Modern armed conflicts have seen a significant and disturbing shift towards large-scale urban combat where heavy use of explosive weapons have been a central feature. This trend has a catastrophic impact on the civilian population. This joint report by PAX and Airwars examines the full range of effects – death, injury, destruction of property and critical infrastructures, psychological trauma and mass displacement – of the recent airstrikes carried out by the US-led international coalition against ISIS in Mosul, Raqqa and Hawijah. The analysis goes beyond the direct effects of the use of explosive weapons, exposing indirect and longer-term negative effects on human living conditions that extend beyond the area of attack.
The report aims to shed light on why there is a need to better protect civilians through improved military operations standards. PAX and Airwars call for stronger international commitment against the use of explosive weapons in populated areas and demand all states to offer civilians better protection, to negotiate a strong international political declaration to this end and to commit to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.
Importantly, the case studies presented in the report show that, even when states claim to act in accordance with the rules of international humanitarian law, there are still instances where immense civilian harm has been caused by the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. Furthermore, the report demonstrate that Western militaries are unwilling to properly investigate civilian casualties and have a poor record of transparency and accountability.
2021: taking stock of the situation in Hawija
In their continued monitoring of the recovery of the civilian population of Hawija, Pax recently visited the still-devastated city of Hawija and interviewed 119 survivors. In this interview by Airwars, Pax researchers depict the immediate harm as well long lasting effects and human tragedies resulting from the strike. Thus Pax stresses the need to take into account in targeting processes both the direct civilian harm and the reverberating, long lasting effects on civilians. The results of the Pax research conducted during their visit will be published in a report that is expected to be published in January 2022.
Transparency & Reparations
The fact that it took four years for the Dutch government to publicly take responsibility (in 2019) for the air strike sparked a debate in Dutch society and parliament about the lack of transparency and accountability. In December 2020, the Dutch Minister of Defence announced to make an ex gratia payment of 4 million euros to the affected community of Hawija. The interviewees, however, explain that the victims want individual compensation and a formal apology if necessary by suing the Dutch state.