• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

HUFFINGTON POST: Driving Afghanistan: The Winding Road to an Afghan Takeover

By Sarah Holewinski

I wouldn’t drive a car without working brakes. And I need a wheel to steer, and a speedometer to tell me when I’m not following the speed limit.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume responsibility for the security and stability of their own country by 2014. But as a big moving vehicle ramping up to a high speed, it’s missing some of the major controls it needs to protect its own population and not cause even more harm. Continue reading

PAKISTAN: Pakistani Politicians Agree: Make Amends to Victims of Conflict (The Huffington Post)

Posted by Chris Rogers

Politicians in Pakistan agree on little these days. In a country where partisan rivalry runs high, and regional and religious politics compound deep sectarian and ethnic differences, divisiveness is a constant.

However, in the last two weeks I have seen consensus around at least one issue: the need to address civilian losses from armed conflict and terrorism in Pakistan.

Over the past year, my organization CIVIC has been working here in Pakistan to document and publicize the losses suffered by civilians as a result of a range of conflict-related violence–from terrorist bombings to military operations and US drone strikes. The scale of the problem is massive. Our research indicates there are more civilian casualties in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. In 2010, it is estimated over 9,000 civilians were injured or killed in conflict-related violence.

We have taken our findings to the Pakistani government, US officials and the international community to push for compensation and other forms of assistance for victims. Encouragingly, the Pakistani government has committed itself to making amends by creating programs to compensate victims for their losses — yet deficiencies and gaps mean many are left without help.

This month, in cooperation with the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Pakistani civil society group Institute for Social and Policy Sciences (I-SAPS), I have been participating in consultations with government ministers and civil society organizations across the country to discuss reforming victim compensation in Pakistan.

Sober reminders of the conflict pervaded these consultations. In Punjab, the meeting was interrupted by the shocking announcement that the governor had just been assassinated. Just yesterday, as we met with government ministers in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, attacks on Shia processions in Karachi and Lahore killed at least 13 people and injured many more. Personal tragedies also loomed in the background. The chairperson of our discussion in Peshawar, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, lost his son last July when he was assassinated by militants. Mercilessly, as the family received mourners two days later, a suicide bomber struck the Minister’s house, killing seven more.

Well aware of the terrible human toll of the conflict, government officials have mostly agreed on the need for reform of compensation mechanisms, as CIVIC and others have been pressing for.

For Pakistani victims, such reforms are urgently needed. Current compensation policies and practices are ad hoc — resulting in inconsistent compensation amounts, long delays, and an opaque and often politicized process. Many victims also lack access to compensation, including victims of drone strikes, internally displaced persons, victims from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and vulnerable groups such as women and children.

For many victims, compensation is not just about money — it is about the government recognizing their suffering and expressing sorrow and regret. In this way, efficient and effective compensation mechanisms not only provide victims with meaningful help, but also help dignify their losses. In my interviews across Pakistan, I found that in the eyes of war victims and the Pakistani public, such efforts greatly enhance the legitimacy of the Pakistani state.

There are significant challenges, to be sure. Identifying and verifying victims, especially in insecure environments such as FATA and KP, is undeniably difficult. Serious financial constraints also confront provincial and national governments already burdened by insecurity, underdevelopment, and relief and reconstruction needs following last year’s devastating floods.

Pakistani politicians also rightly point out the need for the international community, particularly the US, to support compensation initiatives. Both moral responsibility and strategic interest clearly counsel helping the Pakistani government to provide direct, timely assistance to civilian victims of the conflict.

But the need for international assistance should not distract the Pakistani government from implementing reforms and improving their own, existing compensation programs. Adopting legislation, stream-lining and standardizing the process and properly informing victims are straight-forward, unilateral measures that could dramatically help get assistance to those who need it. Moreover, such efforts would ensure transparency and accountability — both critical in order for the US and other international partners to directly finance such programs.

Reminders of the conflict’s toll are everywhere in Pakistan. Peering through the window of our conference room in Peshawar yesterday, we could see where a 2009 bombing had leveled an entire wing of the hotel. After our meeting, numerous participants approached me to discuss their own experiences and losses. The reality is that Pakistani government officials and civil society members know all too well the devastating losses civilians suffer from the conflict.

Consensus is not typical in this divided country. But hopefully the common scourge of conflict, terrorism, and militancy can provide a foundation for common action — and the political and popular will to recognize and address the losses of those who suffer most.

