In today’s conflicts, civilians continue to be harmed in large numbers: they may lose loved ones, become injured, lose their homes or sources of income, or suffer potentially long-term psychological trauma. Preventing and understanding civilian harm in its broadest sense, as encompassing more than merely the ‘wounded and dead’, is vital in the practice of protecting civilians from the negative effects of violent conflict.
While many actors in the field use the term ‘civilian harm’, there can be significant differences in how it is used and what it is considered to encompass. Military actors often narrow civilian harm down to civilian deaths and physical injuries that are the direct result of military action. The PAX Protection of Civilians team strongly advocates for a broader understanding of civilian harm, which does not obscure the harm done to civilians when their houses, hospitals or schools are damaged, when their livelihood gets disrupted, or when they suffer mental trauma. Such indirect, or second- and third-order effects are often neglected in policy and public discourse in favor of more visible manifestations of civilian harm; we advocate application of a broader and more realistic understanding of civilian harm. Only if we understand the myriad ways in which military action may negatively affect civilians can we truly monitor and evaluate its full costs.
To inform our partners, military and humanitarian actors, as well as the general public, PAX’s Protection of Civilians team has created a publication about civilian harm and its consequences.
Photo header: Dietrich Klose, cc via Flickr.