Military Engagement Publications


Backgrounder: Civilian Harm Tracking  |  August 2013

Guiding Princples for Making Amends  |  June 2013

Frequently Asked Questions on Amends  |  June 2013

Legal Foundations for "Making Amends" to Civilians Harmed by Armed Conflict  |  February 2012


Reports & Briefs

Operationalizing Protection of Civilians in NATO Operations
30 November 2015  |  Journal Article

Though NATO and other military forces increasingly recognize protection of civilians as a key objective in their operations, implementation remains challenging. This article in Stability Journal offers practical suggestions on how civilian protection can be effectively addressed before, during and after military operations.

Within and Beyond the Gates: The Protection of Civilians by the UN Mission in South Sudan
07 October 2015  |  Research Report

CIVIC examines the mission’s successes and challenges in proactively protecting civilians from harm during the last 20 months of armed conflict in South Sudan. The report is based on field research in South Sudan in August 2015, including more than 80 interviews with civilians affected by the conflict, UN representatives, government and military officials, representatives of international humanitarian organizations, and local civil society leaders. As UNMISS’s mandate is being renewed, Center for Civilians in Conflict calls on the UN Security Council to maintain the protection of civilians as the mission’s core priority and to ensure the mission has the support needed to respond more robustly in conflict areas.

"When We Can’t See the Enemy, Civilians Become the Enemy": Living Through Nigeria’s Six-Year Insurgency
07 October 2015  |  Research Report

This report explores the experiences of civilians and armed actors living through the conflict in northeastern Nigeria. The ultimate goal is to better understand the gaps in protection from all sides, how civilians perceive security actors, and what communities expect from those who are supposed to protect them from harm. With this understanding, we analyze the structural impediments to protecting civilians, and propose practical—and locally informed—solutions to improve civilian protection and response to the harm caused by all armed actors in this conflict. 

Iraq: Learning Civilian Protection the Hard Way
29 July 2015  |  Journal Article

This article in Stability International Jouranl of Security and Development—based on the CIVIC's interviews with civilians and security forces in areas retaken from the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Northern Iraq in 2015—examines challenges in civilian protection when pro-government forces take control of areas formerly under control of anti-government forces. It recommends to the Iraqi and Kurdish leadership specific harm mitigation training for their forces, a protection-based approach to shield civilians from harm from all sides, and provision of security to returnees, including protection both from crime and revenge attacks. Such preventative measures, if enacted before major military operations to retake populated areas under ISIS control begin, would better protect civilians, strengthen the government’s mission against ISIS and provide building blocks for a stable Iraq.

Ex-gratia Payments in Afghanistan: A Case for Standing Policy for the US Military
12 May 2015  |  Issue Brief
In this issue brief CIVIC analyzes detailed information on ex-gratia payments awarded by the US military in Afghanistan from October 2005 to September 2014. The paper concludes that the ad hoc nature of the monetary payment policy in Afghanistan is an example of the need to create a standing policy for current and future theatres.

Fending for Ourselves: The Civilian Impact of Mali’s Three-Year Conflict
11 May 2015  |  Research Report

This report presents a locally-informed narrative of the civilian impact of the ongoing conflict in northern Mali and puts forward policy recommendations to help address the desires and expectations that civilians have regarding security and protection issues. A heightened and more nuanced understanding of civilian perspectives will allow all concerned parties to improve protection measures while properly mitigating and responding to incidental harm that results from their operations in the North.

Acknowledge, Amend, Assist: Addressing Civilian Harm Caused by Armed Conflict and Armed Violence
30 April 2015  |  Journal Article

CIVIC discusses the concepts of civilian harm tracking and amends in two articles in Harvard Law School Human Rights Program and Action on Armed Violence's publication "Acknowledge, Amend, Assist: Addressing Civilian Harm Caused by Armed Conflict and Armed Violence."

