This joint publication by PAX, Utrecht University’s Intimacies of Remote Warfare programme and the Al-Ghad League for Woman and Child Care is about the Dutch F-16 airstrike on Hawija of 2nd-3rd June 2015 and its aftermath. This was a remote (aerial) intervention in an area controlled by ISIS. The Dutch government only admitted responsibility for the attack in 2019, 4.5 years after the event. The report unpacks the different layers of civilian harm in Hawija and shows how they reinforce and exacerbate each other, and how they are given meaning.
The authors identify three types of harm resulting from remote military interventions – a strategy often relied on by Coalition States in their fight against ISIS: (i) direct civilian harm (deaths, injuries, material damages and psychological trauma – chapter 6), (ii) reverberating civilian harm (displacement, economic harm, and the impact of the strike on access to medical care and education – chapter 7) and (iii) how the effects of the Hawija bombing figure in the victims’ collective interpretations of war and violence, and their expectations regarding an adequate response – chapter 8). Many of the people affected by the airstrike were the victim of two or more forms of harm at the same time.
The authors show how direct civilian harm often has a reverberating effect. In Hawija, many of the reverberating effects were amplified because they occurred in ‘rebel-held territory’. The reverberating long-term and indirect effects on civilians are often overlooked when planning remote military interventions in rebel-held urban areas. The Dutch Ministry of Defence has repeatedly claimed that it was not possible to know the extend of civilian harm resulting from the Dutch airstrike. This report, however, shows that the scale of human injury and suffering actually can be mapped through conducting a field investigation, talking to victims and witnesses and by cross-referencing claims based on the documentation that exists and the material damage done.
The reports stresses the importance for the military and politicians to recognise that engaging in remote airstrikes in rebel-held urban settings puts civilians at risk of being exposed to the direct and reverberating effects and that such remote interventions can undermine the short and long term aims of bringing ‘enduring security’ for civilians living war zones.
The victims of the Hawija airstrike hold the Netherlands responsible for the direct and reverberating harm they are dealing with until today. They want the Dutch government to publicly acknowledge and apologise for the harm inflicted on them and pay individual compensation, both to restore their dignity, as well as to meet their basic human needs.
In 2020 a group of civilians from Hawija filed a claim for damages with the Dutch MoD. In February 2022, a subpoena was served on behalf of eleven civilians from seven families [insert link to summary of the writ of summons that is in dropbox Iraq R2R). The court has not yet reached a verdict in this case.