KABUL—The Afghan government must take urgent steps to respond better to civilian harm, especially that caused by Afghan forces, according to a new report by Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Caring for their Own: A Stronger Afghan Response to Civilian Harm examines the Afghan government’s response to civilian harm, including how it conducts investigations and assists civilians caught in the conflict. Based on more than 180 interviews, this is the first report that documents and analyzes how and whether Afghan policies for addressing civilian harm work for those they intend to serve—the thousands of Afghan civilians harmed every year due to war. Many of these civilians have received no help.

“The Afghan government deserves praise for its long history of helping civilians caught in the crossfire. But my interviews with civilians across the country show that many aren’t receiving the help they need and feel they deserve,” said Kabul-based Trevor Keck, CIVIC field fellow and lead author of the report. “Sadly, violence in Afghanistan isn’t letting up. Civilians need government assistance to work. ”

The Afghan government maintains three programs to assist civilians whose relative was killed or who themselves are injured as a result of the conflict. Monetary payments offered through the President’s “Code 99” fund are the most prominent form of assistance. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled coordinates two additional funds. Any civilian suffering conflict-related harm caused by any warring party is eligible for help from these assistance programs.

Many civilians applying to these programs do not receive help because of bureaucratic inefficiencies and/or alleged corruption. Others don’t even apply for help because of the cumbersome application process, fears of retaliation from armed groups, or because they don’t know that such help exists. Those few civilians that do receive assistance are rarely satisfied, owing to frustrations with the application process, payment delays, insufficient levels of assistance, and extortion.

Afghan civilians harmed by their own security forces routinely receive no help. This is because Afghan forces lack developed procedures for investigating civilian harm they cause. At present, ANSF rules require they only investigate possible violations of international or domestic law, while saying nothing about unintentional civilian harm—so-called “collateral damage.”  This means that many civilians harmed by Afghan forces are overlooked or ignored.

The ANSF should create good processes for tracking and investigating civilian harm they cause during combat, so they know what harm they’re causing and who needs help in the aftermath. The US and international forces should ensure such steps are taken. Moreover, the Afghan government must strengthen assistance for civilians suffering conflict losses, specifically: simplify the application process, create a public awareness campaign, crack down on corruption and extortion, and devolve responsibility over payments to provincial governments. The report contains more recommendations.

“The ultimate measure of the transition’s success is whether the Afghan government can truly care for its own people,” said Michel Shaikh, the CIVIC’s Director of Country Operations. “Strengthening its response to civilian harm, including harm caused by Afghan Forces, will go a long way towards proving it can.”

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Notes to editors:

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)’s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.

For more information, contact Christopher Allbritton at +1 (917) 310-4785 or chris@civiliansinconflict.org.

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