Prioritizing Protection of Civilians in Peacekeeping in the Central African Republic
16 September 2014  |  Journal Article

CIVIC’s Marla Keenan and Stimson Center’s Alison Giffen discuss protection as a top priority for the UN force, MINUSCA, in Humanitarian Exchange.

Civilian Harm Tracking: Analysis of ISAF Efforts in Afghanistan
19 May 2014  |  Case Study

In this case study, CIVIC examines how ISAF's civilian casualty mitigation programs developed and operated and identifies important lessons for future efforts. The study is based on interviews with ISAF, NATO and U.S. military personnel, as well as civilian analysts and representatives of international organizations and non-international organizations.

Changing of the Guard: Civilian Protection for an Evolving Military
20 June 2013  |  Journal Article

This piece was published in PRISM Vol. 4, no. 2. Prism is a journal of the Center for Complex Operations. Reducing civilian harm and properly responding to civilian losses in armed conflict is a win/win for America’s shifting strategy. What’s more, these objectives are entirely possible with leadership, attention, and focus from US government officials.

Operationalizing Civilian Protection in Mali: The Case for a Civilian Casualty Tracking, Analysis, and Response Cell
12 June 2013  |  Journal Article
This practice note, published in Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, details an emerging best practice of civilian harm mitigation in armed conflict: namely, the creation of civilian casualty tracking, analysis and response processes by a warring party or peace operation force. It asserts that in Iraq, Afghanistan and soon Somalia, these processes to better understand civilian harm and address consequences have positively shaped mission tactics, training, and overall operations. 

Center Inputs to OCHA on Peacekeeping Mission to Mali 
25 March 2013  |  Policy Brief

Civilian harm is a risk in any military intervention, including peacekeeping operations, such as the one being considered for Mali. While a peacekeeping force has an obligation to abide by international law, it also has an interest in going beyond its legal responsibilities to proactively mitigate the impact of its operations on civilians. Modern military operations leave no doubt that effective mitigation of civilian harm is a fundamental requirement for mission success.

Opposition Aid in Syria: Recommendations on Civilian Security 
07 March 2013  |  Policy Brief

Committing aid and technical assistance to the Syrian opposition must be matched with a commitment to good civilian protection and security practices. This brief offers specific considerations under three categories of known assistance: technical assistance to the armed opposition, provision of material support to political opposition, provision of material support to armed opposition.

Syria: Minimizing Civilian Harm During Military Intervention
26 February  2013  |  Policy Brief

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, the international community has debated the need for, and potential efficacy of, military intervention to stop the Assad regime's brutal suppression of the political opposition and to prevent atrocities against the civilian population. Center for Civilians in Conflict with support from the American Society of International Law (ASIL) convened a roundtable of knowledgeable of policymakers, military planners, humanitarian and protection experts, and legal academics to consider military options for foreign involvement in Syria specifically through a civilian harm mitigation lens. The five options included: training and equipping the armed opposition; conducting limited airstrikes; deploying Patriot batteries around Syria; creating no-fly and no-drive zones; and deploying an international security force post-conflict.

Civilian Harm in Somalia: Creating an Appropriate Response  
10 November 2011  |  Research Report

This report details the response Somalis want to see when civilians are harmed in conflict. It sets out how traditional dispute resolution mechanisms can inform such responses and makes technical recommendations. No apology or amount of compensation can give back what Somali war victims and their families have lost. But our findings clearly show that an attempt to respond to their suffering in this conflict can mitigate some of the consequences and return a sense of dignity to the victims and their communities.

No Time to Lose: Promoting the Accountability of the Afghan National Security Forces
05 May 2011  |  Joint Briefing Paper

As greater responsibility is handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces, there is a serious risk that unless adequate accountability mechanisms are put in place, violations of human rights and humanitarian law will escalate – and Afghan civilians will pay the price.  Troop-contributing states have been slow to honor their moral and legal obligation to ensure the accountability of the national security forces; and time to do so is running out. Joint Briefing Paper by Oxfam in partnership with Center for Civilians in Conflict, Human RIghts Research and Advocacy Consortium, Peace Training and Research Organization (PTRO) in May 2011.

