Come clean on Middle East air strikes: HRW

Human Rights Watch has demanded the Defence department come clean on the extent of civilian casualties in its past air strikes in Iraq and Syria.


The department has begun a new transparency drive publishing fortnightly reports on its website.

Its first report, a day before the May 9 budget, carried a brief description of seven strikes on the Iraqi city of Mosul between April 18-30.

The second report, released on Tuesday, detailed 12 operations on Mosul between May 1-18.

It says the focus was on west Mosul.

“The rate of effort has increased since the previous report to align with Iraqi Security Forces offensive operations,” Defence said.

Neither publication specifically mentioned any reports of civilian casualties and a spokesman for Defence Minister Marise Payne said the department would respond to any allegations of that nature.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Elaine Pearson said the reports were a good first step and urged the department to provide backdated reports from the past two-and-a-half years.

Senator Payne’s spokesman ruled out issuing backdated reports.

Ms Pearson called on Senator Payne to detail any past investigations into civilian casualties.

“We urge you to immediately release details on civilian casualties caused by Australian air strikes, and if you are not collecting such information, to start doing so without delay,” she said in a letter to the minister.

Ms Pearson said reliance on video assessments taken from the air wouldn’t give the full picture of casualties, especially in densely populated areas.

“The government should actively seek this information and not wait for it to be publicly reported before beginning an investigation,” she said.

Documents released under freedom of information in March said the federal government did not collect “authoritative” data on the enemy or civilian casualties.

Ms Pearson said the government should also collaborate with Airwars, a non-government group monitoring air strikes and civilian deaths in the Middle East.

It estimates 3530 civilians have been killed in coalition air strikes.

The US-led coalition acknowledges an estimated 352 civilian deaths.

Airwars last year rated Australia one of the least transparent members of the international military coalition.

The US is the only member of the coalition against Islamic State militants that has admitted to causing civilian casualties.