Link to original Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rogers/pakistani-politicians-agr_b_814665.html

GUEST BLOG: ISAF’s New Afghanistan Cointerinsurgency Strategy: Attacking Medical Clinics??

Posted by Erica G from Kabul

Last Wednesday evening at 2pm, international forces raided a clinic in Wardak province run by one of the largest NGOs in Afghanistan, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA). They forced entry into several rooms, tied up local staff and some family members of the patients, and ordered even bed-ridden patients out of their wards. International forces also reportedly ordered the clinic staff to report any patient suspected to be Taliban in the future.

Much of the international media coverage this week has focused on the latest NATO airstrike in Kunduz, which appears to have killed as many as 125 people, several dozen of whom were likely civilians. Some have framed the Kunduz strike as a test of Gen. McChrystal’s new population-focused counterinsurgency strategy. While concerning, the predominant focus on the Kunduz strike has eclipsed the far more serious chink in ISAF’s new population-friendly makeover that is illustrated by this raid on the SCA clinic.

For starters, this raises serious concerns under international law. The Geneva Conventions establish clear protections for hospitals and medical clinics (Article 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). These provisions have also risen to the level of customary international law, applicable even in a non-international armed conflict like Afghanistan.

While hospitals or clinics can lose their protected status, simply providing services to combatants — the purported reason for this raid — isn’t sufficient. (Another recent attack on a clinic in Paktika might more arguably be an example of how a clinic loses its protected status because militants were firing from the clinic.) That militants might be receiving medical treatment, and are easier to capture in such circumstances is not a good enough justification for targeting a medical clinic. Of course combatants are easier to capture when unarmed, wounded or ill, and surrounded by defenseless civilians. Protection of medical facilities was made an explicit rule under the laws of war for the very reason that attacking the enemy under these circumstances would otherwise be so tactically tempting, with the result of no medical services ever being provided in a conflict.

Even beyond the legalese though, this raid was simply out of line with the new strategy and counterinsurgency goals. In July, McChrystal issued strict restrictions on air strikes and nighttime raids because these incidents were causing such offense and resentment among the Afghan population that they were undermining overall tactical success. Nighttime raids, though often resulting in fewer deaths or injuries, can be equally or more insulting to Afghan communities and have generated enormous blowback for international forces.

With this new counterinsurgency framework in mind, this raid on SCA facilities is exactly the type of incident that international forces should have been focused on preventing. Wardak province, just west of the capital, Kabul, is one of the most volatile provinces in Afghanistan. Significant troops and resources have been deployed there in recent months to stabilize the situation, with little success. Travel through any part of the province generally requires body armor and armed escorts. There is little to no government presence, and only a handful of NGOs still operate in Wardak, even fewer with target-able assets like a medical clinic. Taliban have attacked medical clinics and staff across Afghanistan, particularly those affiliated with Western NGOs.

SCA staff are now threatening to leave, and if the clinic is closed, it would put the thousands of civilians served by that clinic in dire straits, and seriously undermine ISAF and Afghan government efforts to bring more public services to the province. Talk about a destabilizing effect. Rather than protecting the population, as McChrystal has argued the standard should be, in this incident international forces jeopardized the health of thousands, and alienated the surrounding community.

Perhaps even more worrying is that despite the likely fallout from this incident, ISAF does not even seem to be aware there is a problem. Unlike the headline-grabbing Kunduz strike, which sparked immediate apologies and pressure from ISAF’s very top to investigate and set things right, this incident passed without notice until SCA issued its own press release Monday. And when SCA did speak out, the military rejected out of hand most of SCA’s concerns.

Civilian protection should be about more than making good when high civilian casualty numbers hit the press. It should take into account all the ways that military activities impact civilian health, dignity, and well-being. This issue should be at the top of McChrystal’s desk in terms of what’s going wrong in implementing its counterinsurgency strategy. That it hasn’t been already raises huge flags as to how successful this new strategy will be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-gaston/isafs-new-afghanistan-coi_b_279218.html

GUEST BLOG: Fussing Over Numbers: Body Counts and Accountability (The Huffington Post)

Posted by Erica G from Kabul

Since the new UN estimates on civilians killed so far in 2009 were released on Friday, I’ve been getting questions on whether these numbers are helpful, or even accurate, in describing the conflict: What’s the value of the obsession with body counting?

