• 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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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.

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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: Exploding Lebanon

Posted By: Jess K., traveled to Lebanon to speak with cluster munitions victims

My driver expertly navigated his way down the main street of Al Bazouriye, a small town that happens to be the ancestral home of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and where he lived out most of his adolescence after fleeing Beirut during this country’s civil war.

I went to Lebanon to gather testimonials of victims of cluster bombs that Israel used in its 2006 war with Hezbollah. Like many of the villages in south Lebanon, Al Bazouriye (5 miles east of the large southern city Tyre) greatly suffered from falling cluster bombs, largely in the last 72 hours of the conflict. As our car pulled up to a small café in the center of town, really more of a rundown booth with a few plastic chairs arranged outside and occupied by middle-aged men, I was told by my translator that there I could meet a fisherman from the coastal village of En Naqoura. Mohammed is a handsome man of about 35. He wore a black baseball cap with a matching polo shirt, and a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses. He told me that he used to be a fisherman and now drives a taxi. As we sipped our Turkish coffee and ate sweet cookies, Mohammed told me how he lost his hand and an ear from a cluster bomb. He said: “I was pulling in my haul, I grabbed something round, there was a flash, and I fell to the ground. Caught in the net was a cluster bomb. Something left over from 2006.” He pulled up his right sleeve revealing an arm so heavily peppered with the effects of shrapnel that the tattoo of a heart on his bicep is broken by the knotting of scars that reach all the way up to his neck. I can only imagine the difficulty of fishing with one hand.

With average failure rates as high as 25 percent, and much higher in some locations, cluster bomblets like the one Mohammed picked up failed to detonate when they were dropped. They now pose a hazard to civilians. The children here remind me of my young son, who is safely back in the US and needn’t worry if he strays while playing in the grass. In the US, we can go to work without concern that our spouse may not return for dinner because her life has been cut short by a cluster bomblet as she runs a routine errand. But these are the conditions that people in south Lebanon must live with because countries buy, sell and use these terrible weapons.

UPDATE: Shortages in funding for clearing unexploded duds in south Lebanon has forced a halt to operations. CIVIC is pressing international donors, like the United States and Israel, to provide the funding the de-miners need to continue their work. For video taken by CIVIC in Lebanon and Israel, click here. For more on the ban on cluster munitions agreed upon by 107 countries, and take action to help limit the effects of US cluster bombs, click here.

GUEST BLOGGER: Civilians Flee to Kandahar City After ISAF Aerial Bombing

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

It was 2am when the aerial bombardment started. Ahmed described to me, in an interview in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kandahar, how he and has family huddled together behind a wall. “We said that if we were going to die, we would die together.” The bombing by ISAF troops continued for two hours. Nine of Ahmed’s neighbors died and eleven civilians were injured, including three of Ahmed’s family members: his mother and his two brothers.

Ahmed

Ahmed

When the bombing finally ended, Ahmed grabbed his family members, found a bus and sent them to Kandahar city. He and his neighbors then tried to get the badly injured and dying to a hospital. In one of the houses, five family members were dead. The head of this household pulled his son from the rubble. His son was crying, saying “I’m cold, I’m so cold.” Ahmed found a blanket and put it over the boy, but he died not long afterwards.

The coalition troops had been told that the Taliban were hiding in Ahmed’s village. This is why the bombing had targeted near these civilian homes. But Ahmed told me that when the land troops came after the air strike, they found no Taliban and only civilians. The foreign troops therefore promised to compensate Ahmed and his neighbors. But they said that they would pay only for the dead and not for the livestock and land that had been lost. Continue reading