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What are the best practices of minimizing civilian casualties in cities under siege, as applied to the siege of Mariupol?

I am looking for best practices from the perspective of world civilians, including civilians inside and outside of Mariupol. So please, no answers advocating WWIII to help Mariupol civilians.
Realistic scenarios only, please!

SEE ALSO:

Could humanitarian aid be provided in Mariupol through the air? (refers only to help through the air, which is a subset of the current question)
What is the purpose of the siege of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by the Russian invaders? (some general info useful to answer the current question)
What is the rationale of Russian troops not allowing civilians to evacuate from the encircled cities? (still more info)
Siege of Mariupol (Wikipedia page on the subject, lots of info)

NOTES:

Answers supported by references are preferred, historical references are highly appreciated.
Please be mostly objective and friendly, and follow the Help Center guidance.

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    "best practices" Don't go to war. This definitely minimizes civilian casualties. Everything else doesn't minimize them really. Obviously it's always a compromise there. Mar 31, 2022 at 18:09
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    I don't understand this question. It's one thing if you're asking about how armies have minimized civilian casualties in the past (in which case History SE is the place to ask), but you're asking about Mariupol in particular, but are also asking for historical references. You also ask what world civilians can do, but presumably causing and preventing civilian casualties is something only the military can control. What exactly are you asking and what kind of answers are you looking for?
    – Allure
    Apr 1, 2022 at 2:53
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    @TimurShtatland so then are you asking for scenarios or best practices? If it is "best practices", which entity's best practices are you asking about? I cannot understand your question or what kind of answer you are looking for.
    – Allure
    Apr 1, 2022 at 3:02
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    @TimurShtatland can I confirm you are asking for best practices from outside observers (i.e. non-military not-necessarily-Russian/Ukrainian civilians not in Mariupol)?
    – Allure
    Apr 1, 2022 at 3:12
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    "No, I meant what do we do now to minimize civilian losses, given the facts on the ground." Very simple. We all stop shooting at each other. There is an immediate cease fire and aid is delivered non-stop. What else do you want to hear when talking about minimizing Civilian losses? Whenever there is a war, you already failed in that goal. I'm kind of convinced that the West is doing everything it can to put maximal pressure on Russia, the invader, short of starting a war with them. Not sure there is much left that can be done. The only alternative would be surrendering to Russia. Apr 1, 2022 at 6:45

4 Answers 4

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  1. Only real military infrastructure can be bombed without warning.
  2. When civilian infrastructure is being targeted due to its utilization by the military, or if civilians are nearby, let the civilians know about it (fliers, shock bombs, phone calls, etc.) (- sometimes they will even drive out the military on their own, making the bombing unnecessary).

According to the "United Nations Watch", those precautions were taken by Israel when bombing Hamas targets in Gaza. See the following link page 4, paragraph 4

https://www.un.org/unispal/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/AHRC47NGO72_250621.pdf

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    @o.m., Correct, but this question wasn't about intn'l laws of war, but about how to spare as much human life as possible.
    – Jacob3
    Mar 31, 2022 at 18:59
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    @FaitoDayo. Your point is very clear and true, the solutions mentioned in my answer make wars very complicated and difficult. But some countries are moral enough, to spend resources and possibly even the lives of their own soldiers, in order to protect innocent civilians. And this is what this topic is all about.
    – Jacob3
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:48
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    @Jacob3 No sarcassim intended--could you name the conflict and the nation that actually do so?
    – Faito Dayo
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:59
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    @Jacob3 you would have to excuse me, but a lot of references taken in that report are from either Isreal or their allies like US or Germany...
    – Faito Dayo
    Mar 31, 2022 at 22:11
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    @Jacob3 You have an example on this video: warning shots first, ten seconds later the building blows up. Now, whether 10 seconds are enough to vacate a 30 storey building or that it's done only so the people inside can spend their last seconds of life in a long scream of terror is another thing. Let's hope they used phone calls a couple hours before... youtube.com/watch?v=5kJFIKER1k8
    – Rekesoft
    Apr 1, 2022 at 6:31
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Your best bet is probably to support organizations such as the Red Cross in their evacuation efforts, either with labor or with money. If you believe in divine intervention you can also pray for your desired outcome. You can't really do anything else.

