Human Rights Group Calls it Like It Is

In the past, I’ve called CIVIC, a group working on reducing civilian casualties in war, out on its emphasis on ISAF/NATO’s mistakes while seeming to ignore the Taliban’s way-higher rate of killing civilians.

In a subsequent e-mail, the head of CIVIC clarified their position:

The Taliban’s acts of suicide bombings, IEDs and deliberately hiding out in civilian homes are egregious, and every human rights organization I know (including ours) has called for these practices to stop.

Now, CIVIC executive director Sarah Holewinski went into more detail in posting at the Foreign Policy’s AFPAK Channel blog, calling President Hamid Karzai on his selective outrage over civilian casualties:

…. Karzai’s refusal to condemn Afghans for killing other Afghans highlights his shortcomings as a head of state. His public excuse for overlooking insurgent atrocities is that the Afghan people expect attacks from the Taliban. This may be true, but can he genuinely believe an Afghan mother’s loss is somehow less tragic if the Taliban pulled the trigger? Or that she feels comforted to know that it was expected? …. When being sworn in for his second term, Karzai pledged “…to learn from the mistakes and shortcomings of the past eight years. It is through this self-evaluation that we can better respond to the aspirations and expectations of our people.” Two years later, Karzai is practicing more self-protection than self-evaluation. His failure to provide Afghan forces what they need to protect Afghans and to speak out about Taliban behavior may help him walk a political tightrope, but it places him firmly on the wrong side of history. 

Here here.

More on the latest ratios of bad-guy- vs. good-guy-caused civilian casualties (4:1 for the bad guys) here (via News Highlights – 11 Jan 11

  • Canada appears to be paying out more compensation for damage caused by fighting in Afghanistan “…. Between April 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010, the military issued 272 ex-gratia payments—more than five per week. The cash settlements ranged from as low as $185 to as high as $21,420, for a grand total of $661,045. That is triple the amount handed out during the previous year (102 payments totalling $205,828) and a fourfold increase from the year before that (57 payments; $152,683) ….” While this seems to be good news for a group monitoring civilian casualties, they haven’t always been so happy about NATO’s compensation policies in general (and have said next to nothing about the Taliban’s) – more on that here, here and here.
  • The military will ground Canada’s spy plane program after the Afghan combat mission ends this summer.  The commander of the prop-driven CU-170 Herons, which operate out of Kandahar Airfield, said the Canadian Forces will disband his squadron once troops pull out of Kandahar.  Maj. Dave Bolton, the new and final commander of Task Force Erebus, said his team will then go on to other jobs within the military.  “There’s a lot of very young people that were involved with this program,” he said in an interview.  “There’s probably going to be a hiatus of somewhere between two and five years. But those people will still be in the military, and those people will have this experience, and they’ll be able to move forward with the yardstick when the time comes.” ….”
  • Following this Canadian Press piece on the IED blast that killed reporter Michelle Lang, Columnist Lysiane Gagnon had this to say: “…. The Canadian government uses embedded journalists to highlight the “human” side of the Afghan war, as well as the undisputed courage of our soldiers. It also deploys civilians to assist the soldiers in humanitarian missions (for instance, Ms. Saeed was to assist Sgt. Taylor as he reached out to the locals). But what happened on Dec. 30, 2009, on a road south of Kandahar, should open up questions about these policies.” Via Twitter, Toronto Star political reporter Joanna Smith raises an interesting question, indeed:  “Is she not arguing that civilians, especially women, should stay out of #Afghanistan entirely?” That’s how I read it, too.
  • A meeting between Canada’s PM and America’s Prez regarding shared perimeter security apparently isn’t ready to happen just yet. “A highly touted meeting between Stephen Harper and Barack Obama on a perimeter security pact has been pushed back as Canada and the United States wrestle with the difficulties of the complex arrangement. Insiders say the signing summit is now expected no earlier than February — and possibly as late as spring. Improving information sharing — a prospect that raises privacy concerns in Canada — is seen as the key to the effort to secure a joint North American outer boundary, the insiders say ….” While Liberals say Canada shouldn’t put all its trade eggs in one basket in expecting some concessions from the U.S., I’m more worried that we won’t get ANY concessions (or none worth the tradeoff of sharing more of my information with the Americans, anyway).
  • According to Postmedia News, Canada and its Mounties are expected to catch some heat for cutting the number of armed air marshals to be deployed on commercial planes. “…. Documents obtained by Postmedia News through the Access to Information Act reveal internal memos describing how the cuts will occur, how the Mounties are briefing Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, and how the police and cabinet ministers are receiving some dire warnings about the consequences of the cutbacks.  The Mounties’ briefing note to Toews explains that the air marshals program is seen as a “world leader” of its type and that it has been successful through a “combination of operation, intelligence and analysis activities.”  “International partners were made aware of the funding reduction to the Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program,” Toews was advised. “The RCMP anticipates a negative response from American and international partners.” ….” It sure would be nice to see the documents themselves, though.
  • Latest in a multi-part series of papers from Canada’s military research arm:   “The Justifications for War and Peace in World Religions Part III: Comparison of Scriptures from Seven World Religions” (PDF)  Part 1 (“Extracts, Summaries and Comparisons of Scriptures in the Abrahamic Religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism)”) here and Part 2 (“Extracts, Summaries and Comparisons of Scriptures in Indic Religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism)”) here (all links PDF).
  • Um, I think someone is fighting a bit of a rear guard action here. “…. Abandoning (don’t ask don’t tell) reeks of a political decision more than a military one. While general officers may feel forced to accede to political decisions, rank-and-file soldiers are likely to be uncomfortable with the new policy. There is a 60-day period of grace to ensure the military will adjust to the new policy with no harmful effects. The die is cast, but disagreements remain. Already the marines and elite combat units and Special Forces reject the new policy, with close to 60% believing the policy will adversely affect fighting qualities. Advocates — or at least defenders — of gays openly serving in the military point to ancient Sparta where military service was revered. Sparta remains to this day as a symbol of military defiance, courage, loyalty and stoicism. Remember Thermopylae. In Sparta, boys were taken from their mothers at age seven and began an initiation that would make them soldiers. Each youth had a trained soldier as a “mentor,” and this relationship could have sexual overtones or straight friendship. The mentor’s job was to ensure the soldierly development of his ward ….” Notwithstanding the fact that homosexuality was widespread even among the Spartans (since they reflected Greek society), this next bit urks me: “…. Among NATO countries, some 20 of 26 members allow gays to serve in the military with no apparent ill-effects — though this is somewhat uncertain, given NATO’s reluctance to share in the fighting in Afghanistan ….” Maybe I’m the only one seeing some link between accepting homosexuals in the ranks and poor fighting spirit, but since Canada is one such NATO country, does he mean we’ve been “reluctant to share in the fighting”?  Here’s more than 150 pieces of evidence that this is most certainly NOT the case.
  • This columnist has some advice for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff on promising to scrap the F-35 if the Liberals get power in a future election“…. Some think all major government contracts should go to tender. They should remember the Winnipeg embarrassment. Brian Mulroney’s government wanted to put some money into a Quebec aviation company. They thought they’d be tricky and put a contract out for tender. But a Winnipeg company, Bristol, came in with the winning bid. Oops. The government looked sleazy as it tried to extricate itself from the situation. And a lot of people in western Canada have never forgotten the buffoonish incident. That brings us to this rule: Never send out for tender any projects unless you are willing to accept the winning bid. That’s what we told ministers when I worked in the government’s procurement department, then known as Supply and Services. It is a message Ignatieff has apparently not received because he’s busily relying on Mulroney ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda WatchBad guys claim 22 killed in Spin Boldak suicide bombing attack, while others say 3 – who you gonna believe?

Who’s (Still) Killing the Majority of Civilians in AFG?

This from the Associated Press:

Civilian war deaths in the first seven months of 2010 rose by 6 percent over the same period last year, Afghanistan’s human rights commission said Sunday. The modest increase suggested that U.S. and NATO efforts to hold down civilian casualties were having some success …. The Taliban and their allies were responsible for 68 percent of the at least 1,325 civilian deaths recorded by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the organization said in a report. Twenty-three percent were ascribed to NATO or Afghan government forces.  Responsibility for the remaining 9 percent could not be determined because they occurred in areas that were too dangerous for a thorough investigation, the commission said ….

The Taliban continues to be responsible for about 70 per cent of the problem of civilian casualties.

Previous reminders:

Compensation to Civvy Cas Families…..

You’re damned if you do….

Cash for deaths, injury and damage caused during military operations seen as disrespectful and violating tradition….

…and you’re damned if you dont:

Afghans deserve and expect compensation when harmed, yet international forces in Afghanistan lack a clear, consistent system for responding to civilian losses, according to a new report released today by Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) (full report here) ….

So, which will it be?

From the archives:

Human Rights Group Says Taliban “Deplorable”

I mentioned a human rights group, CIVIC, in one of my posts about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of CIVIC, was good enough to respond to give more of the story from her group’s side.

