Center for Civilians in Conflict makes concrete progress in conflict zones through our research, advocacy, and policy work. We measure success in the short-term by the improved well-being of civilians caught in a conflict and in the long-term by shifts in how parties to conflict conduct themselves, with increased effort to avoid civilian harm.

In the long term, Center for Civilians in Conflict is changing mindsets. High-level officials have begun using our words to describe the need for civilian protection in armed conflict. The United Nations is including our specific recommendations into force mandates, resolutions, and high-level reports, where they would not otherwise have been without our advocacy. Colleague human rights and humanitarian organizations have adopted our key concepts for minimizing civilian harm and continually request our collaboration.

Brief highlights of our work include:

  • CIVIC’s research in Afghanistan and advocacy in Brussels directly led to NATO approving its first amends policy for Afghan war victims. CIVIC’s advocacy in 2008-2009 led directly to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command emphasis on civilian harm mitigation and a significant shift in tactics to avoid civilian harm. According to UN reports, pro-government elements, (which includes ISAF and Afghan forces) accounted for 39% of civilian deaths in 2008. By 2010 that percentage dropped to 15%, and declined further by 2013 to 11%.
  • We created an extensive framework for Afghan forces for tracking civilian harm and provided training materials for over 20,000 international and Afghan forces on how to respond to civilian casualties. The Afghan government has already implemented some of our recommendations, including an office dedicated to assessing civilian harm.
  • We worked with the United States Congress to develop the first assistance programs for civilians harmed by combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In Iraq, the program is named in honor of our founder: Marla Ruzicka Iraqi War Victims Fund. To date, we helped secure more than $200 million for these programs.
  • We co-authored with a former British General a civilian protection policy for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), after which the number of civilian casualties caused by AMISOM decreased. With the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), we documented civilian losses in Somalia and published the first report on the topic. Over two years, we developed a civilian casualty tracking cell for African Union (AU) forces. Due to be implemented in 2015, it will be the first for an African force and only the second in the world.
  • In Pakistan, we worked with local civil society organizations to draft a groundbreaking law to provide financial assistance to victims of terrorism in the province of Balochistan. Using the Balochistan law as a template, efforts are underway by Pakistani civil society to have similar laws passed in other provinces.
  • In Syria, our field missions are producing unique analysis on the armed opposition’s civilian protection efforts and the expectations of civilians suffering losses. We organized a high-level roundtable of military, humanitarian, and legal experts and extensively analyzed—through a unique civilian protection lens—five military intervention options for Syria. Our work was used by policymakers in the UN, NATO, and US as they made decisions as to what actions to take.
  • We produced the first in-depth analysis of the civilian impact of weaponized drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Our calls for greater transparency, for operations to shift from the CIA to the Department of Defense (now under consideration by the Obama Administration), and for amends for civilian losses (a concept noted by CIA director John Brennan during his confirmation hearing) are featured in Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, NPR, and BBC, among others. CIVIC served on the Council on Foreign Relation’s drone advisory board.
  • We were on the ground in Libya within days of the start of the conflict, documenting civilian harm in reports that contributed to a front-page story for the New York Times, showing the world the tragedy of civilian casualties. We advised NATO on civilian harm mitigation best practices, and extensively assessed abandoned ordnance with Harvard International Human Rights Law Clinic, leading to pledges from both the US and Libyan governments to do more to secure left over weapons and munitions.
  • Our recommendations to the United Nations on minimizing harm to civilians were noted in several Security Council Resolutions on Somalia from 2012 to 2014. The Security Council adopted our specific recommendation that peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo mitigate civilian harm before, during, and after operations—a first for a peacekeeping mandate. In addition, our concepts of ‘making amends’ and ‘civilian harm tracking’ are emerging themes at Protection of Civilians (PoC) discussions and documents at the United Nations.
  • We worked with American military leaders on new civilian harm mitigation policy and guidance, including writing significant portions of the US Army doctrine on Civilian Casualty Mitigation and a chapter for an Army handbook on this topic. While more can and should be done, US forces have significantly shifted the way they understand and apply civilian harm mitigation principles, and we take great pride in our contribution.