The Dutch Ministry of Defence in the Hague.


May 23, 2024

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

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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.