• 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

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.

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GUEST BLOG: A View of War Victims From Gardez, Afghanistan

Posted by Erica G from Kabul

I’ve been in Gardez the last week — a small provincial capitol about
two hours south of Kabul. Security is slightly better than this time
last year, when the community was still reeling from nightly
airstrikes in districts just outside of the city. But reports of
targeting and assassination by the Taliban, raids on homes by
international forces and the Afghan army, and sporadic gunfire
exchanges between one or more of the warring parties or criminals are
still common.

Even more concerning, the limited access of many aid workers and the
change in the conflict dynamics means that now as much as ever,
victims of conflict have no way to get help. The Afghan Civilian
Assistance Program is still up and running, and with new staff and
funding authorized they are working hard to reach as many civilians as
possible. But in 2009, the vast majority of civilian deaths have been
due to insurgent attacks, in particular insurgent attacks on Afghan
security forces or government officials. Attacks due to these causes
are not eligible for either ACAP assistance or the limited solatia and
condolence funds that General McChrystal and other US military
officials have been urging troops to use.

Al Qaeda recently announced that it would offer “condolences” for
innocent victims in Afghanistan and other locales. But when you speak
to locals here in Gardez they find the idea that Al Qaeda, the Taliban
or other insurgent groups would give them assistance to be laughable.

AFGHANISTAN: Who compensates those the Taliban hurts? (continued from below)

The UN reported that 1160 civilians were killed by Taliban or insurgent activities in 2008, and these are likely only an estimate given that in many Taliban-dominated areas, civilians are afraid to report individual targeting, threats, or other losses. If so many are affected by insurgent parties, what can be done to compensate and help them?

The most obvious question, of course, is what about the insurgents themselves? Although there are certainly examples of non-state actors in other conflicts providing compensation or victim assistance after a conflict incident, we haven’t seen much evidence of this in Afghanistan. One official told us of a Taliban group in the south paying 300,000 afghanis (about $6000) to those killed in conflict, but we were not able to verify this hearsay through any other sources. From using civilians as human shields to aggressively targeting and harassing those who cooperate with the government or the international community, it seems that insurgent tactics in recent years have trended more toward intimidation and fear than “winning hearts and minds” by providing compensation to victims of conflict.

If not the insurgents themselves, then who else could take responsibility for this population? Some of the different international militaries’ compensation and condolence payments, and also the USAID Afghan Civilian Assistance Program, will help victims of suicide attacks on international military convoys. They also typically will help those who are targeted by the Taliban (for example, drivers, translators, others) because they were assisting international military forces. But none of these programs would have helped Mustapha’s pain and suffering.

The Afghan government seems to be the best candidate for this, not only as a warring party but as the warring party with some responsibility for the wellbeing of all its citizens who are caught in the conflict. In fact, the Afghan government has two programs – an executive fund by President Karzai and a ministerial fund called the Martyrs’ and Disabled Fund – that should technically cover victims of pro-government (international military and Afghan government forces) and insurgent forces alike. In practice though, President Karzai’s fund has been used almost exclusively to address harm caused where international forces are involved (The one notable exception has been when it was given following a suicide attack targeting a crowd watching a dog fight in Kandahar province). The Martyrs & Disabled Fund – which provides a type of monthly pension program to the beneficiaries of those killed or to those disabled in any conflict-related incident – also fails to cover this need because significant issues in corruption and implementation prevent it from having much practical impact (for more, see Chapter 5 of CIVIC’s Afghanistan report).

CIVIC has been proposing a common compensation mechanism for Afghanistan. This compensation mechanism could take a lot of different forms, and one possibility is an all-encompassing fund or mechanism that would cover victims of any warring party involved – whether international military, Afghan forces or insurgent groups. Short of that, significant changes in the existing Afghan programs might be a way to get compensation to many of the civilians who are taking the brunt of increased insurgent activity.

AFGHANISTAN: Who compensates those the Taliban hurts?

