provide independent incident-based research to support investigations into civilian harm claims, Airwars’ research team carried out an expedited assessment process gathering and reviewing all civilian harm allegations in the first two weeks of the month-long period.

Airwars research identified more than 200 alleged incidents of harm from January 27th 2024 to February 9th 2024, originating from more than 1,500 open source claims. These claims include local media outlets, testimonies from family members, and other witness testimonies posted online. Each incident was identified by corroborating at least five sources detailing the civilian harm event.

There are likely to be other incidents that were not publicly reported upon, however this research intends to provide a starting point for further investigation.

Among the claims, Airwars has identified attacks on journalists, on civilians while sheltering in displacement centres, on civilians waiting for humanitarian aid and on healthcare workers.

Airwars is still reviewing these cases through our rigorous casualty recording methodology, which means that no overall fatality estimates will be produced at this time. However these incidents still reveal some key patterns of harm.

Among the key trends were:

    Civilians were reported killed every day in incidents during the two-week period, with an average of 16 casualty incidents recorded per day. In 190 of the incidents, civilians were reported killed or injured following the alleged use of explosive weapons. In 36 incidents, civilians were allegedly shot and killed or injured by live fire. Healthcare workers and first responders were reported killed in six incidents. Civilians waiting for humanitarian aid were reported killed or injured in five separate incidents. Civilians in education centres were reported killed or injured in eight separate incidents, often while taking shelter. Journalists were reported killed in at least five of these incidents, often alongside members of their family. In 13 separate incidents, at least ten civilians were alleged to have been killed. Geographically the largest number of incidents occurred in the governorate of Khan Yunis, which Israeli forces were seeking to take control of during the time period.

Out of the 233 incidents identified by Airwars, our geolocation teams were able to locate 213 to governorate level – key administrative units in Gaza. These incidents are reflected on the map. Further precision on geolocations will be part of Airwars’ forthcoming and comprehensive assessment of each incident.

Incidents include harm from explosive weapon use and to the extent possible from the use of small arms or light weapons. Each incident has not yet been through Airwars’ rigorous assessment process, and therefore data points should be treated as provisional only, including on civilian status and casualty ranges.

Chronology of harm

Key incidents are described chronologically below, and full datasets can be provided on request including with digitally archived links. The following should not be understood as an exhaustive list, but rather a brief summary of each day’s events – as reported by local sources.

More comprehensive analysis will be released once we have completed our full documentation efforts, including the more than 2,000 incidents yet to go through our review process.

January 27th 2024

Civilians alleged to have been killed while waiting for humanitarian aid, as well as in shootings in a hospital courtyard.

January 28th 2024

More than ten civilians reported killed in a single incident in a refugee camp, dozens reported injured while waiting for humanitarian aid, and at least one civilian killed in a school. A journalist was also reported killed.

January 29th 2024

More than ten civilians reported killed in at least three separate incidents, including while sheltering in a school. At least two incidents of identified civilian casualties in a hospital due to shootings. One journalist also reported killed.

January 30th 2024

More than ten civilians reported killed during one incident, as well as other incidents recorded of casualties during aid distributions.

January 31st 2024

Civilians reported killed while sheltering in a collective displacement centre, as well as harm reported on ambulance and first responder crews.

February 1st 2024

Healthworkers reported killed near a hospital entrance, as well as widespread reporting of 22 bodies recovered in Khan Younis.

February 2nd 2024

At least two incidents identified where health workers were reported killed.

February 3rd 2024

More than ten civilians reported killed during an alleged Israeli bombing on a family home.

February 4th 2024

Multiple reports of civilians killed and injured while waiting to receive humanitarian aid. Additional casualties reported in a kindergarten.

February 5th 2024

Civilian casualties reported in education facilities in Khan Younis.

February 6th 2024

At least two incidents where more than ten civilians were reported killed, including in an alleged strike on a family home. Two journalists also reported killed.

February 7th 2024

More than ten civilians killed in a single incident, and additional casualties reported in medical facilities. Several civilians also reported killed while waiting for humanitarian aid.

February 8th 2024

More than ten civilians killed in a single incident, and at least two incidents recorded where healthcare workers were killed, and one incident where civilians were killed in a health centre. One journalist also reported killed.

