Victims of collateral damage in war should be compensated

Victims of so-called ‘collateral damage’ of war are not eligible to compensation according to the laws of war, whereas victims of violations are. This distinction is no longer tenable, argues Alphonse Muleefu in his PhD dissertation. He will defend the dissertation on 24 November 2014 at Tilburg University.

Press Release 17-11-2014

The laws of war protect non-combatants against the adverse effects of war. Belligerents are prohibited from attacking non-combatants or civilian properties directly and causing incidental damage that is excessive in relation to the military objective. In case of a violation, victims have a right to reparation. 

However, the laws of war do not provide total protection. Civilians can be accidently or incidentally harmed or their properties destroyed without that conduct being a violation. This is what we call collateral damage. The reason for this partial protection is that the development of the laws of war was too much focused on preventing and punishing certain behavior and not so much on the interests of victims.

Having conducted theoretical and normative research, Alphonse Muleefu argues that discrimination of victims of collateral damage has become both unjust and indefensible. It is not possible to make a clear distinction between victims of war crimes and victims of collateral damage. The main problem with this distinction is that it requires a subjective assessment which involves knowledge or understanding of the intents of the belligerent.

Based on humanitarian reasons, the duty to minimize effects of war becomes absolutely necessary after the failure of the initial protection. It should be understood that, logically, minimizing the suffering of innocent persons is truly possible in the sense that once the protection fails – accidently or incidentally – the injurer provides reparation. Moreover, reparation can lead to societal benefits.

Alphonse Muleefu (1979) has a Law degree (LLB) from the National University of Rwanda and a Master’s degree (LLM) in International and European Public Law (specialization: International Law and Human Rights) from Tilburg University. He prepared his dissertation at INTERVICT, the International Victimology Institute Tilburg at Tilburg University. In 2004 en 2005 Muleefu was a researcher at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and in 2006 he did an internship at the Victims Participation and Reparation Section (VPRS) of the International Criminal Court. In Rwanda he worked as Legal Officer at the National Service of Gacaca Courts.

Note for editors

Alphonse Muleefu will defend his PhD dissertation on 24 November. 16.15 hrs at the Auditorium of Tilburg University. Dissertation title: Reparation for Victims of collateral damage: A normative and theoretical inquiry. Supervisors: Prof. Rianne Letschert, Prof.  Randall Lesaffer; co-supervisor: Dr. Felix Ndahinda. A press copy of the dissertation can be requested at persvoorlichters@tilburguniversity.edu. Alphonse Muleefu can be contacted at tel. 013 – 466 3503 / email a.muleefu@tilburguniversity.edu.