In one sense, these numbers offer a measure of accountability for the human costs of the conflict. As I pointed out in my blog on Friday, in a month where the news has been dominated by competing press statements about attempts by both sides to the conflict to reduce civilian casualties, an estimate that 1000 people have already died so far this year is a stark reminder of how far these promises are from the past 6 month’s reality.

Nonetheless, there is a strong argument that we shouldn’t even be fussing about numbers when there is so much guesswork involved. In general, the UN has pretty accurate estimates, but it is a fair point that any estimates in Afghanistan should be treated with a wide margin of error. (The Globe & Mail published a great piece describing how access issues, local traditions, and sometimes deliberate misinformation by locals or local leaders, can make it impossible to find the “truth” in some of these investigations.)

Another critique raised by a friend of mine who is a human rights investigator is that these civilian casualty counts boil a thousand stories of loss into impersonal statistics, and obscure the real tragedy of these incidents. Once you digitize them, she would argue, no one bothers to ask about the names and faces behind those numbers.

A recent op-ed by Tom Hayden put a sharp point on this issue for me. He argued that the US Department of Defense should openly admit whether there is a standard number of civilian deaths that are considered acceptable for any given airstrike in Afghanistan (many confirmed that there was a “magic number” in Iraq), and what the decision-making process is for authorizing deaths that reach above a certain numerical threshold.

As a human rights advocate, this is the type of measure we tend to call for because it increases transparency over how these life and death calculations are made. Another common argument for releasing this type of information is that families have a ‘right to know.’ But thinking of my friend’s argument that numbers dehumanize a loss, I do wonder whether it’s something that really serves the victims and their families? Based on the interviews I’ve had with Afghan families who have lost a loved one, the last thing they’d want to hear is that their father, mother, or child was deemed expendable by a mean calculation made by an impersonal decision-maker a thousand miles away.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-gaston/fussing-over-numbers-body_b_250316.html

ISRAEL/GAZA: Will Israel Help Gaza’s Victims? (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Ask any civilian who has lost a loved one, a limb, or a home in war and they’re likely to tell you they never received anything for their suffering. I’ve always found it shocking that international law doesn’t generally require warring parties to help the people they’ve harmed.

Take for example the family of 60-year old Fayiz Ad-Daya. He was killed along with twenty of his relatives on January 6, 2009, when an Israeli warplane roared over Gaza attempting to bomb a house nearby that allegedly contained a weapons cache. Fayiz’s family was killed instead, with victims ranging in age from four (granddaughter Kawkab) to sixty (Fayiz himself). An Israeli military official admitted it made a mistake in hitting the wrong house and said this “is bound to happen during intensive fighting.”

The Al-Daya family thus joins a long list of millions of civilians destroyed in war. Like so many before them, the surviving members will likely never receive a formal apology or compensation for their losses.

When a similar mistake was made by the US military in Afghanistan back in 2001, they didn’t pay any compensation either to a woman widowed by a missile intended for three miles east. Eight graves are lined up near her home, representing her husband and children. I’ve heard so many stories like this. And then a few years later, the US learned it had to do things differently: a compensation system now exists for “mistakes” and unintended casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system doesn’t work perfectly, but making amends to these civilians is the decent thing to do. It is befitting a nation like the US that prides itself on abiding by international laws that obligate respect for civilians (as Israel has claimed it does too).

Plenty of people have a bone to pick with Israel over this winter’s war with Hamas. And by bone I mean serious allegations linking Israeli Defense Forces to war crimes and violations of international laws governing armed conflict. All of the details have to be sorted out — the investigations, witness accounts, military records, photos and media reports. In the meantime, the UN estimates that three-quarters of the population still needs some form of aid. They’re talking about the basic stuff like food, water, shelter and healthcare.

So while the investigators press on and the applicable laws are figured out, here’s an idea: help these people.

Billions have been pledged from donor countries to help Gazans, but Israel has blocked all but a trickle from reaching across the closed borders. Hamas has played a role in the devastation too and Gazans are now being punished broadly (if not intentionally by Israel than certainly by default) for the acts of a few. Israel’s reticence comes from not wanting aid to go to people who will turn around and support Hamas; but who do they think they’re turning Gaza’s children toward by blocking life-saving aid?

If all that seems too daunting, start with the Al-Daya family.

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