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On civilian harm: Examining the complex negative effects of violent conflict on the lives of civilians

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Date de publication


Armed conflict and violence adversely affect civilians. Whether civilians are the primary target of the use of violence, are caught in the crossfire, or have to rebuild and make a living in war-torn societies, they are always at risk of becoming victims during conflict, and may continue to struggle with its aftermath long after active fighting has ended. This book tells their story. More precisely, the book is about actors who do harm, key factors that contribute to either causing or mitigating harm, civilians who are harmed, and how to find a way out of this destructive cycle. This publication regards specific situations of violent conflict and seeks to provide a detailed examination of the myriad of ways in which the use of violence negatively affects civilians. This is a vital object of study and one that requires continuous scrutiny as military technologies and modes of warfare change, and in parallel so do our abilities to comprehensively track, map and investigate the impact of fighting on people and their environment.

By looking into the diverse and complex interactions between perpetrators who do harm, the variety of factors that exacerbate or mitigate harm, and the civilians who are harmed, we strive to contribute to progressively moving towards a shared understanding of civilian harm amongst all relevant stakeholders. The book focuses on those aspects of civilian harm that directly touch the lives and physical health of people, in order to illustrate the scope of the issue and spark debate. By the end of the book, readers will have gained a clearer and more structured understanding of what civilian harm encompasses in practice, and will have become aware of factual cases and shared vocabulary to effectively discuss the subject. We expect the contents of this book will be of particular use to professionals involved in civilian harm tracking or recording, in mission planning, working in conflict areas, or working on topics related to conflict dynamics, protection of civilians, national or international security policy, international law or humanitarian assistance. We hope that legal experts and academics may find value in the book as well.

This introductory chapter provides background to this book’s definition and scope of the concept of civilian harm, followed by an outline of the book’s structure. The final section discusses the dominant vocabulary in the discourse on civilian harm in order to lay the semantic foundations for the subsequent discussion.