Impact Event: Transparency and Accountability in Military Operations


On 30 May 2023, the Public International Law and Human Rights Honours Programme Clinic will host an impact event entitled: “Transparency and Accountability in Military Operations” in which scholars, practitioners and specialists will give expert insight into various interdisciplinary considerations on these topics. 

The event will take place from 10:00-17:00 CET in the Aula Zaal at the Academiegebouw in Utrecht. Space is limited, so register on or before May 23rd 2023 by sending an email to

The impact event will also be live-streamed and recorded. If you’d like to attend online, please mention that in your registration e-mail to the Secretariaat.

About the PIL Law Clinic

In the dynamic and rapidly growing field of public international law and human rights, the Public International Law and Human Rights – Honours Programme Clinic provides pro bono legal services to a wide variety of clients, including international courts and institutions, human rights and investigative bodies, states, and civil society organizations. The purpose of the PIL Clinical Programme is to prepare students for future careers in public international law by providing them with the necessary skills training and development to succeed. 

This year, the Clinic has partnered with Reprieve, a leading London-based legal-action NGO investigating, litigating and campaigning on behalf of individuals facing human rights abuses. The work the Clinic students have done has centered around researching mechanisms and international legal frameworks for transparency and accountability before, during and after military operations. They’ve also carried out comparative research on policies, legislation, and litigation on these issues from four different jurisdictions (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands).

Impact Event: Transparency and Accountability in Military Operations

As a capstone of our Clinical Programme, and with generous support from Institutions for Open Societies, the Centre for Global Challenges, the Realities of Algorithmic Warfare project within the Contesting Governance Platform and the Utrecht University School of Law’s LL.M. Honours Programme, we are hosting a one-day conference to showcase the work of our students, bring practitioners, students, experts, staff and scholars together to discuss these themes and to have opportunities to network in a community-engaged impact event.

In order to facilitate a meaningful and constructive discussion amongst all stakeholders, it is imperative to reflect on questions such as:

  • What does transparency mean within military operations?
  • Who should be transparent, to what extent and what information should be shared with whom?
  • What level of transparency is appropriate in consideration of national or operational security?
  • What does a comprehensive understanding of accountability in military operations entail (e.g., democratic (parliamentary) oversight, to local populations, international legal accountability and internal military accountability)?
  • How should we apportion accountability when operations are guided by machines and algorithms in warfare now and in the future? 

Answers to these questions are interdisciplinary in nature. Therefore, we are bringing together a rich and varied group of experts to discuss these cross-cutting themes. We have representatives from Utrecht University School of Law as well as from Humanities (Conflict Studies) as the scholarly interdisciplinary lineup, but we also have international relations scholars, military personnel, journalists, representatives from NGO’s, the military technology industry on our panels who bring with them decades of experience to share nuanced insights from their viewpoints about the notions of transparency and accountability in military operations.

The envisioned program will be discussion driven (as opposed to a presentation format) and include two panels (one in the morning, one in the afternoon), a keynote speech and an opportunity for a comprehensive question-and-answer discussion session at the end of the day for panelists and participants. Coffee, tea, snacks and lunch will be provided for all in attendance.

Provisional Program

10:00 Arrival and coffee/tea

10:30-11:00 Introduction to the day and the work of the Honours Law Clinic

11:00-12:30 Panel I: Transparency and Accountability in Military Operations

Machiko Kanetake, Associate Professor, International and European Law, Utrecht University

Aisha Dennis, Extrajudicial Executions Project Lead, Reprieve
Jessica Dorsey, Assistant Professor, International and European Law, Utrecht University
Karolina MacLachlan, Senior Advisor, CIVIC
Floris Tan, Legal Officer with the International Law Division, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs      

12:30-13:00 Keynote - Cedric Ryngaert, Professor of International and European Law, Utrecht University

13:00-14:00 Lunch/Coffee/Tea

14:00-15:30 Panel II: Ensuring Civilian Protection Through Transparency and Accountability: Perspectives from the Netherlands

Lauren Gould, Assistant Professor, Conflict Studies, Utrecht University

Erin Bijl, Senior Project Officer, Protection of Civilians, PAX
Bob van Dijk, Policy Coordinator and Protection of Civilians Team Lead, Dutch Ministry of Defense
Lotte Kerkkamp-De Rijcke, Business Developer, Military AI Projects, TNO
Emily Tripp, Director, Airwars

15:30-16:00: Coffee/Tea

16:00-17:00: Discussion Session with Panelists and Audience

Transparency and Accountability in Military Operations

Transparency is a crucial notion for all actors involved in military operations, as well as to other stakeholders, like civil society, the public at large and communities affected by operational uses of force. As a study by Columbia University found:

Transparency is essential for securing the rule of law. It helps to deter harm, enable oversight, and is necessary to ensure meaningful accountability for abuse. Without transparency there cannot be informed public debate and democratic accountability. Fulfillment of transparency also sets a rights-promoting positive precedent for future administrations and other governments around the world. It serves governments’ own strategic interests and helps to ensure public confidence in government actions and policies.”

The rationale for transparency in military operations is intimately connected with the notion of accountability, both in a legal sense and with respect to the legitimacy of operations.

As Dorsey notes

[t]ransparency requires providing relevant, accessible, timely and accurate information. Accountability is the act of ensuring that relevant officials or institutions are answerable for actions and that there is recourse in situations where obligations are not met. It is imperative to note that transparency is often pre-requisite to, but does not always culminate in accountability.’

Under a human rights framework, transparency is crucial in understanding when violations of fundamental rights (e.g., the right to life) occur, and it is key to the notion of accountability for those violations. Under the framework of international humanitarian law, the issue is brought more sharply into focus through the lens of legitimacy. As Blank remarks:

In recent years, legitimacy’s central issue has morphed from the justification for the use of force to the measure of international law compliance in the conduct of war.’

From an operational perspective, internal transparency and accountability are fundamental in understanding mission risk, operational security concerns and for drawing on lessons learned and for improvement in procedures going forward. As Dutch Minister of Defense Ollongren recently said about steps the armed forces are taking to be more open on deployment of weapons systems: “Increasing transparency […] is part of a future-proof defense organization.”

Discussion around these notions becomes increasingly relevant in the realm of the application of military AI and other integrations of autonomous technology on the battlefield as certain levels of human control cede to more algorithmic and machine-driven methods of waging war.

Start date and time
End date and time
Aula Zaal at the Academiegebouw in Utrecht

Register on or before May 23rd 2023 by sending an email to