Compensation to Civilian Victims of Terrorism
Terrorism is fait accompli, it seems we can’t do much about it but we can mitigate the sufferings of the victims.
Over the last two weeks around 130 precious lives were lost in terrorist attacks on a Church and Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar, half of them were women and children. Terrorism is fait accompli, it seems we can’t do much about it but we can mitigate the sufferings of the victims. The nation mourned and our hearts bleed for the victims of terror but are we doing enough for them? Are we looking after our vulnerable communities the way we should be? Is there anything else that we could do? We might not be able to undo the harm victims of terrorism suffer but we can and we should help them and their families rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, the sufferers of the twin attacks were not happy on the response of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government; it was so heart breaking when the Christian community protested against the government by laying the coffins of their loved ones on GT road. We could save them this agony.
Financial compensation to victims of terrorism is a recognition of the wrong done to them and an obligation of the state to alleviate their suffering. Besides free hospital care, the provincial government magnanimously announced Rs 5 lacks each for those who lost their lives and Rs 2 lacks each for the injured, increasing the standard compensation package for civilian victim of terror in KPK from 3 to 5 lacks. In Balochistan the compensation package for civilian victims is Rs 1.0 million. Surprisingly the lowest grade government servant in KPK gets around Rs 2.0 million in similar circumstances. One wonders why this discrimination? There was an understanding that the compensation amount for civilian victims in KPK will be increased through an Act of parliament but unfortunately the Act was never promulgated. But then why wait for an Act, the same authority that permits Rs 5 lacks can permit Rs 1.0 million.
It is pertinent to note that the federation and three provinces showed unparallel solidarity when they allocated 1.0% of the total divisible pool as cost of damages incurred due to terrorism to KPK in the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) award. This was over and above the share of KPK in the divisible pool. This 1.0% translates into more than Rs. 20 Billion per anum and over the last five years the province got around Rs 100 Billion. With such a huge amount at its disposal the provincial government should have been more caring and compassionate. The federal and provincial governments will be in their right to ask the KPK government for the details and the manner in which these funds were spent to counter terrorism, especially on the victims and their families.
Life doesn’t ends on receipt of compensation. What about the people who suffer permanent disability and the families who lose their only bread earner? What is the government’s plan for the rehabilitation of these victims? Is there any?
Terrorism in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon or today’s occurrence. The country in general and KPK in particular are stuck in the War on Terror since the last so many years. A manifold increase has been observed in the incidents of terrorism causing much suffering and losses to the civilian population. According to some estimates more than 20,000 civilians have lost their lives and over 100,000 have been injured in these incidents . Society has been torn apart, the economy has been destroyed, the social fabric is in tatters and our way of life has been eradicated. The World Health Organization (WHO), reports that about four percent of the population in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa suffers from severe psychiatric disorders. It further says that a much larger segment of the population suffers from transient mental-health problems linked to stress of living under conditions of conflict and violence.
As individuals we are supportive and helpful neighbors, as a society we are generous in charity but as a nation, probably, we are way behind. The issues faced by civilian victims of terrorism have not received much attention from the government or for that matter from the civil society organizations, NGOs and media. Since most victims of terrorism come from poor backgrounds, there has been a lack of effective and organized advocacy for compensation, which has contributed towards the lukewarm response of the Government.
We have always been cribbing the lack of resources but fortunately this time around we have enough resources under this head. We need to sensitize the government on the urgency and importance of the issue and demand establishing a transparent, equitable and effective compensation regime for civilian victims. The present process for award of compensation is complex, adhoc and time consuming. It is multi-layered, involving multiple departments at district and provincial levels. The process is initiated at district level by the Deputy Commr’s Office, Police and Health Department. It is finalized at the provincial level by the Home and Finance Departments and ultimately paid by Office of the Chief Minister. It is often driven by political expediency rather than due process and impartiality. It has been noted that provincial governments tend to award a better compensation package, in a more timely and efficient manner, to those victims of terrorism who belong to a strong pressure group, on the other hand most of the victims and their families who don’t have a support base are unable to receive appropriate and timely compensations under this arrangement. In short there is no legal framework under which the government can be made answerable.
It is high time the government takes a serious note of the issue. There is a need to involve all stakeholders, know the international best practices and establish a transparent, simple and effective compensation regime for civilian victims. The legal framework needs to be put in place at the earliest.
The legislation should among others increase the amount of compensation for civilian victims from Rs 5 lacks to Rs 1.0 million forthwith. Secondly, an office be designated at the provincial level, with the sole responsibility of ensuring the victims get timely compensation. Only one department should be made responsible and if need be the department can liaise with other departments. At the district level, a facilitation Cell at the DC office should be established to extend all possible help and ensure victims and their families complete all necessary documentation before applying for compensation. The package should be equitable for all, without any distinctions for any reason. Finally, the government should give a timelines to the concerned departments to complete all formalities and pay compensation within a certain number of days. Focus should be on the most vulnerable groups as their economic plight is aggravated while trying to secure monetary assistance.
The government concludes its responsibility by paying compensation for life and limbs. It does not compensate for property damaged, permanent disabilities and victims rehabilitation. A special fund of pensions under statutory provisions needs to be created for the victims and their families especially those suffering permanent disability. Compensation should be claimed as a right by the civilians and not as an act of kindness.
By. Ghulam Qadir Khan Daur firstname.lastname@example.org
 Compensating Civilian Victims of Conflict and T errorism in Pakistan. I-SAP report