February 9th 2024

One incident where more than ten civilians were reported killed, another incident where casualties were recorded in medical centres, at aid distributions and also, separately, in an education facility.

Airwars’ ongoing casualty recording efforts

Following the brutal October 7th Hamas attack, Israel launched one of the most intense military campaigns in modern history in Gaza. In the months since, almost every fact emerging has been in dispute.

In an attempt to combat mis- and disinformation and build a permanent public record of civilian harm, Airwars has been recording incident-by-incident civilian harm allegations since October 7th. By utilising Airwars’ open source-led primary language methodology – used to document civilian harm caused by different belligerents in multiple conflict zones including Iraq, Syria and Ukraine – researchers have so far identified more than 2,500 separate allegations of civilian harm in Gaza. These range from incidents in which one or two civilians were reported injured to those in which more than 100 Palestinians have been reported killed.

To date more than 280 incidents have been through a rigorous six-stage verification process and are available on our website in a new archive. Due to the scale of the task and the rigour of the process, most of these relate to the first month of the war. Dozens more are published each week once they have completed the full review process. A forthcoming report will highlight key trends from those published incidents.

▲ Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, reproduced under Creative Commons

Published

January 31, 2024

Newly released documents definitively link Danish war planes to strikes that killed Libyan civilians

A joint investigation by Airwars, the Danish news site Altinget and The Guardian has sparked a review of civilian harm allegations from Danish airstrikes in the 2011 war in Libya.

Published on January 25th, the two-year investigation revealed the existence of a previously secret Danish internal review of allegations of civilian harm from its more than 900 bombs dropped as part of the NATO campaign against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The military review found Danish pilots conducted strikes in incidents in which at least 14 civilians were killed. The document was produced in 2012, a year after the war, but kept from the Danish public for more than a decade.

The revelations are the first time a particular NATO country has been definitively linked to specific airstrikes that harmed civilians in Libya. You can read the news stories in English (Guardian) or Danish (Altinget), and find the full story behind the investigation.

The investigation was lead story on The Guardian’s website on January 25th

In a direct response to the investigation, Danish Minister of Defence Troels Lund Poulsen ordered the Danish Armed Forces to commit a formal review of the allegations. A top Norwegian official said such civilian harm was “unsurprising” as NATO’s targeting information was limited during the campaign in Libya.

Several Danish political parties have called for the government to establish a compensation model for civilians harmed, with Christian Friis Bach from the Radikale, emphasising: “If Danish soldiers become aware that they have conducted an airstrike resulting in unintended civilian casualties, then you should proactively take responsibility and reach out with a compensation model that has been established before the incident takes place”.

The investigation also sparked an intense conversation on the possibility of a ‘cover up’ in Copenhagen – with a focus on who knew about the internal review and when. Both the foreign minister and the defence minister at the time that the Danish armed forces concluded their review said they do not recall being briefed about the reports. The foreign minister emphasised he would have remembered, had he been told, while the defence minister referred follow-up questions to the ministry.

Then head of NATO, Rasmus Fogh Andersen – a former Danish prime minister – has refused to comment. Former Danish defence minister Hans Engell hailed the “skilful” investigation, but said the apparent cover up “threatens the credibility of the armed forces” in Denmark.

In Libya, the renowned Arabic paper Asharq Al-Awsat reported a number of politicians and human rights activists calling for action against Denmark to seek compensation for the victims.

Since the 2011 air campaign in Libya, Denmark has contributed to several international coalitions, including the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria, which Airwars estimates led to at least 8,199 civilian casualties.

In late 2023, Denmark joined the US-led ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ campaign targeting the Houthi forces in Yemen, in a supporting capacity. It is unclear what civilian harm mitigation tools are applied in this campaign and whether systems have been established for civilians to report potential harm from airstrikes.

Emily Tripp, Airwars’ director, said: “This investigation reveals once again that a failure in transparency over civilian harm allegations does a disservice both to the citizens in whose name such wars are fought, and to those civilians who deserve answers about which nation killed their loved ones.

“The fact that Danish officials went to the trouble of reviewing these allegations is actually a positive: very few NATO allies engage with external allegations at this level. But refusing to then share those findings with the public raises serious questions about political processes and practices both in Denmark and in the wider NATO campaign.”

