The war against ISIS has had a devastating impact on civilian populations in Iraq and Syria. Despite the efforts of governments and militaries to minimise civilian casualties, it is clear that many innocent lives have been lost as a result of the conflict. The recent opening of a Dutch database containing information about Dutch airstrikes against ISIS is a positive step towards greater transparency and accountability for military actions. However, it also highlights the ongoing challenges facing governments and militaries in addressing the issue of civilian casualties in modern warfare.
The Dutch database, which contains information about more than 600 Dutch airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, was made public in response to media reports about civilian casualties resulting from Dutch military operations. The database includes details such as the location, date, and time of each airstrike, as well as information about the intended target and the weapons used. This information is a valuable resource for journalists and human rights organisations seeking to investigate incidents of civilian harm.
Liesbeth Zegveld, a Dutch lawyer who has represented many Iraqi civilians harmed by Dutch military actions, has praised the opening of the database as a “beautiful step forward.” She hopes that the information contained in the database will be used to identify and investigate incidents of civilian harm, and to hold those responsible accountable.
However, not everyone is convinced that the database represents a significant step towards greater transparency and accountability. Some critics argue that the database is incomplete and does not provide enough information about the impact of Dutch airstrikes on civilian populations. Military historian Christ Klep, for example, has criticised the Dutch government for not releasing more information about incidents in which civilians were harmed.
Moreover, the difficulty of identifying and counting civilian casualties in modern warfare is a major challenge that has yet to be fully addressed. Unlike military casualties, who wear uniforms and are often part of clearly defined units, civilians are more difficult to identify and track. They may be caught in the crossfire, mistaken for combatants, or targeted deliberately by opposing forces. In many cases, their deaths may go unreported or unnoticed, making it difficult to get an accurate picture of the human cost of war.
Another challenge is the lack of transparency on the part of governments and militaries. Many countries are reluctant to admit to civilian casualties, either because they fear public backlash or because they do not want to appear weak in the eyes of their enemies. This can make it difficult for journalists and human rights organisations to get accurate information about the impact of military operations on civilian populations.
In recent years, there have been some efforts to address these issues. The United States government, for example, issued an executive order in 2016 requiring that civilian casualties resulting from US military operations be reported publicly. The order also established procedures for investigating and compensating victims and their families. The UK government has committed to improving its record on civilian casualties, and has set up an independent review mechanism to investigate claims of harm, but the RAF still upholds the ludicrous claim that despite thousands of sorties and militants killed, it has only killed one civilian over Iraq and Syria.
Human rights organisations and activists have also played an important role in raising awareness about the issue of civilian casualties. Groups like Airwars have worked tirelessly to document incidents of civilian harm in conflict zones, and to pressure governments to take responsibility for their actions.
Despite these efforts, however, there is still much work to be done. Governments and militaries need to be more transparent about the impact of their actions on civilian populations, and to take responsibility for the harm they cause.
Journalists and human rights organisations like AOAV need to continue to shine a light on this issue and hold those responsible accountable.
This article was based off this Dutch report in NRC.
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