This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  April 29, 2005

Many mourn rights activist killed in Iraq


Last week, journalists, human rights activists and even U.S. senators mourned the death of Marla Ruzicka, a young humanitarian aid worker who died April 16 in Iraq from a car explosion while on the perilous road from Baghdad to the city’s airport. Her longtime aide and Iraqi driver, Faiz Ali Salim, 43, was also killed.

The 28-year-old Ruzicka, founder of the nongovernmental organization Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict -- CIVIC -- worked in Afghanistan and Iraq documenting information about civilian victims of U.S. bombings and helped these victims receive compensation from the U.S. government. As a result of her efforts, the U.S. Senate ultimately appropriated $7.5 million to assist Afghans injured by U.S. action and last year allocated $17.5 million for Iraqi victims.

Those compensations “never would have happened without the initiative, courage and the incomparable force of character of Marla Ruzicka,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in a tribute to her in the Senate April 18.

The youngest of a large Catholic family, Marla leaves behind five siblings and her parents, Nancy and Clifford. A native of Lakeport, Calif., Ruzicka had a surfer girl aura about her and was famous for throwing lively parties in the war zones where she worked. Her contacts were extensive and some described her as a talented schmoozer. But beneath Ruzicka’s bubbly exterior was a single-minded determination to call the U.S. government to account for civilian casualties incurred during war.

I met Marla in June 2002 in Kabul, Afghanistan. At that time, she was working for the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange and had just begun her efforts on behalf of civilian victims. She was traveling, at great risk, throughout the country to document and verify their stories, even accompanying some to Kabul so they could explain their plight to journalists and U.S. officials.

One journalist described Marla as the “conscience of the media,” a woman who put a human face on war. Without her, I would not have met and written about the Jamahand family or Roala Sahibdad, all of whom lost relatives during a U.S. bombing (NCR, Aug. 2, 2002).

In an essay for Human Rights Watch written just days before she died, Marla explained the significance of her work: “A number is important not only to quantify the cost of the war, but to me each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realized, and who left behind a family.”

The Ruzickas said donations in their daughter’s memory can be made to: CIVIC, P.O. Box 1189, Lakeport CA 95483.

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: