• 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

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

CIVIC: New Report Details War Victims’ Urgent Needs in Pakistan

In a new report out today, CIVIC documents civilian losses as the result of armed conflict and  their consequences.  Since 2001, Pakistani military operations, US drone strikes, militant and terror attacks, and other forms of conflict-related violence have killed or injured thousands and displaced millions in northwest Pakistan.

CIVIC’s Christopher Rogers spent a year living in Pakistan and conducted 160 interviews with civilian victims, including in the northwest. The report provides an in-depth, firsthand account of civilian victims’ urgent needs – needs that receive too little attention from all parties involved.

CIVIC argues an obligation of all parties – the US and Pakistani governments, the Pakistani military, and militant groups – to recognize and redress civilian harm. The report also proposes specific measures for warring parties and their partners to finally acknowledge, dignify, and make amends for losses of civilians caught in the crossfire.

To attend an event with Christopher Rogers, click here: Events

To access the report, click here: “Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan”

PAKISTAN: Victims Continue to Struggle in Jalozai

“How much could a wheelchair cost?”  Rubina exclaimed.  “Seven hundred rupees?”  She took 500 rupees, about $7, from her wallet and turned back to Mahia’s tent to give it to her family.

Jalozai Refugee Camp

In 2008, while in her home in Bajaur Agency, shrapnel from tank or artillery shelling struck Mahia in the head, paralyzing her and leaving her unable to speak.  She now lives with her mother, two of more than 100,000 other displaced persons in the Jalozai refugee camp outside Peshawar, in northwest Pakistan.

I was lucky to have Rubina help me conduct interviews in the camp. A housewife from the nearby city of Nowshera, she spoke both Pashtu and English—and as a woman, she could conduct interviews that I could not.

Rubina was shocked by Mahia’s situation.  Without a wheelchair, Mahia’s family has to carry her to the public latrines down the road from their tent.  Outraged that the lack of a simple, inexpensive item could make such a difference in their lives, Rubina felt compelled to offer the family money in the hope that they could purchase a wheelchair.

There are no official figures for civilian casualties in Pakistan.  But in only one day, in one small section of a refugee camp, we came across 24 cases of civilians who had been injured or had lost family members as a result of the fierce fighting between the military and militants.  For many, their injuries or losses have made their lives in the camp even more difficult.

Sabir, a 14 year-old boy, worries about supporting his family without his father.  Last March, fighter jets shot his father when he defied a curfew to search for a way for his family to escape the violence. Sabir’s father made it back to their home, but lost his leg and died within several days from his wounds.  With his father gone and four siblings to look after, Sabir has a lot on his mind for a 14 year-old.  He says he is the only person who can support the family now.

A family tent at Jalozai

Iqbal, 30 years-old with four children, was taking cover from the fighting when his house was struck by a tank shell.  The walls collapsed around him, and he awoke to see one of his legs severed just below his knee.  He now wears a prosthetic thanks to the Red Cross, but finding work with his disability is very difficult, as is traversing the long dirt pathways of the camp.

Indications are that civilian casualties in Pakistan are significant.  In 2009, over 2,400 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks alone.  Counting losses from Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, civilian casualties in Pakistan likely far exceed those in Afghanistan.  Yet there is no systematic accounting of civilian casualties or assistance for those that are harmed.  Innocent victims like Mahia, Sabir, and Iqbal deserve and expect more.

PAKISTAN: Civilian Victims of Terrorism in Pakistan

By Chris

On New Year’s Day, residents of Shah Hassan Khel – a village outside South Waziristan – gathered to watch two local teams face off in a volleyball match.  Suddenly, a suicide bomber plowed his truck into the crowd.  The explosion was felt 11-miles away and decimated the surrounding neighborhood.  Over 100 people from the village were killed and scores injured.

Civilians in Pakistan suffer not only from military and militant operations, but also from devastating terrorist attacks.  Soon after I arrived three months ago, the military began a major operation in South Waziristan; since then, according to newspaper reports, over 800 people have been killed in terrorist attacks throughout the country.
While this figure also includes law enforcement personnel, most casualties are civilians.

The rise and frequency of terrorist attacks is staggering.  Over the course of 2009, suicide bombers struck in Pakistan every five days on average.  Hardest hit was the Northwest Frontier Province, and particularly its capital, Peshawar.

Driving down Peshawar’s main avenue, Khyber Road, evidence of terrorist attacks is all around.  Every few blocks you’ll pass a building or area that has been hit—the Pearl Continental Hotel, the intelligence agency headquarters, the court complex, the press club, the Khyber bazaar—and so on.  People in Peshawar emphasize that this violence is new and shocking to them; they are jarred just as any American would be if an attack occurred in their hometown.

That victims of terrorism need and deserve assistance is clearly acknowledged by the Pakistani government and public.  Public protests demand an end to violence and assistance for those that have suffered.  In turn, the government has announced a number of packages and programs to assist victims of terrorism.

