• 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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  • 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

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One Minute Update: Afghanistan

Afghan civilians seen through a US Army Humvee window. Photo courtesy of Chris Hondros

In one minute or less, we’ll give you an inside look at civilians in war and CIVIC’s work to help them. You can expect photographs, powerful stories and progress toward their well-being.

We’ll go to Afghanistan where CIVIC created and just delivered the first-ever trainings on addressing civilian harm to American, international and Afghan military officers. Our practical step-by-step training gives commanders and their troops every tool they need to investigate, assess and address civilian losses in villages across Afghanistan. Commanders told us this is exactly what their troops need to respectfully handle tragic incidents of civilian casualties. While nothing can replace a loved one or home, CIVIC’s work to train the military changes the outcome for war victims in real time. To date, we’ve reached over 20,000 troops.

Want to subscribe to CIVIC One Minute Updates? Click HERE to sign up!

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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: 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.

PAKISTAN: Arrival and Recent Developments

Posted by Chris

Finally arrived in Pakistan last week and began work.  Let me begin by giving you a quick snapshot of the situation here.

After a relatively calm couple of months, the past two weeks have seen a marked increase in violence.  Nearly 200 people were killed in a spate of militant attacks, including many civilians.  This recent wave of attacks began with the bombing of the World Food Program office in Islamabad on 5 Oct.

A few days ago, the Pakistani military began its long-awaited offensive into the militant stronghold of South Waziristan.  Folks around me in Islamabad were right to be worried about retaliatory attacks, given today’s suicide bombings at the University.  The mood is tense.  Security checkpoints have grown and are more thorough, roads have been blocked, and many schools have been closed.

The Pakistanis I speak with all express dismay and anger with the situation.  For them, this level of violence is new.  Terrorist attacks in the cities, like Islamabad and Lahore, were unheard of before last year.

There is very little information about what is going on in Waziristan.  The offensive is all over the newspapers and television, but because of its remote location, the insecurity and restrictions on access imposed by the military, information is very hard to come by.  What is known is that there is intense fighting and tens of thousands of civilians have already fled, while many more remain within the conflict zone.  Some are predicting the operation to last two months.

Civilians will undoubtedly suffer.  We know that from thousands of years of war around the world. Hopefully with improved access and information, we can do more to bring attention to the plight of displaced civilians and those within the conflict zone.  And if history is any lesson, providing civilians with the assistance they need to rebuild their lives will be critical to the Pakistani government’s long-term success in Waziristan.

PAKISTAN: CIVIC Fellow Headed to Pakistan

Posted by Chris, CIVIC Fellow

Hi everyone!  I’m excited to be joining CIVIC and begin working in Pakistan.  After some last minute visa drama, I will be leaving soon for Islamabad.  I’ll be writing here about our work in Pakistan throughout the coming months, but let me begin by introducing myself and explain my interest in CIVIC’s work.  LINK TO CHRIS’ BIO

Though I am new to Pakistan, I have worked extensively on human rights and the laws of war in many different parts of the world.  I worked with the United Nations in Jordan to assist Iraqi refugees, with Human Rights Watch on the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and, in Gaza, with a Palestinian human rights NGO.

In Gaza, I witnessed the impact of armed conflict on civilians first-hand.  Israeli strikes were an almost daily occurrence and though civilians may not have been targeted, large, modern bombs and ordinance exacted a heavy toll in the dense city blocks and refugee camps.  During the Hamas takeover of the territory, the entire city became a battlefield.   Every civilian was trapped in their home and many were caught in the cross fire as gunmen fought building to building.

Throughout my work, I’ve seen how the greatest burden of conflict is often borne by innocent civilians.  Death, injury, destruction of homes and property, and the loss of livelihood and loved ones are so common in war zones and yet the suffering is difficult to communicate or convey to others a world away.  As a lawyer, I have deep respect for the potential of international law to protect civilians in conflict, however I also recognize that current law says little about those deemed ‘collateral damage’ and even less about how to help those that have been harmed.

This is why I’m so passionate about CIVIC’s work and excited about the opportunities to get help to war survivors in Pakistan.  Conflict there has increased markedly the past couple years, especially in the northwest of the country.  Caught in the middle, many civilians have been harmed or their property destroyed, while millions have fled to escape the fighting.

It will be challenging, but there is a lot of progress to be made.  I’m looking forward to getting started.  In my next posting I’ll explain a bit more about the current situation in Pakistan and what we hope to accomplish.  Until then…

AFGHANISTAN: Senators listen to victims stories

Posted by Erica G from Kabul

This past week in Afghanistan, three US Senators — Patrick Leahy (VT),  Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Mark Warner (VA) – used one afternoon of a packed Congressional assessment visit to sit down with a Afghan family affected by the conflict.  They heard about the family’s experiences and help received through the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP), a USAID-sponsored program that provides livelihood support, home reconstruction, job training, or other in-kind assistance to unintended victims of international forces. The Senators invited me along, as the former CIVIC fellow, to discuss broader victim assistance and compensation efforts in Afghanistan. We visited the survivors of a family who were targeted in a nighttime raid by Afghan and international forces in September 2008. During the raid, a grenade had been lobbed into one of the rooms of the home, killing all but the elderly grandfather and one 6-year-old son.

As many of you know from past CIVIC blogs, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with many of the ACAP beneficiaries in my year as a CIVIC fellow in Afghanistan. Each experience is unique and memorable in its own way, but I have to say that there was something special about this Congressional visit. The ACAP program was originally championed by Senator Leahy and his staff. Without his continual support, it might not still be in existence. Watching Senator Leahy himself greeting the family, I remembered the many families who told me to pass their gratitude and their thanks to the people who created and supported the ACAP program. And here was the man himself talking to one of the beneficiaries. I remembered the many war victims who asked me to share what had happened to them with those who had the power to make changes. Even if for only an hour, here were three Senators who listened and took their stories and their message to heart.