 

Below is a list of some of the articles about the investigation

English

Denmark admits role in Nato airstrikes on Libya that killed 14 civilians in 2011 (Guardian)

How we exposed secretive Danish role in Libyan civilian deaths (Airwars)

 

Danish

Armed forces kept reports secret for years: Denmark likely killed civilians in Libya (Altinget)

After revelations: the Ministry of Defence reopens its Libya investigation after more than 10 years (Altinget)

Parties in the aftermath of the Libya disclosure: Denmark should prepare for possible lawsuits (Altinget)

Podcast: How it was revealed that Denmark likely killed civilians in Libya (Danish)

‘Son of a bitch!’ exclaims former UN investigator: withheld Libya reports includes all the answers we requested (Altinget)

Former Danish Defence Minister Hans Engell: The Libya disclosures once again threatens the credibility of the armed forces  (Altinget)

‘News of that magnitude remains in the mind’: former foreign minister does not recall being briefed about the Libya case (Altinget)

Former top Norwegian diplomat on possible civilian casualties in Libya: ‘unfortunately not surprising’ (Altinget)

https://www.berlingske.dk/internationalt/forargelse-efter-afsloering-af-hemmelig-rapport-om-mulige-danske

Outrage after disclosure of secret report on possible Danish killings of civilians: “Deeply worrying” (Berlingske)

Politiken’s Defence Editor: There was a good reason (minister) Lene Espersen would not guarantee no civilian casualties (Politiken)

 

Middle Eastern media

Denmark to probe 2011 strikes on Libya that killed 14 civilians (Arab News)

New evidence emerges from 2011 (Al Hadath Libya)

Libyans to sue Denmark on charges of killing 14 civilians during the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime (Al Sharq al-Awsat)

Danish revelations about Libya bombing 13 years ago could help victims’ families (MEMO)

▲ Journalists and locals gather next to the rubble of buildings in Tripoli, Libya, on June 19, 2011. During a government-led tour, the group was shown damaged houses and the bodies of civilians said to have been killed in a NATO coalition bombing. MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Published

December 22, 2023

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.

In a major step forward, the Dutch Minister of Defence has announced a new mechanism for civilians and NGOs to report harm to civilians from Dutch airstrikes.

The announcement follows several years of advocacy and detailed discussions between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Protection of Civilians team and a consortium of NGOs including Airwars, Pax, Utrecht University, and CIVIC, in the so-called ‘Roadmap process’.

In the letter to parliament, the Dutch format for setting out policy, the Minister of Defence, Kajsa Ollongren, outlined two major commitments; one for operations that have already finished and one for future engagements. To the former, the Minister acknowledged current gaps in the MoD’s approach, emphasising; “At present there is no specific counter for NGOs and victims/next of kin to report suspicions of civilian casualties to the Netherlands. The Defense Department will therefore set up a counter where these parties can report suspicions of civilian casualties in relation to [military deployments] that are already terminated”.

The Netherlands was one of several nations who contributed with air support to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), in Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2019. Our evidence suggests that at least 8,199 civilians have likely been killed in Coalition airstrikes. The Dutch have admitted to some of these deaths – though often only after major international investigations have exposed Dutch involvement. This includes a strike on the Iraqi city of Hawijah in 2015, in which more than 85 civilians were killed, which prompted an independent inquiry and a major court case with a verdict expected in January 2024.

By establishing a dedicated civilian harm reporting mechanism, the Netherlands is following in the footsteps of the US and setting itself ahead of the other allies which contributed to OIR. This announcement comes shortly after Airwars took the UK Ministry of Defense to a tribunal, in part for its lack of clarity on mechanisms to protect civilians during its role in the same campaign.

If implemented well, this new Dutch mechanism will make it possible for civilians who have been affected by strikes to report the details directly to the Ministry of Defense. It will also provide NGOs, such as Airwars, which gather evidence of harm with a systematic approach to submitting allegations. This has long been identified by NGOs as best practice in civilian harm mitigation and response.

When it comes to civilian harm reporting in future conflicts, Ollongren states in the letter; “I consider it desirable that NGOs and victims/survivors can report to the relevant coalition. Where relevant, the Netherlands will therefore endeavor to organize this well in a coalition before the start of the Dutch contribution. Should a coalition in question be unable to adequately organize a reporting structure, Defense itself will ensure the possibility to report suspicions to the Netherlands“.