In principle you can elect new leaders, in which case it's a matter of voting for the candidate with the best method of minimizing civilian casualties. Ask the candidates what they intend to do, and vote for + lobby for the one that makes most sense to you. However, your elected representative needs to carry enough weight to make Russia/Ukraine cooperate with their evacuation plan. There are very few people in the world with this kind of power (even people like French President Macron doesn't have it) and there aren't elections for these people in the near future, so it's not really viable.

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    Actually there are French president elections in the near future and they may have an impact. The French president alone might not have much power there, but together with others that kind of changes. And with for example Marine Le Pen as president the war might take longer (or shorter) and more (or less) Civilians might be killed. Apr 1, 2022 at 6:48
  • @Trilarion how so? France has no soldiers in Ukraine, and apparently little to no influence over Putin. I don't see how France can affect the number of civilian casualties in Mariupol, unless you think Le Pen could persuade Ukraine to surrender Mariupol.
    – Allure
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:35
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    Like I said, France is part of the West. Together they have influence over Russia and over Ukraine. And Le Pen is not Macron. Don't make the error of equaling a small number with zero. Apr 1, 2022 at 13:48
  • @Trilarion "Together" is the keyword though, and Putin has already said Macron (aka France) lacks the authority to speak for NATO.
    – Allure
    Apr 1, 2022 at 14:56
  • Thank you for a great answer to a difficult question! I wish I could split the bounty equally between this answer and the answer by Trilarion, but I could not quickly find a way to split 100 point bounty into two 50 point bounties. Hopefully, next time! Apr 8, 2022 at 21:37
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+100

If your top priority is to minimize immediate Civilian casualties, simply do not start a war. Is it really as simple as that? Yes it is. Everything else will always be a compromise between short term and long term goals or inherently opposing goals like trying to achieve some military objectives at the same time.

If you are somewhat less willing to minimize Civilian casualties, do not attack populated centers, instead go around them and try to conquer less populated areas. Then ask Civilians to leave the populated areas and offer them free evacuation and even free food supply. Remember for example that "The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited." (rule 53).

If your are still less willing to minimize Civilian casualties (but at least somewhat) think hard about which and how many forces to use. Remember that "Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited." (see rule 14 "Proportionality in Attack" of International Humanitarian law).

So for example, long range artillery is known to be not very precise. If you think that their use is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage that you anticipate then don't do that. However, it may depend on your estimation of the expected casualties and military advantage, so kind of very subjective and in general always a compromise of the willingness to minimize Civilian casualties.

All of these considerations and more are outlined in the Geneva conventions, the Hague conventions, or other International conventions for example regarding the use of certain weapons (chemical, anti-personal).

What the rest of the world can do? Well, I think they already do a lot and I'm not sure that there is much more that effectively can be done short of directly taking part in this war. Donate to humanitarian organizations like "red cross" and continue to put pressure on Russia, use your political influence locally to support politicians that put that pressure on Russia to at the very least scale back attacks significantly if not cease firing immediately. China, India, ... are surely countries that could do more there in this regard. Most influence would actually have Russian civilians there, but it's unclear what the best ways would be to put pressure on their own government. I would say this could be its own question on this StackExchange.

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    Thank you for a great answer to a difficult question! I appreciate the details and the references. Apr 8, 2022 at 21:34
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It would be very nice if the UN had the rule that when a city is surrounded (provably), it is ceded to the side which surrounds it at cost of allowing the defenders (and any civilians) to evacuate safely. Somewhat taking an inspiration from the game of Go. And this should be observed by the UN personnel who should actually go there and have their boots on the ground.

Right now, such a situation repeatedly leads to these sieges with impossibly large casualties from both sides and also the civilians.

I'm not holding my breath but I can totally see some conventions signed in the future regarding this. Unfortunately, modern reception of warfare is very counterproductive towards actually minimizing civilian losses.

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    UN personnel on the ground is the same as American troops on the ground, so boom boom. Mar 31, 2022 at 20:19
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    I'm not sure about that, Russia of all things is very predisposed towards external arbitrage, and OSCE observers did save some lives on Donbass in the previous years, I believe. Boots on the ground not equals guns on the ground.
    – alamar
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:40
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    How about playing chess instead of real war? The UN should make a rule that whoever losses the game must cede his country to the winner...
    – Jacob3
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:42
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    @Philipp If Russia did not want to minimize collateral damage, Kharkov would already be a moon landscape instead of a city. You may then argue what makes a minimal damage.
    – alamar
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:46
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