I was concerned that the group’s external communications dealt only with one side of the conflict with respect to dealing with civilian casualties.  At one level, Holewinski gets it:

You’re absolutely right in noting that anti-government forces cause tremendous civilian harm. The Taliban’s acts of suicide bombings, IEDs and deliberately hiding out in civilian homes are egregious, and every human rights organization I know (including ours) has called for these practices to stop.

The fact is, many of these tactics are used to deliberately cause harm to civilians – no matter what the Taliban says about its own practices to protect the population. US and its partner forces in Afghanistan are entirely different; they don’t want to cause civilian harm, they understand that winning the population is a mission imperative, and they try their best to avoid civilian casualties.


We will never be able to applaud the Taliban for protecting civilians and address harm, nor will we ever be able to assess their efforts at compensation. Their acts thus far are deplorable.

I’m looking forward to more of this elsewhere from CIVIC and other such groups.

Thanks to Ms. Holewinski for this.

UN: Bad Guys Killed +2/3 of Civilian Casualties in 2009

It’s now official – the U.N. says more than 2 out of 3 civilian casualties in 2009 in Afghanistan were caused by the bad guys.  Here’s the full 43 page report at the UNAMA web site, and here also in case that link isn’t working.

And what does this human rights group seek?

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should immediately establish consistent policies for responding to civilian casualties and property losses in Afghanistan, including thorough investigations, proper apologies and monetary compensation, CIVIC said today.  “International forces have to do more than combat their foe on the battlefield,” said Sarah Holewinski, CIVIC’s executive director. “They urgently need to combat the perception among many Afghans that the international forces don’t care if innocent people suffer harm during military action.” …. CIVIC’s research in Afghanistan shows that in the vast majority of cases Afghans receive nothing from international military forces when suffering deaths, injuries or property losses caused by combat operations. There is currently no unified or systematic mechanism among international forces for providing such redress. Rather, the processes for dispensing condolence payments are opaque, ad hoc, and vary from nation to nation ….

And who is the group putting out this statement (highlights mine)?

CIVIC is a Washington-based organization that believes civilians harmed in conflict should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved …. We are urging warring parties to take responsibility and provide appropriate assistance to civilians they’ve harmed.

Here’s more about CIVIC’s work (highlights mine):

Calling on NATO to take responsibility for civilian ham

CIVIC is working within NATO to develop a way for member states to make appropriate amends to Afghans inadvertently harmed by ISAF (NATO’s combined military force).  NATO responded to the call with a humanitarian assistance fund, and is now considering a uniform method of compensating civilians.  Many NATO countries are consulting with CIVIC about ways to better support the Afghan population, particularly those suffering losses.

Dignifying suffering with tangible assistance…

CIVIC is leading the charge to improve “compensation” systems for civilians unintentionally harmed, particularly by US combat operations. As one example, CIVIC helped develop the Civilian Assistance Act – legislation set to be introduced in the US Senate this year. If adopted, it will ensure that whenever the US engages in conflict, civilians harmed by its operations can receive fair, just, equitable compensation for their losses.

So, we have a group saying it’s committed to getting help for civilian casualties from, in their words, “the warring parties involved”, but only publicizes what only ONE side in a confilct is doing, seemingly ignoring the side causing more than 2/3 of the problems?

I can’t wait to see your news release regarding what the Taliban should do about the civilian casualties they cause.

Update (1): I have headline envy after reading this:

“When it Comes to Killing Muslims, Taliban Still Top Dog in Afghanistan”

Update: Who’s Killing the Civvies in Afghanistan?

Remember this breakdown as of mid-November of this year?Well, if you believe the U.N. and the Canadian Press, the ratios seem to be about the same:

  • Total civilians killed:  2038
  • Killed by ISAF/AFG forces:  408
  • Killed by insurgents:  1426
  • Killers other or unknown:  204

So, one way to put it is:


Another way to put it is:


I look forward to more such headlines in the mainstream media.

BTW, I’m also waiting for human rights and anti-war groups to call on the Taliban to stop killing civilians.

Who’s Killing the Civvies in Afghanistan?

Some new stats in on who’s killing civilians in Afghanistan.

According to this statement from a human rights group, here’s the stats for the first 10 months of 2009 (click on pie chart to enlarge):

The raw numbers:  insurgents – 1397, AFG-NATO forces – 465, other – 165.

So much for this part of the Taliban rule book, eh?

“Governors, district chiefs and line commanders and every member of the Mujahideen must do their best to avoid civilian deaths, civilian injuries and damage to civilian property. Great care must be taken.”

By the way, in spite of the breakdown of the stats, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) statement calls for NATO countries to come up with a unified compensation policy for victim families of collateral damage.

I eagerly await such a request for the Taliban.