• 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

Reflections on a Partnership: Advancing Assistance for Civilian Victims of War

This post by Bonnie Docherty originally appeared on the blog for the  International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

The International Human Rights Clinic’s newest publication—on the legal foundations for “making amends”—has its origins in a friendship formed 10 years ago on the dusty streets of Kabul.

Marla Ruzicka, founder of CIVIC, talks to civilians in Kabul in 2002. The Clinic has worked with CIVIC on several projects over the years.

In early 2002, just out of Harvard Law School, I traveled to Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch to investigate civilian casualties from the U.S. air campaign. There I met Marla Ruzicka, an idealistic young activist who seemed to know every civilian victim in the capital city.  She served as our guide, taking us to mud house after mud house to interview the families of survivors, each of whom she treated with compassion and respect.

Marla would go on to found the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to advocating for civilian victims of war. In my capacity as a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, I continued to work with Marla at home and in Iraq, until she was killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad in 2005.

In the year that followed, I joined the Clinic at Harvard, and Sarah Holewinski took the helm at CIVIC, upholding and expanding its mission admirably. We initiated a partnership shortly thereafter. While I had previously investigated why civilians are killed during war, this work allowed me to deal with what can be done to help victims afterward.

CIVIC pioneered the concept of “making amends,” which calls on warring parties to recognize and provide assistance to civilian victims for harm caused by their lawful conduct. In the Clinic’s first project with the organization, a team of students contributed to designing and drafting the organization’s “Making Amends Guiding Principles.”

Since then, the Clinic-CIVIC collaboration has generated a series of projects and helped inspire several of our students to pursue careers in the field of international humanitarian law. To date, 10 clinical students have done work produced with CIVIC or related to its mandate.

The publication released today—“Legal Foundations for ‘Making Amends’ to Civilians Harmed by Armed Conflict”—builds on CIVIC’s idea and exemplifies the Clinic’s legal advocacy. Because making amends fills a gap in international law, there is no direct precedent for it; in this paper, however, we argue that individual elements of the concept are grounded in established practice and precepts. Clinical students Andrew Childers, J.D. ’11, and Anna Lamut, J.D. ’10, researched and co-wrote the paper.

Rebecca Agule, J.D. ’10, interviews a woman whose husband was executed by Nepalese government forces during the country’s 10-year armed conflict.

In addition to legal advocacy, the Clinic has done fieldwork in association with CIVIC. In 2010, I led a team of three students on a fact-finding mission to Nepal to investigate the needs of civilian victims of the country’s decade-long armed conflict and how those needs are—or are not—being addressed.

We interviewed dozens of individuals who had experienced or witnessed horrific events. A man described how Maoist rebels broke his legs over a log and beat him to the point his mother thought he was dead. A woman told us in tears how government forces inexplicably executed her husband, a state-employed postman, and left him on the side of the road. This trip made us better appreciate Marla’s close, on-the-ground engagement with victims of war.

This semester, as CIVIC expands its mandate to encompass more areas of civilian protection, we are drawing on the Clinic’s specialization in international humanitarian law to support it. We have launched a project in conjunction with CIVIC and the Center for American Progress related to the dangers of abandoned weapons caches in Libya.

Beyond these joint endeavors, CIVIC has served as a professional stepping stone for former clinical students. Funded by Harvard fellowships, Erica Gaston, J.D. ’07, spent a post-graduate year working for the organization in Afghanistan, and Chris Rogers, J.D. ’09, did the same in Pakistan. Both have continued their work in that region at the Open Society Foundations. Other clinical students have pursued short-term contracts with CIVIC.

Our projects on making amends have been challenging for and beneficial to both CIVIC and clinical students. For me, they have inspired personal reflection.

I often think of the days with Marla in Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember the warmth she showed the people of Kabul and the zest for life she exhibited when salsa dancing in war-torn Baghdad. Most important, I reflect on how one woman’s vision aided countless civilians, spawned a highly effective and growing organization, and produced a partnership that motivated the next generation of humanitarian activists.

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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.

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.

Marla B in Jordan: Stories from a country away…

Posted By: Marla B.

Every day we interview Iraqis now living here in Jordan, so many of whom escaped violence back in Iraq or came here looking for medical care. All were ready to just leave the violence behind them.

Yesterday I heard a story that is of particular interest to CIVIC’s work. I sat with Saad (name changed here), his wife and their four children here in their small apartment. They took turns excitedly telling us of the house they had built with their own hands just outside of Baghdad. It was a new suburb so they worked with their neighbors to pay for and build a water pipeline to their homes. One day a US military patrol drove by and severely damaged the pipe. The patrol stopped. Saad was upset and explained that the pipeline was the only way they had to get water and that the families had built it with their own money. The soldier offered an apology and handed Saad a document saying he could file a claim for compensation at a nearby military base. Saad told me he understood and appreciated the apology from the soldier, but when I asked him what happened when he filed the claim, he said he never did. To him and his neighbors… filling a claim wasn’t worth putting his family in danger by visiting the military base.

Several months later, militia members killed his neighbors in an unrelated incident and threatened Saad and his family. They were forced to flee to Jordan where they now sit and wait.

VIDEO BLOG: Marla B in Jordan, Day 1

Posted By: Marla B.

CIVIC’s associate director Marla Bertagnolli talks briefly from Jordan about the stories of Iraqi war victims who have fled to the country as refugees.

Ft. Belvoir, VA: Civilian and military cooperation

Posted By: Marla B.

Today, with Jon Tracy, I visited Ft. Belvoir to participate in one of their training sessions. A satellite campus for the Army’s Command and General Staff College, Ft. Belvoir supports the CGSC’s mission to educate and develop leaders for full spectrum joint, interagency and multinational operations. It reminded me once again of the importance of dialogue between civilian and military folks. Continue reading