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UK pay-outs ‘treat Afghan victims as collateral damage’

Human-rights campaigners condemned the low level of compensation paid by the UK for civilians killed in military action in Afghanistan.

Exaro reveals today that the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) paid compensation of less than £2,300 on average for 48 civilian deaths resulting from military action involving British forces in Afghanistan in the last financial year.

Ruben Carranza, director of the reparations programme at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, a group based in New York that focusses on human rights in conflict zones, said that the MoD’s out-of-court settlements treated Afghan victims as “collateral damage”.

There are huge hurdles to Afghan civilians accusing the military of wrongdoing

Erica Gaston, Open Society Institute

He said: “The process unduly burdens poor people who would not even know that such a process exists. Very arbitrary decisions are taken at the country level by military officers in charge of assessing these claims.

“This is not just a question of a salve to soothe civilians in times of war. The problem with it is that it sees civilians as just exactly the way that the US military sees them – as collateral damage.”

“Without going through a burdensome process for victims and their families, you could set up a fund, reach out to families or communities where there have been victims, and allow for a more flexible process to make claims.” The MoD denies legal liability for the 48 deaths, but argues that the ex-gratia payments do not stop civilians suing for compensation.

Erica Gaston, who covers Afghanistan for another human-rights group based in New York, the Open Society Institute, said: “The best chance that they have is through ex-gratia payments.”

“There are huge hurdles to Afghan civilians accusing the military of wrongdoing. The average Afghan is illiterate, living on a dollar a day. They are not going to find a barrister to represent them.”

However, Marla Keenan, managing director of the Washington-based CIVIC, or Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, warned: “It is not always possible in any war zone, especially in Afghanistan, for the family to bring you a birth certificate, a death certificate, identification, a passport and other things that the military can look for.

“Anyone dealing with these types of payments needs much better training and an understanding of the culture.”

Information released to Exaro by the MoD gives a limited sense of the human tragedies behind the numbers.

In March 2009, for example, one claimant’s wife was killed, and a second wife and his daughter wounded, in fighting between Nato allies and insurgents in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand province. His claim was recorded as being settled 15 months later.

“Death of son due to injuries sustained from an illum [illumination] casing” in May 2010 in Nad-e-Ali, with the claim being settled the following October.

“Clinic destroyed” in June 2009 in Garmsir district, Helmand. The claim, submitted on the same day, took a year to settle.

“Daughter killed in cross fire” in November 2008 in Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand. The claim, submitted in June 2010, was settled the following October.

“Wife killed, son wounded and five rooms destroyed” in April 2009 in Nahr-e-Saraj. The claim, submitted in June 2010, was settled in October 12 that year.

The MoD did not disclose the amount paid in each case.

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