Civilian casualties in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya show better military planning needed
WASHINGTON, DC—Following reports of accidental civilian casualties in three different conflicts, the advocacy group Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) said warring parties must avoid civilian harm and be better prepared for when it happens.
In the last week, reports emerged of civilians mistakenly killed or injured by a NATO airstrike in Libya, the Yemeni air force in Yemen, and in Mogadishu by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Both NATO and AMISOM publicly apologized and are investigating the incidents. The Yemeni Government has not yet issued any statement regarding the incident.
“It’s clear that civilians continue to suffer for tactical mistakes,” said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of CIVIC. “But when mistakes happen, victims deserve to be dignified with apologies, an explanation, and some form of tangible compensation for their losses. Making amends is the right thing to do.”
According to CIVIC, which lobbies for civilian welfare in war zones, the actions of NATO and AMISOM show progress toward addressing civilian harm. The organization noted that in addition to apologies and investigations, victims should receive tangible recovery assistance as appropriate, and be notified of the results of the investigation. Such findings should inform warring parties’ operational strategy, training, and doctrine in an effort to prevent the same deadly mistakes from recurring.
“It’s critical to learn lessons from these tragic events and recognize what went wrong in the first place. Avoiding civilian harm must always be the first priority. But militaries also need to have plans in place for when the worst happens,” said Holewinski.
CIVIC has worked with US, NATO, and African policymakers to improve policies for war victims since 2003, and noted that apologies and investigations following civilian harm is a relatively new practice. In Afghanistan, NATO forces denied causing civilian harm after each reported allegation—no matter the veracity of the claim—until 2008 when commanders recognized the importance of communicating with the civilian population transparently. Making amends to civilians through apologies, investigations and tangible compensation for losses is a growing practice, now applicable to Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
“Making amends is necessary but does not excuse the loss of life. However, credit should be given to NATO and AMISOM for immediately addressing their mistakes. I hope the victims will receive the help they deserve,” said Holewinski.