• 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.

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    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

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Kabul Notebook: Searching for More than Just Talk On Civilian Casualties (from Huffington Post)

KABUL, Afghanistan – I arrived back in Kabul this week. With the snow already melting, many fear that spring – and with it a spring offensive by the Taliban – is already on its way. If past years are any guide, those bearing the lasting costs of an escalation in the conflict will be the civilian population. The CIVIC report we released last week goes in depth on what happens to families caught in the conflict, and what warring parties can do to help them recover. Now the trick is getting someone to pay attention.

Increased fighting last year led to a 40% increase in civilian deaths, according to the United Nations. The Afghan population is tired of watching their friends, family members, and communities torn apart by conflict, and often without any response from an international community that came into Afghanistan with promises of help and peace. I interviewed a man a few months ago who lost several family members and his home to airstrikes in the southern province of Kandahar: “We are not happy with the coalition forces or the AGEs. We are stuck in the middle of them and we cannot escape,” he told me. There’s a great photo New York Times slideshow, the Wounded of Afghanistan, by photojournalist Lynsey Addario that captures more than any words can what Afghan civilians have already suffered in the conflict.

NATO countries have the money for compensation and victim assistance programs, and at least among most countries and the Afghan government, there seems to be the will to do something. After all, the amounts needed for victim support pale in comparison to other military expenditures, and providing some help and recognition can have quite a big “hearts and minds” impact. At the least they can forestall some of the community resentment and anger that happens when civilian losses go unrecognized and ignored.

Sadly, money and good intentions seem to go only so far in Afghanistan. On the one hand people tell me civilian casualties and compensation – now a regular part of President Hamid Karzai’s re-election stump speech – have become too politicized. But then a UN official told me compensation and assistance mechanisms are not a high enough priority vis-a-vis other urgent human rights issues to get any kind of sustained attention and resources. And in between these two perspectives, thousands of affected families continue to struggle on their own for recognition and help.

To read original post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/erica-gaston/kabul-notebook-searching_b_170966.html

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Losing the People: The Cost and Consequences of Civilian Suffering in Afghanistan (From the Huffington Post) –

KABUL, Afghanistan – For the last year, I have been living in Afghanistan interviewing civilians harmed in the conflict for the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC). We spoke with 143 survivors of airstrikes, suicide bombings, IEDs, convoy shootings, and other incidents of war. What they told me, as well as what more than 80 military, governmental and humanitarian actors I spoke with said, became the basis for a new report we released last week:

Losing the People: The Costs and Consequences of Civilian Suffering in Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recently released figures estimating an almost 40% increase in the number of civilian deaths in 2008. CIVIC’s report builds on statistics like this by being the first report to look closely at civilian harm, efforts to provide help from the warring parties, how civilians feel and how these critical efforts can be improved.

While a troop surge for Afghanistan is being strategized, recent poll numbers indicate that the Afghan public’s support for the United States, and for more international troops in Afghanistan, is at an all time low. Having spoken to those families who directly bear the costs of the ongoing conflict, it’s no wonder why. Families repeatedly told me their grief at losing a loved one, at suffering a disability, at losing their homes, or being uprooted from their communities by conflict – and their anger that they saw no recognition or concern from those international troops whom they blamed for these losses. I spoke with one man who watched 47 of his neighbors and extended family killed in a US airstrike in July 2008. He was angered at the lack of basic respect demonstrated by the US military, who denied the loss of life. “In our culture if something happens to someone – they are killed, their property is destroyed – you come and apologize.”

From Kandahar to Herat, from refugee camp tents to bullet-pocked living rooms, affected families told me over and over how the incident shattered their lives, their communities, and not just in the immediate aftermath but for years to come. They needed help to get back on their feet, they wanted an apology, and they wanted it from those they held responsible – the international community.

Sadly, those that actually received compensation or other help were the minority. Far more often, civilians said they were only given promises of assistance, or that the assistance they received was too little, too late.

Providing compensation and basic respect and recognition to families who have lost a loved one, been injured, or lost a home, is only one piece of the challenge in Afghanistan of course. But in the eyes of the Afghan public it is at the core of their concerns. Billions are spent to win and rebuild Afghanistan particularly by the United States. But it only takes seeing one family ignored to turn the population against the United States and international forces. A 15-year old boy who lost his sister in the same July 2008 airstrike told me: “I feel bad and angry when I see international soldiers. I thought that they were coming to help and bring peace but they aren’t paying attention to civilians.”

To get it right in Afghanistan, we need to do a better job of listening to what Afghans say they need and want. Let’s start with being more responsive to one of their simplest requests: limit civilian harm, show basic respect and dignity where harm does occur, and help out those families who will pay the real, human costs of the newly proposed troop surge.

Filing Claims in Wardak (continued)

Continued from below

Posted by: Erica

KABUL – In many ways, the experience of these two leaders in Wardak is representative of many Afghans’ attempts to get an apology, explanation, or other just resolution of their claims. In many cases, civilians do not have a sense that they could make a demand for compensation. Among those who do, many are afraid to approach the local miltiary representatives at the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) for fear of further harm to their family. Even for the few who get past these two initial hurdles, the odds of actually being allowed to make a claim and have it addressed are slim. Many civilians have reported to me that they were simply turned away. If they were lucky enough to get someone to listen to them, it does not necessarily mean they will be able to establish their claims.