However, compensation is often politicized and not provided in any regular, systematic manner.  Follow-through on promises of assistance is never certain.  Access and compensation amounts are uneven.  Standardized programs that really respond to the needs of victims are desperately needed. The frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in Pakistan today requires more coordinated and comprehensive policies that ensure victims are not forgotten and their losses are both acknowledged and addressed.

PAKISTAN: Internally Displaced in Northwest Pakistan

By Chris

Children playing in a field in Jalozai camp, surrounded by thousands of tent homes.

I’m in Jalozai camp in northwest Pakistan.  Built on a barren, dusty plain, it is a massive tent city with over 80,000 displaced persons.  Residents of Jalozi have little or no access to employment.  They are completely dependent on UN agencies and NGOs for food, water, and other essentials.

Plastic sheeting around ‘blocks’ of tents provide a minimal sense of privacy and security.  Firewood is scarce and though winter is approaching, UNHCR has been unable to offer heavier, winterized tents.  Many have been here for up to two years.

I met Ghulam Noor here, sitting on a metal bed frame in a dusty field, chatting with some friends.  He’s 22, but already married with a four month old baby.  He has been living in Jalozai for a year.

Last October, Ghulam Noor was in his village bazaar when a Pakistani helicopter gunship opened fire.  He was hit by shrapnel in the leg and head and is now paralyzed from the waist down with minimal movement in his arms and hands.  He says what he needs most is medical assistance.  His father and family pooled money to pay for initial treatment, but he requires additional care for paralysis and the shrapnel still lodged in his head.  Ghulam says he is depressed, can no longer work, and is completely dependent on the support of his family to survive.

For those like Ghulam who have to cope with a debilitating injury as a result of the conflict, life in Jalozai camp is especially difficult.  There are no facilities for the disabled and little or no assistance is offered to such persons or their families despite the unique challenges they face.  Talking to victims in Jalozai, a feeling of powerlessness and senselessness pervades their stories.  For Ghulam, all he wants to do is walk again and can’t understand why the helicopter that paralyzed him opened fire.  For others, all they want to do is return to their villages and rebuild.  But no one knows how or when they will be able to move forward with their lives.

PAKISTAN: Internally displaced in Islamabad

Child crouching next to bags or 'kits' of non-food items (NFIs) distributed to IDPs. NFI kits typically include kitchen items, blankets, mats, and a bucket.

By Chris

Life is difficult for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Tarnol—a slum outside of Islamabad.  It is a dusty, desolate place on the outskirts of the city.  Its streets are narrow and unpaved, lined with cramped homes, many held together by earthen bricks and animal dung.  Most of the displaced are crowded into relatives’ homes or renting small rooms.  They struggle to sustain large, extended families on less than $2.50 a day—the amount men can earn unloading trucks in nearby industrial areas.

Tens of thousands of IDPs, mostly from Swat Valley and Bajaur Agency, have settled in slums such as Taronl all around Islamabad.  Along with millions of others, they were forced to flee their homes because of fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban-aligned militants.

Children of displaced families watch the distribution of NFI kits to a growing crowd of IDPs.

I visited Tarnol with a Pakistani NGO, SHARP, which works with UNHCR to distribute non-food items to IDPs, such as buckets, blankets, and mats.  By the time we arrived at the distribution point, a crowd of around a hundred men had already gathered.  As the distribution got underway, it became clear that around half would not receive anything because they were from a different area and SHARP could not verify their registration.  Intense negotiations with community elders ensued and the crowd grew increasingly agitated.  Men with wooden clubs stood outside SHARP’s small office, attempting to keep control.

Despite the aid distributed, the desperation of the people was evident.  In an unfamiliar city, far away from their villages and farms, many families are dependent on the meager and sporadic aid provided by relief agencies.  They want to return and resume their lives but continuing insecurity and lack of money prevents them from doing so.  In the meantime, many fear what has happened to their homes, property, and businesses—and how they will rebuild once they return.

PAKISTAN: South Waziristan – Access Denied

By Chris

Fighting in South Waziristan has led to the death of many civilians, according to reports from those fleeing the area.  However, restrictions on access make it impossible to get accurate information on civilian casualties.

The restrictions prevent all aid workers and journalists from reaching South Waziristan.  As a result, no one knows how many civilians remain trapped or how many have been killed or injured. The restrictions also prevent much needed aid from flowing in.  The fighting has displaced over 100,000 so far, and more arrive each day—often on foot.

I know a number of journalists that have been stopped and detained just trying to reach Dera Ismail Khan—the town nearest to the fighting and a destination for many of the displaced.  Even the Red Cross has made a rare, public call for more access.  Working in Waziristan is dangerous, but so is knowing nothing about the situation of civilians. Information is the first step towards helping those still caught in the conflict and a more balanced approach is urgently needed.