• 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

AFGHANISTAN: Civilians caught in the middle

By Kristele Younes

When civilians die in war, the public is understandably outraged. In Afghanistan, in the past few months, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has come under heavy criticism from President Karzai for a series of incidents that have cost innocent lives. Fueled by the President’s statements, public anger is mounting, which ISAF will be the first to admit is not helpful to the international mission in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Taliban continue to indiscriminately kill scores of civilians, violating international laws and basic humanity.

War is perhaps never more tragic than when it takes the lives of the most innocent. All incidents of civilian casualties should appeal to our global consciousness. Indeed, even if some harm might be unavoidable because of the very nature of modern warfare, a lot can be done to prevent these tragedies and mitigate the pain caused to victims, their families, and their communities.

ISAF has publicly declared its commitment to minimizing civilian harm in Afghanistan in many statements issued by the highest levels of its chain of command. Indeed, protecting civilians in Afghanistan is not only a moral imperative, but a strategic one for coalition forces. But is enough being done?

In the past year, ISAF has strengthened its system to track each incidence of civilian casualties countrywide, and every incident is investigated either by the field unit or by a special team. This is a welcome step on several levels. First, it shows that ISAF recognizes the importance of keeping track of civilian harm. Second, it could enable the troops to understand what went wrong and prevent future harm. Third, it can help international forces make amends to those hurt by recognizing what civilian losses exist and where they are. But for this system to be truly effective, more needs to be done. Indeed, ISAF needs to be better at reaching out to different actors to gather increased situational awareness and, most importantly, troop-contributing nations must all adopt a uniformed way to compensate those they harm.

For all the system’s flaws, credit must be given to ISAF for its efforts, and statistics show that in the past year, the number of casualties caused by international troops has consistently gone down.  In the period of much talked about transition, though, it is essential that the international community and especially the Afghan government start paying much closer attention to the harm caused (or which could potentially be caused) by Afghan forces. The Afghan army lacks the basic mechanisms to record and investigate civilian harm, let alone compensate for it. ISAF must make it a top priority to help Afghans create trainings and programs parallel to its own. President Karzai must also move away from the war of rhetoric by acknowledging that Afghans have a responsibility in protecting their own civilians, and by ensuring that his armed forces make minimizing harm a top priority.

As for the anti-government forces, which according to the UN were responsible in May 2011 for over 80% of all civilian casualties, they have to wonder if their disregard for civilian harm is the best strategy in seeking national reconciliation and power-sharing. Certainly, Afghans deserve their suffering—and safety—to be a priority for whoever will end up governing them.

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

PAKISTAN: Civilian Victims of Terrorism in Pakistan

By Chris

On New Year’s Day, residents of Shah Hassan Khel – a village outside South Waziristan – gathered to watch two local teams face off in a volleyball match.  Suddenly, a suicide bomber plowed his truck into the crowd.  The explosion was felt 11-miles away and decimated the surrounding neighborhood.  Over 100 people from the village were killed and scores injured.

Civilians in Pakistan suffer not only from military and militant operations, but also from devastating terrorist attacks.  Soon after I arrived three months ago, the military began a major operation in South Waziristan; since then, according to newspaper reports, over 800 people have been killed in terrorist attacks throughout the country.
While this figure also includes law enforcement personnel, most casualties are civilians.

The rise and frequency of terrorist attacks is staggering.  Over the course of 2009, suicide bombers struck in Pakistan every five days on average.  Hardest hit was the Northwest Frontier Province, and particularly its capital, Peshawar.

Driving down Peshawar’s main avenue, Khyber Road, evidence of terrorist attacks is all around.  Every few blocks you’ll pass a building or area that has been hit—the Pearl Continental Hotel, the intelligence agency headquarters, the court complex, the press club, the Khyber bazaar—and so on.  People in Peshawar emphasize that this violence is new and shocking to them; they are jarred just as any American would be if an attack occurred in their hometown.

That victims of terrorism need and deserve assistance is clearly acknowledged by the Pakistani government and public.  Public protests demand an end to violence and assistance for those that have suffered.  In turn, the government has announced a number of packages and programs to assist victims of terrorism.

However, compensation is often politicized and not provided in any regular, systematic manner.  Follow-through on promises of assistance is never certain.  Access and compensation amounts are uneven.  Standardized programs that really respond to the needs of victims are desperately needed. The frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in Pakistan today requires more coordinated and comprehensive policies that ensure victims are not forgotten and their losses are both acknowledged and addressed.

SRI LANKA: ‘This is too much to take. Why is the world not helping?’

