Reports and Briefings

Global resurgence of siege warfare traps civilian populations on the frontline – new report

Read CEASEFIRE’s latest report on siege warfare here

A resurgence across world regions of the tactics of siege warfare has trapped civilian populations at the frontlines of today’s battles, finds a new report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. From Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine, to Mosul, Aleppo and other cities in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Philippines, militaries around the world have imposed sieges leading to tens of thousands of civilian casualties and massive destruction to civilian infrastructure.

‘Protecting civilians in siege warfare: Constraints on military action’, by Professor Stuart Casey-Maslen, analyses the limits imposed by international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law on the conduct of sieges, and the role of the UK and other governments, armed forces, NATO, the UN, humanitarian actors and the civilian population itself in avoiding or minimising civilian harm.

‘The law of the Geneva Conventions requires both attacking and defending forces to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population, but in a siege civilians are trapped in the battlespace,’ said Ceasefire’s Executive Director Mark Lattimer. ‘Their treatment under siege is unbearable – and frequently unlawful.’

In addition to banning attacks that target civilians, indiscriminate attacks, and the terrorizing of the civilian population – all of which are war crimes if done intentionally – IHL prohibits the starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare and places an obligation on parties to conflict to allow humanitarian relief, including the provision of food and water, medical assistance and the evacuation of casualties and other vulnerable civilians. Evacuation should always be voluntary and both those evacuated and those left behind continue to benefit from the right to protection.

Analysing the conduct of recent sieges, including those of Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, the report details how the laying of siege by militaries with very different approaches to the implementation of IHL can similarly result in civilian harm on a massive scale.

Russian attacks on cities in Ukraine have seen numerous reports of IHL violations, such as the targeting of civilian objects, including educational and medical facilities, indiscriminate artillery shelling and the use of cluster munitions in or near residential areas. In an unprecedented move, 41 states including the UK referred the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court and a war crimes investigation has been opened.

The current style of warfare favoured by the UK and other NATO members, owing much to US doctrine, is based on stand-off, long-distance precision strikes, delivered on an industrial scale. While there may be benefits in terms of force protection, the extensive destruction that results can also be catastrophic for civilians trapped under siege.

‘Public revulsion at the treatment of civilians in cities under siege in Ukraine should spark urgent reflection in militaries around the world,’ added Mr Lattimer. ‘Their playbook may be different, but the end result is disturbingly familiar – mass civilian casualties and widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure.’

Despite its devastating effect on civilians in recent years, siege warfare and its particular challenges are not mentioned once in the 2020 NATO Protection of Civilians Handbook – nor in the UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy published in 2021.

Ceasefire’s report calls on the UK and other governments to:

  • Review legal guidance and military doctrine to ensure that IHL protections are being fully implemented in situations of siege
  • Improve pre-attack proportionality assessment procedures, including removing the assumption that where civilians are not visible they are not present, and incorporating an estimation of the reverberating effects on civilians
  • As part of current intergovernmental negotiations on a Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, commit to avoiding the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in towns and cities, in particular where civilians are trapped under siege.

 

For further information or interviews, please email contact@ceasefire.org.

ceasefireGlobal resurgence of siege warfare traps civilian populations on the frontline – new report
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In Iraq’s disputed territories, militias dictate civilians’ lives

In Iraq’s disputed territories, government-funded militias are having a destructive impact on governance, economic life, and community relations, according to a report released today by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. The dominance of these militias is acting as a major barrier to the return of civilians displaced by the conflict with ISIS, especially members of minorities.

The report, entitled ‘They Are in Control’: The rise of paramilitary forces and the security of minorities in Iraq’s disputed territories investigates the newly empowered role of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq’s ethnically and religiously diverse disputed territories. The report looks at the situation in the Ninewa plain, Tal Afar, Sinjar and Kirkuk since the end of the conflict with ISIS.

ceasefireIn Iraq’s disputed territories, militias dictate civilians’ lives
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UK compensation bill for civilian harm in Iraq and Afghanistan reaches £32m

UK compensation bill for civilian harm in Iraq and Afghanistan reaches £32m, but MoD still has no effective policy to handle claims – new report

December 2021

Reparations for Civilian Harm in Military Operations: Towards a UK policy

The compensation bill for civilians harmed in UK military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has now reached £32 million, according to a new report by Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. During the last year the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has quietly settled some 417 claims related to Iraq, and 13 related to Afghanistan, to add to thousands already settled.

