“Amends” is the emerging practice of warring parties providing recognition and assistance to civilians they harm within the lawful parameters of their combat operations. At its core, the practice of making amends to civilians suffering combat losses is a gesture of respect to victims. Amends can take a variety of forms, but must be culturally appropriate. They can include public apologies, monetary payments, livelihood assistance programs, and other offerings in accordance with victims’ needs and preferences.
We believe all civilian victims harmed in the crossfire of armed conflict should have their harm recognized and their suffering addressed by the warring parties. For too long, the international community has dismissed civilian harm as an acceptable consequence of armed conflict, leaving victims to pick up the pieces of lost lives and livelihoods. While international legal developments, including International Humanitarian Law, have put key rules in place to better protect civilians in wartime over the past century, warring parties still have no formal obligation to recognize or help the civilians they harm if the harm was not in violation of their existing legal obligations.
This means that a family killed in the course of a proportionate attack on a legitimate military target, or a teenage passerby wounded in a sudden skirmish between opposing forces, is considered “collateral damage” and there is no obligation to help these civilians. In an international legal framework designed to protect civilians in armed conflict, this is a glaring gap, exacerbating the suffering of war-torn populations.
The Center is working to build this concept in both principle—with the international community of states—and in practice in various conflict and post-conflict zones. Our advocacy is directed toward the United Nations, regional bodies such as NATO and the African Union, and warring parties themselves, which have the ability to make amends to civilians in real time and meaningfully address suffering in conflict.