Nowhere to Turn: The Failure to Protect Civilians in Afghanistan
19 November 2010  |  Joint Briefing Paper

Security for the vast majority of Afghans is rapidly deteriorating. As 29 aid organizations working in Afghanistan, we are deeply concerned about the impact of the escalating conflict on civilians. It is likely that increased violence in 2011 will lead to more civilian casualties, continue to fuel displacement, cut off access to basic services and reduce the ability of aid agencies to reach those who need assistance most. This paper does not attempt to address all aspects of the current conflict. It concentrates on those that negatively impact civilians, particularly in the context of transition to Afghan responsibility for security. 

Addressing Civilian Harm in Afghanistan: Policies and Practices of International Forces
15 June 2010  |  Policy Brief

Afghan civilians deserve amends from warring parties for deaths, injuries, and property losses—that is, some form of recognition and monetary compensation. The Center's research into the experiences of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and Afghan civilians demonstrates that when international military forces provide payment, especially combined with an apology for harm, civilian hostility toward international forces decreases. However, the effectiveness of these payments has been limited by the lack of uniform policies across ISAF nations, limited information gathering about civilian harm generally, and—in many cases—insensitive requirements that civilians suffering losses take the initiative to file claims. This report describes the policies and practices of major ISAF Troop Contributing Nations. It finds that soldiers as well as civilians view amends for harm favorably. The process of investigation, negotiation of payment, and offers of formal compensation are opportunities to strengthen relationships with local leaders and communities, to explain what happened, and acknowledge loss.

US Military Compensation to Civilians in Armed Conflict
01 May 2010  |  White Paper

This report discusses the history of US military claims for civilian harm and reviews existing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Center’s research for this briefing pape was conducted in Washington, Afghanistan, and Iraq from 2006–2010. In the absence of a standing claims system to address civilian harm occurring as a result of combat operations, the current US effort to provide “condolences” was pieced together in 2003 in Iraq and in 2005 in Afghanistan. There have been improvements over the years in both theaters, but the overall effort remains ad hoc and inadequate, often increasing resentment among the local population rather than fostering goodwill. 

Compensating Civilian Casualties: “I am sorry for your loss and I wish you well in a free Iraq”
30 May 2009  |  Joint Briefing Paper

This report examines 506 claims filed by Afghan and Iraqi civilians against the US military for monetary aid for harm allegedly caused by US forces. Tens of thousands of such claims have been filed in Afghanistan and Iraq; however, the 506 claims researched for this report represent the only files released by the US government to date. The US Foreign Claims Act (FCA) authorizes compensation awards to foreign nationals for death, injury, and damage to property from “noncombat activity or a negligent or wrongful act or omission” caused by US service members. The condolence payment program, separately, is part of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program fund and authorizes commanders to provide symbolic “gifts” for death, injury, or battle damage caused during US military combat operations. Both programs are ex gratia (an “act of grace”), meaning no law requires an award or payment. Yet, the American public, the Iraqi and Afghan people, and major segments of the US military do not adequately understand these programs. 

Losing the People: The Costs and Consequences of Civilian Suffering in Afghanistan 
18 February 2009  |  Research Report

When harm occurs, the imperative must be easing civilian suffering and making amends for losses. This report looks closely at the existing compensation and victim assistance mechanisms to see what works and what does not. Center for Civilians in Conflict interviewed 143 civilians affected by the conflict to document the harm they experienced and find out which, if any, of the existing compensation and victim assistance mechanisms met their needs and expectations. Above all, the Center’s research shows that compensation and victim assistance is both possible and practical, despite statements from government and military officials to the contrary.

US Military Claims System for Civilians
30 April 2008  |  White Paper

In April 2007, the US military released the first-ever documents detailing individual claims for civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While the US military attempts to minimize civilian casualties, loss of innocent life is a reality in conflict.  Knowing civilians suffer death, injury and property loss during armed conflicts – whether in combat or merely by the presence of military forces – the question arises:  What should, or must, the US military do to address the damage caused by military operations to civilians?

