WASHINGTON (July 13, 2017)—Following the release of Amnesty International’s report on civilian harm in the Mosul campaign and the Anti-ISIS coalition response, executive director Federico Borello of Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) issued the following statement: 

“The real question on civilian harm in Mosul is why are we seeing two vastly different stories of how many civilians were killed? There are several likely reasons, including:

  • A challenging environment for conducting proper in-depth assessments after every incident, as security forces often do not have direct access to areas where strikes take place.
  • Different determinations of who is a “civilian” in post-strike assessments. Human rights researchers may classify or presume someone as civilian when security forces do not.
  • Limited access or use of information. No one—NGOs, researchers or the US military—has access to perfect data. The military has sole access to classified data, but human rights researchers seek out on-the-ground research and witness statements the coalition usually doesn’t collect or doesn’t consider.

“In an ideal world, all parties would seek and consider as much information and research as possible to understand, assess, and better protect civilians—while that does happen in some cases it is far from systematic. Credible and established human rights organizations are not always consulted during the investigations process, meaning they can’t raise questions about coalition procedures or register allegations of civilians harmed until well after the fact.

“Human rights organizations and the media independently research and evaluate the conduct of governments. As such, their role—a valuable one—is to challenge the military about procedures and information. Meanwhile, the military’s mission is not that of human rights advocates, but it does have obligations and interests in protecting civilians, and it should value information from human rights organizations and the media.

“CIVIC believes that the military can greatly benefit from explaining in detail how it meets its obligations, even under challenging circumstances where ISIS used civilians as human shields, entrapped them, and prevented them from fleeing.

“So what could be done differently?

“Given the enormous power of life and death granted to today’s security forces, the coalition should do a better job of ensuring that people understand how decisions are made and by whom, and by being more proactive in seeking outside information. For example, it can emphasize when they actually do track harm to civilians, investigate allegations, and seek third-party information, and make its process and findings more transparent to the public. It should make sure preventing and tracking harm is prioritized and resourced. It could also undertake or commission a study, not only of each strike, but of the causes of civilian harm over time and ways that harm can be prevented. The true test of a strategic commitment to civilians is measured in results, not intentions.”

Background

Editors' Note

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.

For more information, contact Piper Hendricks at phendricks@civiliansinconflict.org.

Image courtesy of CIVIC/Maranie Rae Staab