• 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.

UNITED NATIONS: Uganda Steps Up in Security Council Debate

Posted by:  Scott P

I spent the day here at the United Nations. At 10 a.m. sharp, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger called the UN Security Council to order as President. Seated around the horseshoe-shaped table were Ambassadors, Foreign Ministers, and high-level UN officials who had come from near and far to speak about the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. To put an exclamation point on this tenth anniversary of the first Security Council session on Protection of Civilians, the Council passed Resolution 1894 at the outset.

CIVIC had been keeping an eye on the negotiation of 1894 for weeks, and we were quite pleased to see its emphasis on compliance with international law and mention of reparations (the first such mention in any Security Council resolution on protection).

For two and a half full hours, the delegations on the Security Council took the floor and railed against impunity, implored other states to comply with the law of armed conflict, discussed the need for better guidance for peacekeepers, and drove home the importance of improving access to humanitarian assistance. At the end of the morning session, Sindelegger recognized Ugandan delegate Benedict Lukwiya, who concluded his statement with this powerful plea:

“Long after the guns have gone silent, affected populations, many of whom end up losing everything, are left to pick up the pieces with no assistance, even from friendly forces. International law does not provide for making amends to individuals, who lose property or livelihood as a result of armed conflict.  This draft resolution calls for national reparation programs for victims as well as institutional reforms. However, my delegation would like to go a step farther and also recognize the need for all parties to armed conflict to emphasize the dignity of civilians by recognizing losses that result from lawful combat operations as well as providing meaningful amends to affected individuals and communities, such as financial assistance or funding for humanitarian aid programs. My delegation encourages all member state to embrace the concept of making amends – not because there is any legal obligation to do so, but simply in the intrests of mitigating suffering and promoting humanity.”

It’s the first time anyone has made such a call at at the UN in it’s 64-year history — and we couldn’t have set it better ourselves.

CIVIC conceived of the concept of making amends several years ago. We believe that warring parties should help the civilians they harm. So the Ugandan representative’s remarks were a big victory for us.  Now that Uganda has taken the courageous step of introducing the idea of “making amends” at the UN, we’ll be working with our partners to officially launch a campaign on the same idea. Stay tuned!

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.