A lack of transparency regarding Dutch bombardments in Iraq and Syria
From October 2014 to July 2016, Dutch F-16 jets flew, as part of an international coalition, above Iraq, and later Syria, for the commission of airstrikes against Daesh/IS. These airstrikes regularly resulted in civilian casualties. The Dutch government is complicit in these casualties, but it remains difficult for journalists and citizens to assess their level of involvement.
According to a comparative research report on transparency about airstrikes produced by the NGO Airwars, a journalist-led platform that monitors international airstrikes and resulting civilian casualties, the Netherlands performed the worst. This is, as Airwars writes, ‘a cause for concern’. Contrary to coalition partners such as Canada, the Dutch government publishes little to no information, such as place and time, about its airstrikes, despite being among the most active members of the coalition. This lack of information makes difficult to quantify how many civilian deaths resulted from the Dutch bombardments.
The right of access to information
The PILP holds the opinion that the Dutch government should be transparent about both the number of airstrikes that were carried out and the resulting civilian causalities. The war has been conducted in the name of all Dutch citizens and the government ought to be accountable to them.
In a democracy based on the rule of law, an important role is reserved for journalists in situations such as this. Rightly so, the European Court of Human Rights has stressed that, in the context of access to information (as part of the freedom of expression, article 10 ECHR), “public watchdogs” such as NGO’s and journalists exercise a vital role in imparting information on matters of public concern. Needless to say, warfare is pre-eminently a matter of public concern. As such, these public watchdogs should be able to access the information.
What does the PILP do?
In this case, the PILP is cooperating closely with Airwars to move accountability forward. Furthermore, it is currently investigating the possibilities to enhance the transparency about the Dutch bombardments to journalists and citizens alike. In this process, lawyers from Stibbe, a specialist law firm in Amsterdam, are supporting Airwars and the PILP.