Originally printed in The Guardian

May 12, 2009

VIDEO BY THE ORGANIZATION WAR WITHOUT WITNESS:  Click here

Yesterday a shell was reported to have hit a temporary hospital in the so-called no-fire zone in north-east Sri Lanka, killing 47 people. Vany Kumar, 25, works at the temporary medical facility in Mullaivaikal East primary school, which is caught between government troops and the last remnants of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Here, in a telephone interview with the Guardian, she describes life on the front line.

This is really a disaster. I don’t know really how to explain it. At the moment, it is like hell.

Most of the time we live in the shelter. There is not enough medical equipment, so it is really difficult to treat people. Food is a problem as well. There is no food at all here, there are no vegetables and no rice, they just eat whatever they can find, that’s all. The hospital is located in a primary school so there is only one room. We just try our best to achieve what we can.

I was in the office working [when the shell hit]. It was definitely a shell, there is no doubt about that. I was about 20 metres away, and I was sure that it landed inside the hospital, so I went to the shelter. I got the news from the doctors that there were people injured and dead. There was constant shelling so I couldn’t leave the shelter.

For us, shell bombing is just a normal thing now. It is like an everyday routine. We have reached a point where it’s like death is not a problem at all. No one has any feeling here now, it’s like everyone says, “Whatever happens, it happens.” That’s it, that’s the mentality every single person has here.

The most terrible thing that I have seen was when a mother had a bullet go through her breast and she was dead and the baby was still on the other side of the breast and the baby was drinking her milk, and that really affected me. I was at that place where it happened.

There is just too much to take. Children have lost parents, parents have lost children, it’s just a common thing now.

[The shelling] is definitely coming from the government side, that can be sure, because it is only a small area on the LTTE side and from the sound and from the distance I can surely say it is from the government side.

I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about the LTTE, my concern is the civilians because through all these problems they are the people affected.

The government or the LTTE, they have got to do something, and if not, I can’t imagine what will happen next. Both parties have got to have a ceasefire. I think the international [community] has to either come into the country or get both parties to stop the fighting and start thinking about the civilians living here. Every single person living here asks why the international [community] is not doing anything.

I really want to come to the UK but I don’t know. I’m talking to you now, but maybe tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Civilian Suffering in Pakistan

Posted by: Erica

KABUL – I was in Pakistan recently, looking at the situation of victims of conflict on the other side of the border. In the past few months, the number of US Predator strikes into the tribal areas of Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan have skyrocketed. (See this Washington Post article). Pakistani army engagements with insurgents further north have led to an estimated 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The homes of many of those 300,000 IDPs have been destroyed in the fighting or aftermath.  No one could even tell me the number of civilians who might have been killed or injured in these operations.

In terms of help for these families, there’s a Pakistani government compensation fund, but it’s out of money. Those administering it can’t even get to many of the areas where there is active fighting to survey any losses or damage. There are also many international and government-supported aid programs, but with increasing numbers of IDPs, many for extended periods of time, they can’t even keep up with providing basic needs.

GUEST BLOGGER: The Three Carpenters from Kandahar – Pt. 2

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Read Part 1…

The carpenters paid for their hospital treatment by selling their cars and furniture and by relying heavily on the assistance of family members and friends. They now have debts that make it very difficult to survive. The men finally received some assistance when ACAP approached them in January 2007. ACAP agreed to provide them with funding for their carpentry business, tailoring training for their family members, stationary for their children and additional medical treatment.

I met these men on the day that they were collecting the ACAP assistance. I asked them what the aid meant to them. Mohammad summed up the sentiments felt by all the men: “We are hoping to make an income with the assistance we get. Nowadays, if you get a piece of bread from someone, you are happy. So this aid is very important. It will help to expand my supplies and to expand business. It will bring positive effects to my family. With this business, we can pay off the loans that we owe to people.”

GUEST BLOGGER: The Dangers of Assisting Civilians, Kandahar ACAP Field-Officer Captured by the Taliban

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

[Written 7/20/08] I went this morning to the Kandahar IOM/ACAP office (ACAP is the program created by the United States to help war victims and IOM is the agency that implements it across the country). I met the staff and talked with one field officer who travels around the southern provinces to find harmed civilians and verify information that has been submitted to the office. He has worked with ACAP for three years. He told me that his job was rewarding but also dangerous: a few months ago, he went into a remote village to survey an ACAP-funded construction project when he suddenly found himself surrounded by gun-wielding Taliban fighters. They accused him of supporting the international forces. As he was being taken away by the Taliban, a close friend saw him and negotiated his release – the only reason he is alive today. Such stories emphasize the difficulty in assisting civilians in this charged atmosphere, where humanitarian projects are frequently targeted by the Taliban and Afghan NGO workers are regularly kidnapped for their “foreign involvement.”