Evaluating the Civilian-Use Model of Wartime Property Damage
16 July 2006  |  Journal Article

A response to Brilmayer and Chepiga by Sarah Holewinski & Erica Gaston in Harvard International Law Journal.


Testimony & Advocacy

CIVIC Remarks at SOCOM Legal Conference
27 February 2015  |  Speech

Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Program Manager MENA and South Asia at CIVIC, spoke at the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Legal Conference on February 25, 2015.

Afghanistan: Return to Hope
05 September 2014  |  Video Interview
CIVIC discusses civilian harm mitigation lessons learned in "Return to Hope” — NATO’s virtual overview of its mission in Afghanistan.

Sahr Muhammedally’s Remarks at NATO Meeting
03 July 2014  |  ​Floor Statement
Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Program Manager MENA and South Asia at CIVIC, spoke at the Operations Planning Committee/ ISAF Format Meeting at NATO Headquarters

Marla Keenan Remarks at AFRICOM Academic Symposium
25 June 2014  |  ​Floor Statement

Delivered at AFRICOM's 6th Academic Symposium "Perspectives and Partners on Population-Centric Security Sector Transformation"

Sahr Muhammedally Remarks at OCHA Conference
24 June 2014  |  ​Floor Statement
Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Program Manager MENA and South Asia at CIVIC, spoke at the OCHA Conference on Strengthening Protection of Civilians from Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, UN ECOSOC Humanitarian Segment

Sahr Muhammedally Remarks at Oslo Expert Meeting
18 June 2014  |  ​Floor Statement
Sahr Muhammedally, Senior Program Manager MENA and South Asia at CIVIC, spoke at the Informal Expert Meeting on Protecting Civilians from the Use of Explosive Weapons, in Oslo, Norway

Practices to Meet and Address the Emerging Challenges of Protecting Civilians in Peace Operations
27 May 2014  |  ​Floor Statement
Floor Statement from Marla Keenan at panel hosted by the International Peace Institute, together with the governments of Austria and Norway

Constitutional & Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing
01 May 2013  |  Testimony

Written Testimony from Sarah Holewinski submitted to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights

Statement of Shared Concerns Regarding US Drone Strikes and Targeted Killings
12 April 2013  |  Joint Letter to President Obama

This letter urges the administration to take essential steps to: publicly disclose key targeted killing standards and criteria; ensure that U.S. lethal force operations abroad comply with international law; enable meaningful congressional oversight and judicial review; and ensure effective investigations, tracking and response to civilian harm. 

CIVIC Testimony on Civilian Harm to DOD Defense Legal Policy Board
07 November 2012  |  Testimony

Submitted testimony of Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director, Center for Civilians in Conflict to the US Department of Defense, Defense Legal Policy Board.

Testimony on Foreign Claims Act, Condolence Payments for State and Foreign Operations Hearing
01 April 2009  |  Testimony
Submitted testimony of Jonathan Tracy, former Center military legal advisor, to US Senate Committee on Appropriations on the history of the Foreign Claims Act and Condolence Payments and ways forward.



Lessons From Kunduz: The Next Steps in Preventing Civilian Casualties
14 October 2015  
|  Newsweek  |  Federico Borello & Christina Asquith  |  Opinion

Saudi Arabia Must Prioritize Civilian Protection in its Yemen Operations
26 April 2015
  |  Defense One  |  Sahr Muhammedally  |  Guest Post

Civilian War Victims Receive Recognition in US Law
03 April 2014
  |  Just Security  |  Sahr Muhammedally  |  Guest Post 

Afghan Forces Need to Protect Civilians Too
30 January 2014  |  Foreign Policy  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Opinion

Five Ways Obama Can Fix Drones Right Now
06 November 2013  |  Defense One  |  Sarah Holewinski and Dr. Larry Lewis  |  Guest Post

