Pax; On Civilian Harm – Examining the complex negative effects of violent conflict on the lives of civilians

This book argues that civilian harm extends beyond people killed and injured in hostilities. The thirteen empirical accounts of civilian harm detailed in this volume evidence that for an holistic understanding of the human cost of violence both physical and non-physical, short and  long-term, direct and indirect negative effects on civilians and their communities should be included. These widespread effects encompass, but are not limited to, displacement, separation of families, disrupted livelihoods, psychological trauma and a deterioration of quality, availability and accessibility of water, electricity, education and healthcare.

In an attempt to find a shared language to describe and understand civilian harm the authors propose a new approach in interpreting civilian harm events by introducing and defining six dimensions (‘signatures’) of harm: casualties, form, duration, object, systems, and variability. These signatures should be an integral part of the of reporting, planning and preparation of any action that involves the use of armed violence even when such actions may be considered to fall within the legal parameters set by the humanitarian law.

Relatively limited attention is given to the issue of access to justice and reparations for the victims of armed actions. In this context, chapter 16  highlights the ‘civilian harm mitigation’ efforts that some state and non-state actors make, including the tracking and investigation of civilian harm, as a step forward. On the other hand, the lack of transparency about the identity of the injuring party obscures accountability, in particularly in joint-military operations. The authors conclude that security actors can control the narrative about civilian harm in a conflict and show responsibility through transparent reporting and the making of amends.