Canada paid $650K to civilians caught in the crossfire

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A Canadian Chinook helicopter prepares to remove a Howitzer from a forward operating base in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan on July 9, 2010. (Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

By: The Canadian Press

Date: Monday Sep. 6, 2010 7:44 AM PT

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Department of National Defence paid just over $650,000 during the course of two years to compensate Afghans for damages and deaths resulting from Canadian operations.

In the 2009 fiscal year, the department paid out $205,828 in 102 ex-gratia payments for damages and losses suffered by Afghan civilians, according to reports by the Receiver General of Canada. The payments ranged from as low as $104 to as much as $14,424.

Ex-gratia payments are made when there is no legal liability but compensation is made “in the interest of peace, security and public policy,” said Capt. Yves Desbiens, spokesman for Canada’s Task Force Kandahar. Under international law, nations who have troops in Afghanistan are not liable for damage or injury that results from lawful operations.

The department also paid out $77,703 in the same year in 30 payments ranging from $1,044 to $9,684 for claims against the Crown in the central Asian nation.

The previous fiscal year, Defence made 36 payments totalling $217,462 for claims against the Crown and 57 ex-gratia payments totalling $152,683. The highest payment was for $55,117.

The names of the recipients and the circumstances that led to the compensation awards were not disclosed.

“We strive to follow cultural customs and traditions in the manner in which we express our condolences,” Desbiens said.

Although civilian compensation been National Defence policy since 2002, the public accounts documents for the years prior to fiscal 2008 do not specify payments made in Afghanistan.

Details of the payments are not publicly disclosed, Desbiens said, in part because “disclosure of recipients could put these individuals at risk of extortion or otherwise jeopardize their safety.”

The Washington-based group CIVIC, or Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said most members of the International Security Assistance Force do now offer such payments.

“When we first began pressing international forces to dignify Afghans with compensation after deaths and injuries and property damage, we had a steep climb trying to convince them that Afghans expected that kind of gesture and that it was in troops’ best interest to mitigate the anger that would bubble over if they didn’t acknowledge those kinds of losses,” said Sarah Holewinski, of CIVIC.

“Now, they all get it. Winning over the population, stabilizing the country… you can’t do that by ignoring such tragic civilian losses.”

Earlier this year, NATO released non-binding guidelines for compensating civilians for combat-related casualties and damages.

“I’ve met with people who lost several family members in airstrikes or crossfire fights back in 2003 or 2004 and they never received a dime. Worse, they never got an explanation for the deaths, never received an apology,” Holewinski said in an email exchange.

“You can imagine how you’d feel if this happened in your own home town, to your own family, and the people that did it — even if by accident — simply walked away.”

A June report by the group, Addressing Civilian Harm in Afghanistan, said some countries have very limited information gathering and, in some cases, require civilians to initiate claims.

At the end of 2006, the Post-Operations Humanitarian Relief Fund was created by some NATO member states, including Australia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United States. Canada maintains its own payment system.

CIVIC would like to see a single fund.

“Civilians consistently fall through the cracks,” said Holewinski.

The report makes several recommendations, including a uniform claims system for all nations, a uniform fund and monitoring of payments.

Canadian Forces accepts documents signed by local elders as proof in claims, but there must be evidence that Canadian troops were responsible. Canada also compensates for harm done during joint operations with the Afghan National Army when it is unclear which force is responsible.

“That’s an incredibly important effort,” said Holewinski. “As Afghan forces take over more of the combat and security onus in their country, we have to make sure that they also know how to properly address civilian harm when it happens.”

There is fear that the system can be abused, and that money could fall into the hands of Taliban insurgents but Holewinski said if the right procedures are in place, and troops know the communities in which they operate, the likelihood is less.

“Above all, this fear cannot get in the way of dignifying civilians who have truly suffered horrible losses in combat,” she said.

For Canadian Forces, approval from the deputy minister of National Defence is needed for any amount over $2,000.

Holewinski lauded international forces for tactical directives, such as limiting air strikes, which have led to a drop in civilian casualties.

Yet the toll of the war on Afghans continues to rise.

A report last month by the United Nations said at least 1,271 Afghans were killed and 1,997 injured in the crossfire of war — mostly from bombings — in the first six months of the year. The Taliban and its allies were blamed for 76 per cent.


2 thoughts on “WAIT A MINUTE???

  1. It appears we all would have been better off leaving those barbarians to their own devices, especially the families of all our fallen soldiers.

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