More than 70 civilians dead in Hawija: The need for better transparency and accountability standards for military interventions
In the night of June 2, 2015, a Dutch aircraft part of the international Coalition against IS bombed an IS IED factory in the city of Hawijah, in Iraq’s Kirkuk province. In the days following the event, it became clear that secondary explosions wiped out most of the neighborhood, killing at least 70 civilians. Despite repeated requests for information, none of the countries involved in the Coalition, nor the Coalition itself, assumed responsibility for the civilian casualties that resulted from the attack.
On October 18, 2019, two Dutch news organizations (NRC and NOS) published a story in which Coalition officials confirmed that subsequent explosions from stored munitions killed at least 70 civilians. In heated debates in Dutch Parliament in November 2019, Dutch Minister of Defense, Ms. Ank Bijleveld, admitted that Dutch F-16s were involved in the fatal event and that her Ministry has failed to properly inform Parliament in the period between the event in 2015 and now, November 2019.
PAX condemns the lack of transparency in reporting to Parliament and the public on this specific event and indeed any other in which Dutch military forces are involved. We believe that it is in the Dutch national interest to make transparency and accountability the standard in current and future military missions with Dutch involvement. Transparency will improve political decision making, monitoring and evaluation by Parliament and the public; it will allow civilians harmed by Dutch military action to come forward and find answers, support and possibly compensation; and it will better allow Dutch and allied forces to control the narrative on military operations and their intended as well as unintended consequences.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom are currently updating their standards and policies on transparency and accountability with regards to civilian harm. This is done in consultation with various civil society organizations, including academics and NGOs. We invite the Dutch Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Parliament to start and prioritize a similar effort to update Dutch standards and policies on this legally, morally and politically salient issue.
The PAX Protection of Civilians team will, together with our partners, continue to contribute to guidelines, methods and tools used to collect, analyze, and disseminate data on civilian casualties and other forms of civilian harm, contributing to transparency and accountability of military missions and with an aim to maximize the protection of civilians in conflict.
Read the article of Dutch news organizations NRC and NOS
Read more on the Parliamentary debate on the Dutch involvement in the airstrike
Read Airwars’ assessment of the Iraq airstrike