• 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

In Libya, a legacy up for debate

By Sarah Holewinski

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Gaddafi is gone and NATO’s command center in Naples is closed, but on the legacy of the intervention in Libya, the debate has just begun. Allegations of civilians harmed are haunting NATO as nations opposed to the intervention—namely Russia, China and South Africa—point fingers about civilian casualties and sling phrases like “human right abuses” and “impunity” across the United Nations chamber like more precision guided munitions. The US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice took to Twitter, calling Russia’s actions “a cheap stunt.” Her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, publicly wondered if Rice’s Stanford education shouldn’t make her more eloquent.

In this dispute, the Libyan civilians who died—and the ones who lived—are an afterthought to their political utility. And for Russia, China and South Africa they serve as needed ammunition against a bigger target: the very decision to go into Libya.

Various human rights groups—including Human Rights Watch and my own—have presented evidence of civilian harm to NATO and called on the Alliance to conduct an investigation. The logic goes that NATO has an obligation to carry through on its UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians, beyond the official end of combat operations, by addressing unintended civilian losses. The best way to do that is by conducting investigations. Unfortunately, NATO has reacted defensively—at one point hyperbolically claiming that there were no “confirmed” civilian casualties whatsoever.  This may be true only because NATO refuses to investigate, and thus, confirm them.

In a military operation of this magnitude, civilian harm was a likelihood the UN must have grappled with when authorizing the mandate. It’s also a reality NATO is familiar with. NATO forces in Afghanistan conduct reviews and investigations of civilian casualties increasingly frequently, thanks to pressure to learn from mistakes. Surely those lessons learned could have been shared between theaters; the reason they weren’t remains a mystery.

Regardless, calls for NATO to investigate civilian harm don’t mean the same thing as accusing NATO of overstepping its mandate or violating international law, as Russia, China and South Africa are claiming. Evidence suggests a relatively small number of casualties when compared to similar air operations in the past, and thus far there is no documented evidence of legal violations committed by NATO.

Any nation has the right to ask the UN to review a mandated operation, but to do so here seems redundant since the UN Human Rights Committee already established a Commission of Inquiry to impartially analyze the conduct of all sides, not just NATO. Making one-sided allegations before that investigation is complete is wrong and risks crippling what should be a real process of accountability for any civilian harm caused by any party.

Civilians don’t deserve to be used as political cover to push a non-interventionist agenda. During and after the NATO intervention, we talked to Libyan survivors across the country—some who were able to escape to safer areas, some who lost family members to Gaddafi and others who were harmed by rebel and NATO operations. The overwhelming majority praised the Alliance for ridding their country of Gaddafi, regardless of the losses they suffered.  But they also wanted recognition for what they’d been through. That’s what they deserve.

In denying any civilian harm and refusing to investigate credible evidence to the contrary, NATO risks tarnishing a historic mandate, one that saved a lot of lives. And they’ve given their political enemies exactly the fodder they were looking for.

For its part, NATO still has a chance to set all this right. The Alliance can start by examining the evidence of civilian harm. It should immediately send an expert team to Libya to match targeting protocols with outcomes, assess damaged property and remaining munitions, interview civilian survivors and, when appropriate, make amends to Libyans with provable losses.  A lessons-learned review must include data from Libyan soil— whether the death toll was one or one hundred. Looking to the future, which is in NATO’s best interest to do, an office for civilian harm mitigation should be created in Brussels, to ensure military and civilian leaders pay attention to and plan for civilian casualties before the first plane ever leaves the base.

Civilian harm should never be ignored, but neither should it be politicized in a way that diverts attention from real recognition for civilian survivors. They deserve fewer accusations, less lip service to accountability, and more humble, honest efforts to piece together the ways a military intervention has, good or bad, affected the people it was meant to help.

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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.

UNITED NATIONS: Uganda Steps Up in Security Council Debate

Posted by:  Scott P

I spent the day here at the United Nations. At 10 a.m. sharp, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger called the UN Security Council to order as President. Seated around the horseshoe-shaped table were Ambassadors, Foreign Ministers, and high-level UN officials who had come from near and far to speak about the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. To put an exclamation point on this tenth anniversary of the first Security Council session on Protection of Civilians, the Council passed Resolution 1894 at the outset.

CIVIC had been keeping an eye on the negotiation of 1894 for weeks, and we were quite pleased to see its emphasis on compliance with international law and mention of reparations (the first such mention in any Security Council resolution on protection).

For two and a half full hours, the delegations on the Security Council took the floor and railed against impunity, implored other states to comply with the law of armed conflict, discussed the need for better guidance for peacekeepers, and drove home the importance of improving access to humanitarian assistance. At the end of the morning session, Sindelegger recognized Ugandan delegate Benedict Lukwiya, who concluded his statement with this powerful plea:

“Long after the guns have gone silent, affected populations, many of whom end up losing everything, are left to pick up the pieces with no assistance, even from friendly forces. International law does not provide for making amends to individuals, who lose property or livelihood as a result of armed conflict.  This draft resolution calls for national reparation programs for victims as well as institutional reforms. However, my delegation would like to go a step farther and also recognize the need for all parties to armed conflict to emphasize the dignity of civilians by recognizing losses that result from lawful combat operations as well as providing meaningful amends to affected individuals and communities, such as financial assistance or funding for humanitarian aid programs. My delegation encourages all member state to embrace the concept of making amends – not because there is any legal obligation to do so, but simply in the intrests of mitigating suffering and promoting humanity.”

It’s the first time anyone has made such a call at at the UN in it’s 64-year history — and we couldn’t have set it better ourselves.

CIVIC conceived of the concept of making amends several years ago. We believe that warring parties should help the civilians they harm. So the Ugandan representative’s remarks were a big victory for us.  Now that Uganda has taken the courageous step of introducing the idea of “making amends” at the UN, we’ll be working with our partners to officially launch a campaign on the same idea. Stay tuned!