THE HAGUE, May 27, 2024 – Last week, CIVIC laid out a list of 16 recommendations for the Dutch Ministry of Defence regarding its approach to civilian harm mitigation, in collaboration with Airwars, PAX for Peace, and Utrecht University as part of a civil society consortium.

The issue of preventing and responding to civilian harm in armed conflict has recently resurged as a matter of urgency and importance on the international agenda. The US Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) and the US Defense Department Instruction on Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response (DoD-I), published in 2022 and 2023 respectively, have served as models for US allies and partners to review their own approaches. An international Contact Group on civilian harm mitigation, comprising over a dozen countries, now meets at least twice a year.

The Netherlands has been at the forefront of countries reviewing their approaches to mitigating and responding to civilian harm. Following revelations in 2020 that Dutch airstrikes five years earlier resulted in multiple civilian deaths and widespread material harm, the Ministry of Defence instigated a review process of Dutch approaches to mitigating civilian harm. Since then, the MOD has created an internal task force focused on protection of civilians, informed Parliament – in a departure from previous practice – about potential civilian harm in upcoming deployments, initialized a baseline study into CHM practices and capabilities, and opened the door to sustained engagement with a consortium of civil society organizations and universities focusing on revising the CHMR procedures.

The two-stage engagement has first helped identify key policy challenges and second, focus on two key areas for improvement – investigating allegations of harm and keeping the Dutch Parliament, the public, and the affected communities informed. As the MOD prepares to submit its final analysis and recommendations to the Minister of Defence, the consortium is putting forward the key recommendations and urging them to be translated into policy and practice.

The revision undertaken by the Netherlands needs to be seen as the beginning, rather than the end, of the road. The consortium hopes it will encourage other states to follow suit, demonstrating that it is both possible and necessary to be more ambitious about avoiding civilian harm and open to including external actors in the process. Whether operating solo or in coalitions, states would benefit from agreeing on clear standards in the areas of information access and sharing, agreed targeting thresholds and processes, and agreed investigation and response processes. These standards can reflect access to intelligence and information prior to targeting missions and should reflect CHMR throughout the joint targeting cycle.

The consortium also strongly recommends that these processes are extended to all types of operations, including preparedness for large-scale, high-intensity combat operations that could be undertaken with NATO Allies in response to a threat in Europe, in particular. Should territorial defense operations become necessary, understanding the role that civilians can play in them and coming up with ways to apply protection and resilience approaches will be key to successful military strategies.

Read and download the full list of recommendations.

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