The situation of the two elders is a case in point. If they were injured by U.S. troops, as seems likely given the time and location of their injury, they will need to get their claim for assistance heard by U.S. military officers. The U.S. military will then check to see if it has records of US troops involved in fighting in the place and time mentioned. The problem in this case is that the elders told me the incident happened over 6 months ago. U.S. solatia and condolence payments have no technical time limit, but most U.S. troop rotations take the records of any incidents they are involved in with them. So if the troops involved have rotated out since the incident, these elders have little chance of establishing their claim.

Another option is the USAID ACAP program, but there also may be some complications for eligibility under that program as well. Even though UNAMA recorded the incident at the time, it does not appear in press accounts, which is the easiest (though not the only) way for the USAID ACAP program to verify that an incident happened. In many of the conflict-prone areas of the country, there is not always full news coverage, particularly by international press outlets. Wardak has been one of those provinces, sadly. Getting the report from the Turkish PRT is one option, but it also depends on how they verified the report and whether they still have the records.

It’s a frustrating situation and one that the AIHRC confronts on a weekly basis. There are so many families in need, and while there often is the funding and the will among ISAF countries to help victims of conflict, getting that funding to the families in a timely fashion seems impossible in so many situations.

Filing Claims in Wardak (continued)

Continued from below

Posted by: Erica

KABUL – As far as the two elders from Wardak understood, they had duly filed their claim, and they fully expected that the international military authorities who had caused the damage to their land would deal with them justly. The advice I had to give them was the last thing they expected to hear.

The active fighting in Wardak in the past few months has been almost exclusively U.S. military and air force, potentially with some backup by the Afghan National Army or other ISAF troops. This means that if they were injured in Wardak, they were very likely injured by U.S. troops and would have to make a claim with them, not with the Turkish troops at the local PRT. Even if the PRT in Wardak had taken their documentation and agreed with their claim, as they said, given the lack of coordination between the militaries of different NATO member countries, the odds that the Turkish military officers who took the information were proactive enough to forward it to their U.S. military counterparts are slim to none. The two elders also said they presented their claim at ISAF HQ in Kabul, but unfortuantely I’ve also never heard of a case where ISAF HQ in Kabul forwarded compensation claims to U.S. military authorities, much less of a case where those claims were then processed successfully.

I asked my translator to explain to them that we would try to do something, but that the odds are that their “claim” had never gone anywhere. My translator turned to me and said, “But I don’t understand. Why would the ISAF tell him they would do something about the claim and then not do anything about it?” I had no explanation for him, other than that is what I have seen repeatedly in the 9 months I have been here.

To be continued: Fri., Nov. 21, 2008.

Filing Claims in Wardak

Posted by: Erica

KABUL – Last week I was meeting with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) at their offices, when two community elders from Wardak province walked in. Wardak province is adjacent to the province in which Kabul is located, but the fighting there has been so intense that few human rights organizations or independent monitors have been able to go there for months to investigate claims of civilians caught in conflict. Based on the stories coming out of Wardak, these two elders were relatively lucky. U.S. military forces were engaged in ground fire and then called in air support to strike targets in their district. No members of their family were killed or seriously injured. Nonetheless 3 houses were virtually destroyed and they lost most of the livestock, which was their main means to support their families. By their accounts, most people in their district were in a similar position. Of the 100 families who lived in their village, only 12 remained. The others had fled out of fear of being caught in continued fighting and airstrikes.

The two men had come to the AIHRC for help in making a claim for compensation with the miltiary authorities who had been active in their region. They said that representatives of the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) had come and surveyed the damage immediately after the strike in late May. (PRTs act as a sort of local base for international military. They are located in most provinces in Afghanistan). The elders said they had also filed their claim with ISAF authorities in Kabul, who had promised to forward it to the appropriate military and help them in getting compensation. Now 6 months later they had heard nothing and they wondered what they could do to get compensation for the property that they and their community had lost.

To be continued: Wed, Nov. 19, 2008.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dangerous Security Situation Hinders Distribution of the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Many of the CIVIC blog entries discussing assistance that has been provided to civilians in Afghanistan credit the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP) for helping individuals. While ACAP is one of the best functioning civilian-assistance programs in Afghanistan, some of the civilians and NGO workers that I have talked to have lamented the fact that the assistance takes so long to reach civilians. Other problems have also been highlighted

A civilian in need of assistance

A civilian in need of assistance

Continue reading

GUEST BLOGGER: “Next time, I will not vote for Karzai; I will vote for my donkey” – Pt. 2

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Another of Goli’s brothers was shot by the ISAF troops and was taken away to Kandahar Air Field (KAF) for questioning. His mother and father went to KAF to beg for his release and to insist that he was innocent. The military provided him with hospital treatment and released him after establishing that he was not a member of the Taliban. All the other injured family members were taken to the local hospital and the family had to sell half of their land in order to pay for the hospital bills.

Three days after the attacks, the Canadian troops came to the village and apologized for the deaths and injuries and paid money to the villagers. The injured civilians even received a visit in hospital from President Karzai and the governor. Every injured person received 20,000 Afghanis (approx. $430) to help pay for the hospital bills. No money, however, was given to compensate for the deaths or for the loss of property and livestock. Continue reading