BlogHalla lost her entire family to US bombing during the war in Iraq. She now lives with her grandmother. Through the work of Campaign for Innocent Victims In Conflict (CIVIC) and its founder Marla Ruzicka, the family received a $5000 sympathy payment from the US government.

When Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) was founded as Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict in 2003, it was as a one-woman mission to get recognition for the victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marla Ruzicka believed that the US government should not walk away from the unintended victims of their military operations and set out to ensure that our government didn’t just turn their backs on those they had harmed.

Marla wanted to humanize what the military called “collateral damage.” She wanted to show that civilian casualties reported in the media every day were not just numbers, but individuals with friends and families who lives deserved to be recognized and dignified. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, she undertook the dangerous work of documenting thousands of victims of American military operations, ensuring that their stories reached the outside world. She wanted to recognize each victim and recorded their name and their story.

On April 16th, 2005, Marla too became a victim of armed conflict. She and her longtime colleague and translator Faiz Ali Salim were killed in a suicide car bombing on airport road in Baghdad.

In a moving speech about Marla on the Senate floor made days after her death, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. said, “I don’t think I have ever met, and I probably will never meet again, someone so young who gave so much of herself to so many people and who made such a difference doing it.”

Just like the families of victims around the world, Marla’s friends and family struggled to make sense of her loss. Marla lives on in the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP) and in the Iraqi War Victims fund that now bears her name, and in the work CIVIC does everyday to ensure that no civilian caught in conflict is ignored or overlooked.

As violence and conflict continue to proliferate around the world, so too does the need for the work Marla started— to make warring parties more responsible to civilians before, during, and after armed conflict. With the growth we have laid out for the next three years, CIVIC’s work, our unique voice, and innovative approach will reach more conflicts, honoring Marla’s extraordinary legacy by protecting more civilians.

On this, the 10th anniversary of Marla’s passing, our thoughts are with her family and all families that are victims of armed conflict.

Image courtesy of J.B. Russell