Civilians Can Benefit When the Military Learns from its Mistakes
29 October 2013  |  Washington Post  |  Sarah Holewinski | LTE

Foreign Affairs Focus: Civilians in Conflict with Sarah Holewinski
08 February 2013
  |  Foreign Affairs  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Interview

Do Less Harm: Protecting and Compensating Civilians in War
04 January 2013 
 |  Foreign Affairs  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Guest Article

Newshour Special: Drones
05 October 2012  
|  BBC Newshour  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Interview

Not Even the White House Knows the Drones' Body Count
29 September 2012  |  Wired  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Guest Author

As Pentagon Reshapes Fighting Force, Civilian Casualties Need to be Considered
12 September 2012
  |  The Hill  |  Sarah Holewinski and Dr. Larry Lewis  |  Opinion

NATO Must Follow US Lead in Helping Afghan Civilians
26 December 2006
  |  USA Today  |  Sarah Holewinski  |  Opinion


Press Releases

US: Civilian Protection Should be Prioritized in Syria and Iraq Operations  |  26 September 2014 

Pentagon Needs Advisors to Harmonize “Civilian” Focus  |  29 September 2014 

US: Civilian Protection Should be Prioritized in Syria and Iraq Operations  |  26 September 2014 

US Assistance to Iraq: Recommendations on Civilian Protection  |  26 June 2014 

Afghanistan: NATO Must Fully Respond to Alleged Civilian Harm from Airstrike Near Jalalabad  |  08 October 2014

Afghan Government Must Improve its Response to Civilian Harm  |  31 July 2014

Lethal Aid to Syrian Opposition Should be Conditional on Civilian Protection Training  |  14 June 2013

To Protect Civilians in Mali, Peacekeepers Should Track Civilian Harm  |  12 June 2013

US Aid to Syrian Opposition Should Include Training on Civilian Protection  |  01 March 2013

What Next for Civilians Living Under Drones  |  01 May 2013 

At CIA, Brennan Should Bring Drones out of the Shadows  |  07 March 2013

US aid to Syrian Opposition Should Include Training on Civilian Protection  |  01 March 2013

Afghan Government Must Strengthen Response to Civilian Harm  |  27 January 2013

Statement on Violence in Israel & Gaza  |  16 November 2012

Civilian Impact of Covert Drone Operations Overlooked  |  30 September 2012

Civilian Safety Must be Prioritized During Afghan Night Raids  |  10 April 2012

Compensation for Civilian Losses in Kandahar  |  26 March 2012

CIVIC Statement on Shooting of Civilians by US Soldier in Kandahar  |  12 March 2012

Civilian Combat Harm Must Be Priority at London Somalia Conference  |  22 February 2012

Civilian Casualties from US Drones in Pakistan  |  02 February 2012

After Libya Operation: Focus on Civilians not Political Maneuvering  |  06 January 2012

NATO’s Time Drawing to a Close, but Protection Work Unfinished in Libya  |  27 October 2011

Civilian Casualties in Yemen, Somalia, and Libya Show Better Military Planning Needed  |  07 September 2011

Violations by Afghan Forces Could Escalate as They Take on Frontline Role  |  07 September 2011



In Remembrance of Our Founder  |  16 April 2015

Civilian Harm Persists Despite Robust UN Mandate in Eastern DRC  |  Published 21 January 2015

The UN and Casualty Recording: Good Practice and the Need for Action  |  16 April 2014

War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath  |  25 July 2013

What to do for Syrians While the World Debates  |  07 May 2013

What We Should All Want to Know about a Military Intervention for Syria  |  12 April 2012 

In Libya, a Legacy up for Debate  |  30 January 2012

A Tale of Two Narratives in Afghanistan  |  19 January 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Civilians Caught in the Middle  |  14 June 2011

GUEST BLOG: Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Perspective  |  25 May 2011

SOMALIA: Civilians in the Crossfire  |  16 August 2010

Reports & Briefs

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