Coalitions, which have come to define engagement in recent conflict by Western states, often introduce uncertainty and bureaucratic complexity on the responsibility and accountability for civilian harm. It is notable that the Netherlands commit themselves to setting up a Dutch mechanism if a coalition one cannot be agreed upon.

As with all policy commitments, the eventual effect depends on how well it is implemented. This is particularly relevant in this case, as a new US-led coalition with Dutch participation was announced on the same day that the letter came out. The new coalition, Operation Prosperity Guardian, will respond to Yemen-based Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. Yemen has seen some of the most brutal and sustained civilian harm in the last decade, from both the Houthi forces, but also the US-backed Saudi Coalition.

The Netherlands participation in this new coalition does not yet meet the threshold required for an ‘Article-100 letter’, the system by which civilian harm considerations, such as a reporting mechanism, would be announced and established. However Dutch involvement in this and future operations will be a testing ground for these new commitments, which so far puts the Netherlands apart from many of its allies.

▲ The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.

Published

November 24, 2023

Session on Wednesday November 29th vital for British military transparency

On Wednesday November 29th, the London-based civilian harm watchdog Airwars will take the UK government to a tribunal. The session is to appeal against the refusal of the Ministry of Defence and the Information Commissioner to release any details about the single civilian casualty that the UK has admitted in the past decade.

In eight years of bombing the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the UK claims to have killed more than 4,000 ISIS militants but only one civilian. In the same timeframe, the US has accepted responsibility for causing the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians.

A strike on March 26, 2018 remains the only time the UK government has officially accepted harming civilians. The Minister of Defence told parliament in May 2018 that “[d]uring a strike to engage three Daesh fighters, a civilian motorbike crossed into the strike area at the last moment and it is assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed.”

Since then the MoD has refused to release even basic details about the incident – including the location, how it reached that designation and rejected other allegations of civilian harm, and who made the ultimate decision that the allegation was ‘credible.’

Airwars’ head of investigations Joe Dyke first filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) case requesting such details in early 2021. The Ministry of Defence rejected it, saying that releasing this information would threaten national security.

In the past three years a number of developments have made the UK’s refusal look even less transparent.

    In 2021 the United States released to The New York Times more than 1300 civilian harm assessments after a similar freedom of information case. Each document showed how the US military decided whether or not it had killed civilians in a particular incident. These are exactly the kinds of documents Airwars asked the UK to produce. Earlier this year, the Dutch Government released the coordinates of every strike Dutch pilots conducted during the anti-ISIS campaign. This led to an additional civilian harm incident being linked to the Dutch, with the country’s public prosecutor opening a legal case. The Information Commissioner, while siding with the MoD, ruled that the UK’s approach appeared less transparent than the United States. Airwars and The Guardian revealed that the incident in 2018 was not properly recorded either by the MoD or by the US-led Coalition.

The tribunal, in which Airwars is represented by Leigh Day solicitors and barrister Will Perry of Monckton Chambers, will be a vital opportunity to review whether the British public is allowed to understand how the UK decided whether those killed in their name are militants or civilians. Without this oversight, the UK will remain far behind its allies when it comes to transparency on civilian harm.

Emily Tripp, director at Airwars, said: “This tribunal is vital for the sake of basic military transparency. We still have no understanding as to how the UK military assesses whether or not their actions harmed civilians. The UK government insists that even a minimal level of transparency and openness would threaten national security.”

We are only asking for the UK to follow its allies in showing the public how these assessments are made. Without such transparency, there is no legitimacy to the Ministry of Defence’s claim that it only killed one civilian in the war against ISIS – which erodes public trust in our military institutions.”

“Our clients are concerned with a fundamental lack of transparency in how the UK assesses the risk to civilians of its air strikes before they are carried out, as well as how it investigates and assesses civilian harm after the event,” Erin Alcock of Leigh Day said. “Transparency in cases of civilian harm is vital to ensure accountability.”

The tribunal will take place in London on November 29th and 30th, with most of the open evidence to be heard on the 29th.

