Washington, DC, December 21, 2023 – CIVIC welcomes the release of the Department of Defense Instruction (DoD-I) on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response, a policy to overhaul and standardize how the United States prevents and responds to civilian harm in its military operations.

Congress first mandated the creation of such a policy in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The policy follows and aligns with the 2022 Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP), which was developed following longstanding civil society calls for structural reform after over twenty years of repeated civilian harm from US operations.

CIVIC commends the policy’s release, which includes numerous steps CIVIC and our partners have long called for – including precautions to prevent and mitigate civilian harm in planning and operations; more robust, standardized assessments and investigations into civilian harm; civilian-centered responses to harm, also known as amends; and the consideration of civilian harm risks in US security cooperation

“We welcome this policy, which is both the first of its kind and long overdue. But like any policy, what’s on paper is just the first step,” said Annie Shiel, CIVIC’s US Advocacy Director. “The real measure of its success will be in implementation, and how or whether it delivers results for civilians – both by preventing a repetition of the devastating civilian harm caused by US operations over the last twenty years, and by finally delivering answers and accountability to the many civilians harmed in those operations who are still waiting for acknowledgement from the US government.” 

Regarding investigations and amends, the DoD-I establishes that the Department will re-open an assessment or investigation if new information becomes available or if “other issues emerge that cast significant doubts on the accuracy of the previously approved assessment’s results.” The DoD-I also establishes that the Department will acknowledge and respond to civilian harm through tailored options determined in consultation with civilian victims and survivors. CIVIC welcomes these commitments, which, if implemented effectively, could finally begin to provide meaningful accountability in the many past cases of civilian harm that have gone under-investigated, unacknowledged, and without amends

The DoD-I also states that the Department will integrate civilian harm considerations into US security cooperation programs and operations with allies and partners. While this is welcome, the commitment stands in stark contrast to the US approach to the catastrophic civilian harm that has unfolded in Gaza.

“For this policy to be meaningful, it must be applied consistently. The Department’s response to catastrophic civilian harm and destruction in Gaza, caused by Israeli operations directly supported by US assistance, has failed to live up to and actively undermined US civilian protection efforts like this policy,” said Shiel. “A true commitment to protecting civilians must go beyond rhetoric and be backed by action and leverage – including the political will to suspend military aid that is directly contributing to the deaths of thousands of civilians.” 

In a letter sent to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin yesterday, CIVIC and 13 prominent humanitarian and human rights organizations called for the Department to take urgent steps to protect civilians in Gaza, including by withholding US assistance that would facilitate violations of international humanitarian law.

Read CIVIC and civil society partners’ past guidance for the DoD-I here.

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Image courtesy of Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders
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