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Human Rights Watch Reports on U.S. Military Actions

  • War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention
    By Ken Roth
    Published in HRW World Report 2004
    Humanitarian intervention was supposed to have gone the way of the 1990s. The use of military force across borders to stop mass killing was seen as a luxury of an era in which national security concerns among the major powers were less pressing and problems of human security could come to the fore.
    January 26, 2004    Commentary
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  • Off Target
    The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq
    Hundreds of civilian deaths in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq could have been prevented by abandoning two misguided military tactics. The use of cluster munitions in populated areas caused more civilian casualties than any other factor in the coalition´s conduct of major military operations in March and April. U.S. and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster munitions, containing nearly 2 million submunitions, that killed or wounded more than 1,000 civilians. International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, does not outlaw all civilian casualties in wartime. But armed forces are obliged to take all feasible precautions for avoiding civilian losses, and to refrain from attacks that are indiscriminate or where the expected civilian harm exceeds the military gain. The term “casualty” refers to both dead and wounded. This 147-page report also examines violations of international humanitarian law by Iraqi forces, including use of human shields, abuse of the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems, use of antipersonnel landmines, and placement of military objects in mosques and hospitals. The Iraqi military´s practice of wearing civilian clothes also eroded the distinction between combatants and civilians.
    December 12, 2003
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  • Ticking Time Bombs: NATO's Use of Cluster Munitions in Yugoslavia
    Human Rights Watch is concerned that the use of cluster bombs raises questions of humanitarian law, and that the use in particular of the CBU-89 Gator scatterable mine would directly violate the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the production, use, trade, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines. The extensive use in armed conflict of cluster bombs, which contain large numbers of submunitions, uniquely threatens the civilian population.
    June 1999
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  • Civilian Deaths in the NATO Air Campaign
    Despite precautions, including the use of a higher percentage of precision-guided munitions than in any other major conflict in history, civilian casualties occurred. Human Rights Watch has conducted a thorough investigation of civilian deaths as a result of NATO action. On the basis of this investigation, Human Rights Watch has found that there were ninety separate incidents involving civilian deaths during the seventy-eight day bombing campaign. Some 500 Yugoslav civilians are known to have died in these incidents.
    February 2000

  • Needless Deaths in the Gulf War
    Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War

    This report applies the rules of war governing international armed conflicts to examine civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects from bomb and missile attacks carried out by the allied forces against Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, and from missile attacks by Iraq against Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
    July 1991
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  • Panama: The Issue of Civilian Casualties Revisited
    Human Rights in Post-Invasion Panama:Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
    Human Rights Watch Report, April 7, 1991

    In January 1990, Americas Watch conducted a mission to Panama and later published a report ("The Laws of War and the Conduct of the Panama Invasion," Human Rights Watch, May 1990) on violations of the laws of war by both sides during the short-lived hostilities that followed the December 20, 1989 invasion by the United States. A version of that report, written by Kenneth Anderson and Juan E. Mndez, was published in a scholarly magazine. With respect to the United States forces, our report concluded that the tactics and weapons utilized resulted in an inordinate number of civilian victims, in violation of specific obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

  • Freedom of Expression and the War
    Press and Speech Restrictions in the Gulf and F.B.I. Activity in U.S. Raise First Amendment Issues

    War is the most profound action any government can take, and for that reason the decision to wage and conduct it must be subject to the continuing scrutiny of a well-informed public. In recent U.S. military operations up to and including the current campaign in the Persian Gulf, the government has treated the press as an inconvenience and an obstacle to its efforts, rather than respecting its role as an independent means of presenting information to the American public.
    January 1991

  • Managed News, Stifled Views
    U.S. Freedom of Expression and the War: An Update

    On January 28, shortly after the start of the Persian Gulf War, the Fund for Free Expression issued "Freedom of Expression and the War," a report on U.S. Defense Department regulations that impede press coverage in the Gulf, and on other U.S. war-related censorship issues. This newsletter updates that information in light of developments to date. It also provides a list of other available resources on freedom of expression consequences of the war in the United States and in other countries around the world.
    February 1991

 Related Documents
Background on Iraq and Possible War
Human Rights Watch Reports on U.S. Military Actions
Legal Issues Arising from the War in Afghanistan and Related Anti-Terrorism Efforts
International Humanitarian Law Issues and the Afghan Conflict
Cluster Bombs in Afghanistan
Human Rights Watch Urges Sudan Factory Inspection