Ceasefire joins ten civil society groups in calling on the UK to urgently address civilian harm policies

On Protection of Civilians Week, Ceasefire joins eleven civil society organisations request to meet the UK Secretary of State for Defence to discuss improvements on the way the UK mitigates, accounts and investigates instances of civilian harm.

As the United States announces a review of its approach to how it protects civilians in warfare there is an urgent need for the United Kingdom to conduct its own review, a coalition of civil society organisations specialised in the subject said on Friday, the final day of the UN Protection of Civilians Week from May 23rd to May 27th 2022.

After devastating revelations published in The New York Times late last year revealed critical failures by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) in the prevention of civilian harm in Iraq and Syria, the Biden administration has launched a review to improve policies on data collection, reporting and acknowledgement of civilian harm, improvements which aim to overhaul processes and create a Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP), as well as a civilian protection ‘center of excellence’.

These revelations add to the strong evidence base of civilian harm from CJTF-OIR operations built up by researchers, humanitarian agencies, and international organisations over the years.

Developments in the US have substantial implications for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm, as the UK played an important role in CJTF-OIR. The UK must now engage with civil society on these issues and implement urgent reforms.

The use of explosive weapons, with wide area effects, in urban areas continues to be a cause of immense human suffering – with nine out of ten casualties being civilians.

Please find the full letter here and below:

Dear Secretary of State, 

RE: Protection of Civilians Week – time to address UK policy on civilian harm mitigation, transparency, and oversight  

On the occasion of UN Protection of Civilians Week, the undersigned civil society organisations are writing to you to request a meeting and develop a constructive dialogue with you to discuss the UK’s policy on civilian harm mitigation, transparency and oversight. As some of our closest allies have begun to reform their approach to civilian harm in military operations, we believe there is an urgent need for the UK to learn from developing practice on this issue.  

Revelations published in the New York Times in 2021 about critical failures by Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) to prevent, respond to, and be held accountable for civilian harm caused in Iraq and Syria add to the strong evidence base of civilian harm from CJTF-OIR operations built up by researchers, humanitarian agencies, and international organisations over the years. This public disquiet partly spurred, as you will know, the US Secretary of State of Defense to direct the DoD to improve policies on data collection, reporting and acknowledgement of civilian harm, improvements which aim to overhaul processes and create a Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP), as well as a civilian protection ‘center of excellence.’

Given the important role of UK forces in combined operations as part of CJTF-OIR, these developments clearly have substantial implications for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm. 

All states participating in CJTF-OIR, including the US and UK, should ensure that all instances of reported civilian harm are investigated and accounted for. We urge for constructive dialogue around the hundreds of civilian-harm claims from local communities that indicate that large-scale civilian harm occurred as a direct result of  CJTF-OIR operations. 

We believe that the UK for its part has an opportunity to be a global leader on civilian protection issues. We would like to discuss the following with you:

  • Engagement with civil society on these issues and involvement of  civil society in implementing improvements
  • Implications from the reviews of US practice and the CHMRAP for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm mitigation and response
  •  How the UK could contribute to developing the knowledge base on civilian harm mitigation and response
  • How civilian protection concerns are included in UK support for partner forces, lessons learnt from civilian harm incidents and standards set for best practice.
  • How the UK can play a leading role in ensuring historic instances of civilian harm allegations resulting from CJTF-OIR actions are properly accounted for.
  • How the UK can lead the strengthening of NATO’s Protection of Civilian preparedness. 

Thank you for your consideration. 

Yours sincerely, 

Action On Armed Violence, Airwars, Amnesty International UK, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, Crisis Action, Every Casualty Counts, Iraq Body Count, Reprieve, Save the Children, War Child 

For comment, please contact Ceasefire’s Advocacy Officer, Lydia Day (lydia.day@ceasefire.org). 

ceasefireCeasefire joins ten civil society groups in calling on the UK to urgently address civilian harm policies