My friends at CIVIC just released a new report with findings on the conflicts in northwest Pakistan, particularly the civilian harm occurring on a daily basis that we seldom here about back here in Washington. The group conducted over 160 interviews with war victims, most of whom have never received an apology or help for the losses they’ve suffered. That’s caused a lot of anger on the ground and is crippling the legitimacy of the Pakistani government. With US support funneling into that country and US drone strikes increasing exponentially, this is something we should all be concerned about. (Source: The Huffington Post)
Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan
By Chris Rogers , CIVIC Field Fellow
FULL REPORT: Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan
Since 2001, the conflict in northwest Pakistan has killed and injured thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and destroyed countless homes and livelihoods. The warring parties include Pakistani forces, US forces, and militant groups. This report documents civilian losses as a result of this armed conflict, analyzes the humanitarian, security, and strategic consequences of those losses, and examines existing-and needed-efforts by warring parties to make amends to survivors.
The number of civilian casualties-meaning deaths and injuries-is significant in Pakistan, though exact figures are unknown due to insecurity and government restrictions on information. In 2009, an estimated 2,300 civilians were killed in terror attacks alone with many more injured. Counting losses from Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, civilian casualties in Pakistan likely exceed in number those in neighboring Afghanistan.
Despite the severity of losses and consequences of ignoring them, civilian casualties receive too little attention from US, Pakistani and donor-nation policymakers, military officials, and international organizations alike. Overlooking the majority of civilians harmed or displaced by combat operations is undermining the Pakistani government’s legitimacy. The US, too, has an obligation to these victims, as a major supporter of Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts and as a warring party itself, with small numbers of troops on the ground and drones conducting strikes from overhead.
Over the past year, CIVIC conducted interviews with Pakistani and US policymakers, humanitarians and officials from international organizations, and over 160 Pakistani civilians suffering direct losses from the conflict. After nearly a decade of conflict and billions of aid channeled into Pakistan, more can and should be done to address the civilian cost of the conflict. CIVIC proposes concrete, specific measures to warring parties and their partners toward finally acknowledging and making amends for civilian harm.
Headlines focus on the horrors of terrorism in Pakistan, but CIVIC’s research shows that civilians suffer greatly from a much broader range of conflict-related violence. Pakistani military operations, particularly artillery shelling and airpower, cause significant civilian losses. Civilians are caught between militants and Pakistani forces, while also suffering the consequences of extrajudicial killings, sectarian violence, explosive remnants of war, and US drone strikes.
US drone strikes, in particular, have touched off intense public debate. Neither the US nor Pakistani governments officially deny the program exists but tacitly concede its existence. Anonymous US officials insist that civilian casualties caused by drone strikes are minimal. CIVIC’s research and that of other independent non-government organizations indicates that the number of civilians killed and injured by drones is higher than the US admits.
Civilian losses in Pakistan are often long-lasting and complex, destabilizing families and entire communities. The loss of a husband can deprive the family of its only source of income. An injury can require expensive medical treatment, care by other family members, and prevent survivors from working in the household or finding a job. A house destroyed can mean homelessness, but also the loss of a family’s most important financial asset, forcing them into cycles of debt and dependency.
For Pakistanis already struggling to make ends meet, losses like these are compounded by underdevelopment, displacement, and economic vulnerability. Without savings, insurance, or social safety nets, the shock of a death, injury or property damage can dramatically alter families’ lives, pushing many into debilitating poverty.
Civilian victims expressed anger at warring parties for their losses. Despite some people’s fear of retribution for speaking out, many placed the blame squarely on the Pakistani and US militaries. Almost all victims insisted that the Pakistani or US governments, respectively, had a responsibility to make amends-meaning, an acknowledgment of the harm suffered and an offer of assistance or compensation.
Of the warring parties involved in the conflict, the Pakistani government is the only one making some form of amends to war victims. For example, the Pakistani government maintains compensation programs for some civilian deaths and injuries as well as housing destruction. While these programs need improvement in practice, amends like these can restore a measure of dignity through recognition of losses and provide much-needed help, while also mitigating anger and enhancing the perceived legitimacy of the Pakistani government and military.
This report demonstrates that amends are both possible and practicable in Pakistan, and expected by Pakistani civilians. This requires new programs and a significant improvement of efforts underway. Most Pakistani war victims have yet to receive any assistance, compensation, or even recognition of the harm they suffered.
