• 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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LIBYA: Harmed civilians need protection too

By Kristele Younes

Heading into Libya was quite an experience. As the conflict rages on, and the no-fly zone is enforced by the international community, the town of Benghazi in eastern Libya was only accessible by road from Egypt. Yet the nineteen hours it took to get there from Cairo were not enough to prepare myself for the reality I witnessed when I finally reached my destination.

Since the conflict erupted between the Libyan regime headed by Mouammar Qaddafi and rebel opponents, now led by a transitional government in Benghazi, nobody knows exactly how many civilians have been killed, wounded, or have simply disappeared. In a country that is now literally separated into two distinct zones—east and west—it has proven extremely challenging for civil servants and human rights activists to track and record civilian harm. Estimates by the Libyan opposition put the number of deaths at around 10,000. As for the wounded and those who have vanished, I was told there are simply too many to keep track of.

And yet, every single one of these people is a human being who deserves to be recognized as a war victim, and to receive amends from the warring parties.

The Libyan opposition seems to understand this, and have committed to making amends to those civilians hurt by war. CIVIC ensures they have the capacity, the know-how, and resources to do so.

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GUEST BLOG: Marla, CIVIC, and the idea that wouldn’t die

By Catherine Philp

Nine years ago in the bright Kabul spring, I met a young woman called Marla Ruzicka. She was hard to miss, with her wild blonde hair and animal pyjamas peeking out from the hem of her long kameez.

She was harder still to miss the morning she marched to the gates of the American Embassy with astonished, emboldened Afghan families by her side, to demand compensation and apologies for their loved ones lost in American military action. Continue reading

One Minute Update: Ft. Leavenworth, Military Training

 

CIVIC Field Director Kristele Younes at Ft. Leavenworth

Last month you came with us to Afghanistan. Now we’re taking you to the US military base at Ft. Leavenworth with CIVIC’s new Field Director Kristele Younes. Kristele comes to CIVIC with extensive experience advocating for civilians from Pakistan and Iraq to Congo and Bosnia — though this was her first time in Kansas! At the US Army Command and General Staff College, Kristele and CIVIC’s Marla Keenan role played in a military planning scenario, or “war gaming” exercise. The goal was to train tomorrow’s military leaders to think holistically when planning combat operations. CIVIC was there to give them a better grasp of what civilians experience in war, how to better avoid them on the battlefield, and how to recognize and help those harmed in the crossfire. CIVIC believes this kind of training is critical to ensuring militaries understand the human cost of war.

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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”

AFGHANISTAN: Can a medal really save a life?

Posted by:  Marla B

Last week NATO commanders proposed a new idea: a medal for “courageous restraint” if troops avoid using force that could harm an Afghan civilian. Steps like this make it clear their heads and hearts are in the right place, given how important such avoidance is in Afghanistan right now–-both for humanitarian and strategic reasons.

I’m pleased to see consideration of civilians playing such a prominent role in military thinking; it’s certainly long over due there.

But can a medal for a soldier really save an Afghan life?

The first question that comes to mind is “shouldn’t soldiers already be showing ‘courageous restraint?’”  The answer is yes.  The requirements for receiving the medal track with what soldiers should already be doing on the battlefield to abide by international laws and stated NATO values.

So the next logical question is: Do medals really motivate our soldiers? Capt. Edward Graham’s company is part of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and he had a straightforward answer for the Associated Press: “Not a single one of these guys does it for the medals.”  Anyone who knows a soldier knows that to be true.

Then, medals aside, what can international forces do better to avoid and protect civilians in the battlespace?  There are two answers. Better training and improved escalation of force procedures–which, incidentally, top military brass are already talking about.

Analysis and process aren’t quite as flashy as a medal but they’ve often proved to be a lot more effective in saving lives. Better training, for example, will change the chain reaction of split second decisions every soldier has to make each time they are confronted with a perceived threat.

I believe and know from my time training U.S. troops that many of soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan already show ‘courageous restraint’. The danger and unknown variables they face each and every day make their job amongst the most difficult in the world.

The ones that don’t show such restraint don’t need an award to show them the way.  They need better tools and training to ensure their courage in serving actually translates into lives saved.

IRAQ: On the Road to Recovery By Way Of Amends

Posted By: Shelly

Mention “war” or “armed conflict,” and many people scroll through mental images of soldiers engaged in combat or of pock-marked villages halfway across the world. But these images are just a fraction of that  element. War’s impact doesn’t end when the bullets and bombs stop.  Its effects stretch beyond the fighting and encompass civilian death and injury, community destruction and devastatingly interrupted lives. Civilians’ basic needs are often no longer met and their capacity to meet them in the future is made nearly impossible when their livelihoods are gone. They are left with very little help from the warring parties to rebuild. For communities ravaged by war, there is a desperate need to regroup, re-form, heal and adapt to these unexpected life changes. But where do they start?

Helping civilian victims positively reshape their lives is a first and very crucial step toward moving away from living a life in war. In South Central Iraq, many of these crucial steps are being taken and have begun to crack the shell of devastation.  Instead of picturing the horrible aftermath of combat, picture a man in Diwaniyah, who recently opened a store with help from USAID Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund. Picture a group of students at a vocational school in Kerbala who previously learned about their trade through theory, but who now have new and updated machinery to help prepare them for technical careers in electrical system repair and car mechanics, among other jobs that can benefit their communities.

Livelihood assistance to civilians, such as that provided by the Marla Fund, is a way for warring parties to begin the process of amending harm and placing recovery at the front of the agenda. In this case, it’s the U.S. Government that has taken the step of making amends, and is changing lives one at a time. Making amends, recognizing harm and offering to rectify in some way can help a community recover and heal in dramatic ways. When a family has the tools and hope for their future, the entire community benefits.

Making amends goes beyond recognizing harm and apologizing. It creates the opportunity to rebuild lives and sets the stage for families to flourish.