From the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to the lawlessness in Somalia, many of the world’s regions experience violence and warfare. Countless civilians struggle to survive in war zones while terrorist groups, warlords and corrupt governments fight. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., seeks to be an ally to the innocent people surrounded by enemies. By helping to establish legal rights for conflict victims, the center holds warring groups responsible for their actions.
The Center for Civilians in Conflict’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, began her efforts to help victims of violence in 2001, when she traveled to Afghanistan after the war began. She found that neither side kept counts of civilian deaths or helped injured noncombatants and formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict in response. Ten years later, her organization, now called the Center for Civilians in Conflict, works to get justice for people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other locations around the world.
Today’s conflicts have severe human and economic costs. The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have caused the deaths of at least 174,000 noncombatants, and several times more have died because of destroyed hospitals and infrastructure, according to the Costs of War Project. Marla Ruzicka herself died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2005; her colleagues continued her work.
The Center for Civilians in Conflict uses multiple strategies to ensure human rights for those affected by violence. One way the organization helps is by working with U.S. legislators to design aid policies that protect and provide critical resources to conflict victims. The Marla Ruzicka fund, a USAID branch modeled and named after the founder, has given more than $7 million to help Iraqi families affected by conflict.
The U.S. government is not the only one that receives legislative advice from the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The nonprofit also works with foreign governments to create legal frameworks for giving civilians protection and the right to reparations. Recommendations that the center made to the Pakistani government to improve assistance funding to individual provinces have already been implemented.
Along with advocacy and legislation in the U.S. and abroad, the Center for Civilians in Conflict also works within combat zones to assess civilian damage and better create policies to help those affected. One of the nonprofit’s first actions was to take surveys of victims of the Iraq war in 2003. The center continues these surveys in Syria and Somalia, and it was the first group to publish reports on civilian casualties in Somalia.
To make it easier for governments to track civilian deaths, the Center for Civilians in Conflict trains local military and police forces to record and respond to civilian casualties. The government of Afghanistan is working to implement these strategies and has already created an office to measure civilian harm.
The Center for Civilians in Conflict consistently works to help violence victims get assistance funding from their own governments and from abroad to make up for the damage they suffer in wars. It also make sure governments can properly track civilian casualties and establish legal frameworks that give them rights to protection and reparation.
The damage from war is difficult to undo, but the Center for Civilians in Conflict makes sure innocent people can get the justice they deserve.
– Ted Rappleye