Since 2008, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has been working closely with the US government to develop new directives to mitigate civilian harm, with a special emphasis on standing up an office in the Pentagon to track civilian harm and ensure that policies to protect civilians from harm are implemented across the armed services. We continue to push for the adoption of standing tools and policies to ensure that wherever the US government engages in conflict—including in counterterrorism operations and covert operations using armed drones—civilians are effectively protected before the first weapon is used. Civilian protection policies, tools, and training should also become a standard part of US security force assistance to other nation’s security forces.
It’s vital work in today’s violent world, and thanks to our constructive engagement with US military and political leaders, we are recognized for having an outsized impact for a small organization. Because of our emphasis on pragmatic solutions, we have been called “one of the few organizations that war-makers actually listen to.” Indeed, after our former executive director testified before the Defense Department’s Defense Legal Policy Board in 2012, Gen. Peter Chiarelli (ret.) added that, “I believe that this committee can recommend to Secretary Panetta that the Center’s recommendations would be of tremendous value, particularly from the standpoint of getting doctrine and policy in place on civilian harm.”
We’ve already achieved some great successes both with the US and NATO:
- 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 to the International Security Assistance Force command emphasis on civilian harm mitigation and a significant shift in tactics to avoid civilian harm.
- We were invited by NATO and the Afghan government to prepare an implementation plan for a Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team, the first of its kind for a national army. We also helped create an Afghan civil society working group on civilian protection, which has started to engage the Afghan government on the protection of civilians.
- We briefed US Central Command on civilian protection concerns arising from the wars in Iraq and Syria. In great part as a result of our advocacy and advisory memorandum, the US government adopted a policy to make amends to civilians harmed by US military operations in Iraq and Syria.
- After persistent advocacy for several years, NATO established an office focused on the protection of civilians at its headquarters in Brussels, and CIVIC has already become one of its most trusted partners, working to implement change in NATO’s standing policies.
- CIVIC convinced the US Congress to develop the first non-monetary assistance programs for civilians harmed during US-led coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These programs have collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations for programs to assist civilian conflict victims.
In one conflict after another, we’re building a new expectation in war: That the tragedy of civilian losses will never be ignored.