• 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

GUEST BLOG: Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Perspective

By Major Dennis Sugrue

It is an unfortunate reality of war that innocent civilians are harmed.  As a US Army Soldier, I recognize the importance of protecting civilians, especially during combat operations.  Despite our care, civilian casualties and property damage do occur.  I recall the great initiative that we took in Afghanistan to make amends and offer closure to harmed civilians and their families.

From 2006-2007, I deployed to northern Kunar Province, Afghanistan. This is a mountainous and exceptionally remote area.  It is accessible by a single road closed periodically due to rain storms.  Rain was infrequent, but came in torrents when it arrived.  As part of my duties, I interacted with Afghan civilians who had been injured or lost property due to military actions.  Victims would arrive at the gate of our base and, in most cases, I would meet with them.  I would listen to their claims, often over tea, and try to determine validity.  I would walk valid claims to our pay officer and often make monetary compensation in that same meeting.  In these sessions, I also tried to learn about their lives and offer them a glimpse into American life by exchanging stories.

To help these victims, the Army offered compensation or solatia payments. Compensation usually takes the form of monetary payment and medical treatment.  Monetary compensations for damaged property, lost livelihoods, or personal injury are somewhat common in Afghanistan.  These payments are consistent with cultural norms and important to economic stability, but they can fall short of “making things better.”  It was my experience that civilians injured in a warzone often want something far simpler and more valuable – closure.  They seek a human connection offering condolence.  A sincere apology does more to offer closure than any payment possibly could.  Solatia activities should have the ultimate goal to provide a sense of closure for the civilians who suffer losses in combat zones.

LIBYA: Souheid’s story

By Kristele Younes

When I met Souheid, I was already overwhelmed by the toll this conflict is taking on civilians. But Souheid made me understand that I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Lying on his bed in a Benghazi hospital, this 8 year-old told me of how his whole life changed after a missile landed in the Misrata house he, his parents, his four siblings and their extended family of fourteen were sharing. “I don’t know what happened,” Souheid told me. “But one minute, we were all sleeping in the same room, away from all the windows to protect ourselves from bullets, and the next, I woke up in the hospital.” Souheid’s prognosis was so dire that he was immediately transferred to the Benghazi hospital I visited him in, where doctors can attend to him without fearing the hospital could be bombed at any moment.

Souheid will likely feel physical pain for the rest of his life. But it was abundantly clear to me, and to his father who sits by his bedside, that the emotional impact of what happened to his family will be much harder to overcome. That night in Misrata, Souheid lost a sister, a brother, his grandmother, his aunt, and three of his cousins.

Souheid and other victims of war need to have their suffering acknowledged. Although it is never possible to make up for these kinds of losses, warring parties should make amends by recognizing the harm and ensuring civilians have the tools they need to regain control of their lives.

Those fighting for a new Libya need to remember that it will be built by the very people who are victimized by the conflict, those who deserve to have their losses recognized and dignified. For Souheid’s and Libya’s sake, preventing, minimizing and addressing civilian harm must be at the heart of both national and international efforts in Libya.

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HUFFINGTON POST: Driving Afghanistan: The Winding Road to an Afghan Takeover

By Sarah Holewinski

I wouldn’t drive a car without working brakes. And I need a wheel to steer, and a speedometer to tell me when I’m not following the speed limit.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume responsibility for the security and stability of their own country by 2014. But as a big moving vehicle ramping up to a high speed, it’s missing some of the major controls it needs to protect its own population and not cause even more harm. Continue reading

One Minute Update: Libya

Imam, a Libyan woman whose husband was killed last month while out buying food, told CIVIC: “I don’t want my husband to be just another statistic.”

Kristele just returned from Benghazi, in Eastern Libya, where she met with civilian victims and their families to assess their losses and needs. She met many like Imam, mourning lost loved ones or watching over their injured in the overflowing hospitals. CIVIC’s job now is to advise NATO and opposition forces on minimizing civilian harm, and ensure each and every victim is recognized and helped. We believe Imam’s husband is more than a statistic.

Read more from Kristele’s trip to Libya: BLOG: Harmed civilians need protection too

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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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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.