Posted by:  Erica G.

One of the most difficult challenges we faced this year in our Afghanistan work was how to get compensation to victims of Taliban or insurgent abuses. They are not only responsible for a greater proportion of civilian deaths (55% in 2009, according to the UN), but often because of insurgent tactics that have knowingly placed civilians at risk, including using them as human shields.

A UNAMA official based in a remote and heavily Taliban-controlled province called me a few days ago with a recent case he had been dealing with: insurgents had apprehended a man named Mustapha and whipped him with a cable in his genital region until all that was left was a bloody pulp. Although the circumstances of why he was targeted were not entirely clear, one factor influencing the severity of the punishment was that insurgents felt he was not entirely supporting their cause, raising issues of a war crime violation. The UNAMA official felt so stricken with the pain Mustapha was in (he could not even afford pain medication) that he gave him all the cash he had on hand. He called to ask me if there were not some government program or way to get compensation for this man?

In my next blog posting, I’ll discuss more broadly what help might be available for victims of insurgents…

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.

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Najla’s story

Posted By: Marla B.

There are an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees now residing in Jordan and another 1 to 1.5 million in Syria. In June, I traveled to Jordan to conduct interviews with families and to talk with them about their experiences. That task proved to be one of the most challenging of my time here at CIVIC.

On June 1, 2008, I visited a woman who I’ll call Najla*. Her son Samir* was the apple of her eye. She beamed as she told us how much he loved toys and school and what a lovely young boy he was.

Samir as baby

Samir as baby

In 2003 when the war began, they knew the bombing was coming and she and her son prepared. On the first day the bombing was very strong and most of the Iraqis from Baghdad left their homes to seek safety. She and her son stayed behind. She recalled that the sky was red from the bombing and resulting fires. No one in their neighborhood was killed in the first part of the war, but soon the violence would start and many would be lost. She told me that the war had been very difficult for them. Too, life under Saddam’s regime was hard but at least there was security. Now, she says, there are militias and they have taken their sons. “It is just easy to kill in Iraq.”

One night the milita came to their house. As her family (her, her son, her brother and his son) lay asleep on the ground, ten armed men broke a window and entered. They beat her and her brother threatening them not to make a sound or they would be killed. They beat Samir and threatened to kill Najla’s brother’s son. Samir told them he would do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t harm his family. They demanded money and Samir gave all they had. As the gunmen were leaving… one of them said “kill them… we can’t leave them alive”. Another said “no, we’ve gotten what we want, just cut his ear”.

At first they lived in fear that the masked men would return. But after time passed they began to believe they had indeed escaped this threat. They had not. On the 6th of March 2006, as her son headed home from work, he turned onto the very street where he lived. Militia men came and murdered him in cold blood. Her neighbors told her that they were from the Medhi army, the same group suspected of the earlier break in on their house, she is sure of it. Najlaa wept now as she told me how much she missed her son and how he had been so brutally taken from her.

Samir as an adult

Samir as an adult


In the coming months we will be posting short videos with snippets of some of my conversations.

*In all cases the names will be changed and the faces obscured at the request of the subject.

GUEST BLOGGER: “Next time, I will not vote for Karzai; I will vote for my donkey” – Pt. 1

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Goli’s hand is twisted and scarred. His leg and chest is also a knot of scars, threading across his skin. His uncle, Haji, still has his foot in a bandage – two years after the ISAF forces mistakenly bombed their village. And his left leg consists principally of bone and sinew, a mere shadow of the healthy leg that he once used to farm his land.

Goli's injured leg prevents him from earning a living as a farmer, as he once did.

Goli's injured leg.

Two years ago, ISAF forces bombed the village where Goli and Haji lived because the Taliban were nearby, crossing a road from one area to the next. The bombing began at 11pm. Haji described to me how he was sleeping in the courtyard of his house and “saw bright lights like lightning and a loud sound like a bomb.”

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