Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Symposium on Civilian Casualties

Just Security reports,

A core goal of international humanitarian law (IHL) is the minimization of civilian casualties beyond that required by military necessity. IHL is thus recognized as requiring armed forces to distinguish between civilian and lawful military objectives, prohibits attacks that are expected to result in excessive civilian loss of life or injuries in relation to the anticipated military advantage, and requires the taking of feasible precautions. Protection of civilians is recognized as both a moral and ethical imperative; and as an essential element for maintaining support for U.S. military operations from partner states, vulnerable populations, and our domestic public.

That said, recent and ongoing military actions in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and elsewhere highlight the urgent need for discourse about both the law and practice of preventing and responding to civilian casualties. Civilian deaths and injuries are alleged to go systemically under-reported, with evidence too readily left insufficiently collected, allegations insufficiently investigated, and information about incidents insufficiently disseminated. A February report by the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) and the Columbia Law School Human Rights project found significant inconsistencies in how the U.S. military conducts investigations of civilian harm, too many instances of investigations based on incomplete or inadequate information, and insufficient receptivity to and mechanisms for considering information from public or other external sources.

Against this backdrop, an important symposium series, “Civilian Casualties: The Law of Prevention and Response,” is kicking off on Wednesday (September 30) at noon EDT. The series is intended to promote deeper discussion and greater understanding of the broad range of considerations that underlie these critical issues. Conceived originally (before the pandemic) as a one-day event in Washington — part of the Signature Topic Initiative on Atrocity Prevention, sponsored by the American Society of International Law (ASIL) — the revamped online symposium format will facilitate a far wider range of participants as the Symposium takes a hard, honest look at these issues.

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