SianUK compensation bill for civilian harm in Iraq and Afghanistan reaches £32m
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Afrin after Operation Olive Branch: An update on the situation in north-west Syria

As the UN Human Rights Council prepares to hear the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and YASA e.V. – Kurdish Centre for Studies & Legal Consultancy have submitted a briefing to the Commission about the human rights situation in Afrin in Turkish-occupied northern Syria.

SianAfrin after Operation Olive Branch: An update on the situation in north-west Syria
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Syria’s minorities used in war of narratives, at the cost of civilian lives – new report

June 2021

Syria’s minorities have been caught in a war of narratives waged by the Syrian state, regional and international actors, according to a new report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. Most notably, the Assad-led government’s narrative that it is a ‘protector of minorities’ has been used to justify ongoing violations against civilians and activists.

In the Name of Protection: Minorities and identity in the Syrian conflict draws on 14 in-depth interviews with Syrian activists and civilians of diverse religious minority backgrounds to explore the multifaceted and layered experiences of minorities during the conflict. Their testimonies challenge and complicate widespread assumptions made about religious minorities in Syria.

SianSyria’s minorities used in war of narratives, at the cost of civilian lives – new report
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The Yazidi Survivors’ Law: A step towards reparations for the ISIS conflict

On 1 March 2021, after nearly two years of deliberations, Iraq’s parliament passed the Yazidi Female Survivors’ Law, a major step forward in addressing the legacy of violations committed by ISIS against members of religious minorities in Iraq. The law (Law No. 8 of 2021) provides a comprehensive programme of reparations to Yazidi, Christian, Shabak, and Turkmen survivors of sexual violence and other ISIS crimes, including both individual and collective measures.

The law comes in the aftermath of more than three years of armed conflict in Iraq, which left thousands dead and millions displaced. While ISIS targeted many of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities during the conflict, the group’s treatment of the Yazidi community was particularly brutal. It is estimated that around 6,800 Yezidis were abducted and around 3,100 killed over a few days in early August 2014. Men and boys were massacred and buried in mass graves while thousands of women and girls were forced into sexual slavery, in a campaign that has been recognized as genocide by numerous international bodies.

SianThe Yazidi Survivors’ Law: A step towards reparations for the ISIS conflict
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First to Know: promoting civilian-led early warning in armed conflict – new report

April 2021

Civilian-led early warning of violence in armed conflict is a viable technique that has significant potential to save lives by alerting both responsible authorities and civilian populations of impending threats, finds a new report. ‘First to Know: Civilian-led early warning in armed conflict examines the lessons learned from a pilot early warning system in South Sudan implemented by Ceasefire and the Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation.

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After decades of disappearances, Iraq preparing to turn the page – new report

January 2021 

Iraq’s disappeared persons might finally have a chance at justice, according to a new report by the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

The report, entitled The Forever Crime: Ending enforced disappearance in Iraq, argues that Iraq is at a historic juncture in the struggle against enforced disappearance, a practice which has gone on for decades and left virtually none of Iraq’s communities untouched. Draft legislation to suppress enforced disappearances is now under consideration by the Iraqi parliament.

SianAfter decades of disappearances, Iraq preparing to turn the page – new report
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UK Overseas Operations Bill violates civilian rights

September 2020

Draft legislation in the UK will restrict the rights of civilian war victims to claim compensation for the harm they have suffered, further marginalising some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

The Overseas Operations Bill, which will be debated in Parliament on September 23rd, not only creates a de facto statute of limitations for crimes committed by the UK’s armed forces overseas, including for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it also creates an absolute statute of limitations or ‘longstop’ of six years for civil claims and claims under the Human Rights Act brought against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

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Warring Parties Undermine Students’ Future in Yemen – new report

August 2020

Warring parties carried out more than 380 attacks impacting schools and educational facilities in Yemen between March 2015 and December 2019, Mwatana for Human Rights and Ceasefire Center for Civilian Rights said in a new report published today. Attacks and other abuses completely or partially destroyed dozens of schools, disrupted the educational process, and contributed to undermining students’ future in Yemen.

SianWarring Parties Undermine Students’ Future in Yemen – new report
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