Summary of Findings
- Significant civilian casualties are caused by Pakistani military operations, US drone strikes, militant and terror attacks, and other forms of conflict-related violence such as unexploded ordnance and sectarian clashes;
- There is no governmental or military mechanism that systematically and publicly investigates or collects data on civilian casualties;
- Deaths, injuries, and property losses are greatly compounded by widespread poverty and displacement;
- Civilians interviewed acknowledge the relative accuracy of US drone strikes but criticize them for causing civilian casualties and question the program’s long-term effectiveness against militants; most opposed the strikes and demanded an end to the practice;
- Civilians hold warring parties responsible for their losses and expect amends (compensation, for example) from both the Pakistani and US governments;
- The Pakistani government is the only warring party attempting to make direct amends to civilian war victims, with a compensation and housing program;
- Civilians see Pakistani government efforts to compensate or assist war victims as providing real help to those in need and dignifying losses. These programs can also mitigate anger and enhance the perceived legitimacy of the Pakistani government and military;
- Most victims interviewed were left without amends for their losses due to serious deficiencies in Pakistani compensation mechanisms and no US effort to help those harmed by its combat operations; this, despite US programs for such victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To the Government of Pakistan
- Ensure all forces-including military, intelligence, security, and lashkars-adhere to the rules of international humanitarian law, including principles of distinction and proportionality, and that all government forces are adequately trained on the same;
- Refrain from using artillery, mortars and airpower in densely populated areas and ensure such weapons are deployed in a manner that appropriately discriminates between civilians and combatants;
- Publicly investigate all incidents of civilian harm and, when appropriate, acknowledge responsibility for causing harm;
- Halt all extrajudicial killings and investigate potential incidents of extrajudicial killings;
- Halt destruction of homes and other civilian property as retribution or collective punishment;
- Remove restrictions preventing UN and non-governmental organizations from accessing conflict-affected areas;
- Halt all intimidation and coercion of journalists, civilian victims or advocates who document or speak out about civilian harm;
- Improve existing compensation mechanisms for civilians suffering losses by:
- Proactively investigating all potential incidents of civilian casualties (or allowing independent investigators to do so), identify victims including those who are displaced, acknowledge responsibility where appropriate, and ensure harm is fully addressed;
- Designating federal and provincial level institutions and administrators to oversee, coordinate, and standardize compensation mechanisms;
- Developing mechanisms to ensure compensation accountability and transparency with record-keeping, clear and publicized guidelines, and official oversight;
- Ensuring compensation amounts are appropriate to the loss (i.e. a multi-family house may require a larger payment) and standardizing amount ranges for compensation;
- Standardizing eligibility and procedures for civilians filing claims and for officials that proactively offer compensation across the country;
- Ensuring sufficient and timely financing (i.e. an accountable and steady funding stream) for compensation;
- Developing mechanisms, preferably in partnership with the US, to make amends to victims of drone attacks;
- Ensuring women and other vulnerable groups have equal access to compensation;
- Do not ignore or improperly address civilian losses from the conflict in responding to the humanitarian crises caused by the recent floods.
To Militant Groups
- Immediately cease all attacks directly targeting civilians;
- Comply with applicable laws of war, including proportionality and distinction between combatants and non-combatants;
- Publicly investigate all incidents of civilian harm and, when appropriate, acknowledge responsibility for causing civilian harm;
- Provide compensation or assistance to civilians collaterally harmed as a result of legitimate combat actions, acknowledging that such assistance in no way justifies or excuses attacks that target or disproportionately harm civilians;
- Do not inhibit or undermine aid provided to civilian victims, whether provided by the Pakistani government or humanitarian organizations;
- Ensure civilians have freedom of movement and facilitate civilians’ departure from conflict areas;
- Ensure UN, NGOs, other neutral humanitarian organizations, and journalists have access to conflict-affected areas and ensure forces refrain from any intimidation or violence targeting these groups.
To the United States Government
- Ensure proportionality and combatant/non-combatant distinction in targeting in all drone strikes;
- Make public the official definition of civilian, combatant, and non-combatant applied in the drone program, the legal justification for drone strikes, and measures taken to ensure strikes conform to applicable international law;
- Investigate and publicly acknowledge incidents of civilian casualties caused by drone strikes;
- Work in partnership with the Pakistani government to provide compensation and other assistance to all civilians harmed by drone strikes;
- Support existing Pakistani compensation mechanisms including the provision of financial and technical support;
- Identify additional programs and initiatives to fund that specifically help conflict victims recover, as the US Congress has done in Iraq and Afghanistan;
- Ensure funds appropriated by Congress under the Pakistan Civilian Assistance Program are used for programs directly aiding victims of the conflict;
- Ensure that the US response to the flood crisis does not displace needed attention on the losses suffered by civilian victims of the conflict.
To the UN and other Members of the International Community
- Establish a UN mechanism to monitor, document, and investigate incidents of civilian casualties;
- Whenever possible, coordinate the provision of assistance with all other actors and link victims with existing government and non-governmental assistance;
- Encourage all warring parties to provide amends to meaningfully recognize and assist civilian victims of the conflict;
- Press the Pakistani government for increased access for humanitarian and development organizations to conflict-affected areas;
- Ensure that in channeling resources to the flood crisis, the losses of civilian conflict victims are not ignored.