Journalists interested in covering tribunal that require further details can contact Joe Dyke, who led the initial appeal, on josephdyke [at] airwars.org

▲ A satellite image of the location where the US-led Coalition investigated the strike on March 26, 2018, ultimately concluding there was no Coalition strike that day.

Published

July 14, 2023

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

UN Headquarters in Geneva (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

New UN Human Rights Council study emphasises importance of casualty recording for human rights

A breakthrough United Nations report outlining the importance of casualty recording for the protection and promotion of human rights has received nearly universal support at the Human Rights Council’s 53rd session.

The report, which linked casualty recording and human rights obligations directly, received widespread support at the council on July 3rd – with 19 states and observers expressing support for the findings and recommendations. Only one state, Venezuela, expressed objections.

The study will create pressure on states – many of which have previously expressed confusion and hesitancy regarding their obligations around casualty recording – to do more to monitor the civilian impact of conflict.

Setting the tone for the Council session, the report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended that states: “ensure that casualty recording systems and policies are in place and report publicly on all casualties believed to have resulted from hostilities or violence and their circumstances, including for reparations and accountability”.

If implemented, such measures would create a global best practice around casualty monitoring. There is currently little transparency about how states record casualties from their own actions, and state militaries often face accusations of undercounting the civilian impact of their actions.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the Ministry of Defence refuses to publicly disclose details on its own mechanism for casualty recording in the war against ISIS. Airwars is challenging this position in a tribunal later this year.

The importance of casualty recording 

The High Commissioner’s report emphasised; “Casualty recording is an important and effective means of delivering on a range of fundamental human rights”. The report further notes: “In addition to disciplinary and accountability measures, such information can be used to foster compliance with international law, including by changing practices and behaviour and enhancing training to this end.”

The US delegation reflected on casualty recording in Ukraine, acknowledging that: “we still do not know the full picture. For that reason, we must advance efforts to create a comprehensive casualty recording system that accounts for all casualties, both civilian and military.”

The delegation went on to emphasise that the US is keen to “aid the international community in developing a casualty reporting mechanism at the international level to contribute to equal access to justice for all”

The support for casualty recording is particularly significant in the context of other successes for civilian protections at the UN last week. In a statement welcoming the report on casualty recording, 56 states of the ‘Group of Friends of R2P’ emphasised the connection between casualty recording and atrocity prevention.

A week earlier, a resolution was adopted at the General Assembly creating an independent institution to examine the fate of all people who are missing in Syria. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, an estimated 130,000 people have gone missing or been forcibly disappeared.

The moves at the UN follow other international assertions on the importance of casualty recording. The Explosive Weapons Declarations, signed by nearly 90 states in November last year, urges states to “record and track civilian casualties, and [ensure] the use of all practicable measures to ensure appropriate data collection.” The US’ Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP), which is widely seen as one of the most ambitious and detailed national policies on this topic, highlights that “developing standardized reporting procedures for operational data to inform civilian harm assessments …will improve DoD’s ability to mitigate and respond to civilian harm.”

The work of independent civil society organisations

Airwars has been collaborating with civil society organisations, particularly Every Casualty Counts and other partners in the Casualty Recorder’s Network, to present evidence for the Human Rights Council report over the last year.

Last year, Every Casualty also released a hard hitting report outlining the requirements for casualty recording across legal regimes. It found that “international humanitarian and human rights law contain extensive requirements regarding states’ duties to account for the dead and missing in armed conflict and other situations of gross human rights violations… these duties are universally binding on all states.”

The work of these organisations was emphasised throughout the report. On the work of Airwars, the report highlighted our work with the US military and Government in particular, highlighting that: “more than 70 per cent of United States internal inquiries into civilian casualties caused by air strikes in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq since 2014 have been based on casualty recording submitted by Airwars.”

The report also drew attention to the advocacy work of organisations like Airwars, writing: “…following years of advocacy and engagement based in part on [Airwars’] findings on casualties in Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, the United States Department of Defense issued the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan in August 2022.”

We welcome the findings of the report on casualty recording and the widespread support it received at the Human Rights Council last week. It brings clarity to the requirements on states and reaffirms, at an international level, the importance of accurately recording and reporting on casualties in warfare.

▲ UN Headquarters in Geneva (photo from Wikimedia Commons)