• About CIVIC

    CIVIC is a Washington-based non-profit organization that believes the civilians injured and the families of those killed should be recognized and helped by the warring parties involved.

    On this blog, you will find stories from our travels around the world as we meet with civilians and military, aid organizations and government in our quest to get war victims the help they need.

  • Countries

  • Contributors

    Sarah, Executive Director

    Marla B, Managing Director

    Kristele, Field Director

    Liz, Chief Communications Officer

    Trevor, CIVIC's fellow based in Afghanistan

    Chris, CIVIC's fellow based in Pakistan

    Jon, CIVIC's US military consultant

  • Media Content

Libya after Khadafy is littered with massive amounts of abandoned deadly weapons

Nicolette Boehland, currently in Libya as a CIVIC fellow, blogs for the Boston Globe on the use of weapons in Libya.  She is part of a team from Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic that authored Explosive Situation: Qaddafi’s Abandoned Weapons and the Threat to Civilians in partnership with CIVIC and Center for American Progress.

Read her blog for the Boston Globe here!

Remembering Chris Hondros

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our friend and steadfast CIVIC supporter Chris Hondros was killed while on assignment in Misrata, Libya.  Chris was a Pulitzer Prize nominated photojournalist who covered most of the worlds major conflicts beginning in the late 90s.  Chris covered conflicts, but his real passion was capturing the people affected by them.  Chris’ images of civilians struggling to survive amidst bullets and bombs gave us all an immediate understanding of the gravity of war. You’ve likely seen his images on the front page of flagship newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and numerous others.

But what you may not have known was that Chris’ work has been the visual representation of what we do here at CIVIC since 2005.  He gave us his images so we could tell the story of  war victims and why our work matters.

His commitment to the cause of humanizing war lives on in a partnership with The Chris Hondros Fund established by his fiancee Christina Piaia.  The Fund will raise awareness and educate the public about the work of photojournalists.  Click here to learn more about Chris and the Fund: http://www.chrishondrosfund.org/index.html

Below are a few of his incredible images.

 

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In Libya, a legacy up for debate

By Sarah Holewinski

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Gaddafi is gone and NATO’s command center in Naples is closed, but on the legacy of the intervention in Libya, the debate has just begun. Allegations of civilians harmed are haunting NATO as nations opposed to the intervention—namely Russia, China and South Africa—point fingers about civilian casualties and sling phrases like “human right abuses” and “impunity” across the United Nations chamber like more precision guided munitions. The US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice took to Twitter, calling Russia’s actions “a cheap stunt.” Her Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, publicly wondered if Rice’s Stanford education shouldn’t make her more eloquent.

In this dispute, the Libyan civilians who died—and the ones who lived—are an afterthought to their political utility. And for Russia, China and South Africa they serve as needed ammunition against a bigger target: the very decision to go into Libya.

Various human rights groups—including Human Rights Watch and my own—have presented evidence of civilian harm to NATO and called on the Alliance to conduct an investigation. The logic goes that NATO has an obligation to carry through on its UN mandate to protect Libyan civilians, beyond the official end of combat operations, by addressing unintended civilian losses. The best way to do that is by conducting investigations. Unfortunately, NATO has reacted defensively—at one point hyperbolically claiming that there were no “confirmed” civilian casualties whatsoever.  This may be true only because NATO refuses to investigate, and thus, confirm them.

In a military operation of this magnitude, civilian harm was a likelihood the UN must have grappled with when authorizing the mandate. It’s also a reality NATO is familiar with. NATO forces in Afghanistan conduct reviews and investigations of civilian casualties increasingly frequently, thanks to pressure to learn from mistakes. Surely those lessons learned could have been shared between theaters; the reason they weren’t remains a mystery.

Regardless, calls for NATO to investigate civilian harm don’t mean the same thing as accusing NATO of overstepping its mandate or violating international law, as Russia, China and South Africa are claiming. Evidence suggests a relatively small number of casualties when compared to similar air operations in the past, and thus far there is no documented evidence of legal violations committed by NATO.

Any nation has the right to ask the UN to review a mandated operation, but to do so here seems redundant since the UN Human Rights Committee already established a Commission of Inquiry to impartially analyze the conduct of all sides, not just NATO. Making one-sided allegations before that investigation is complete is wrong and risks crippling what should be a real process of accountability for any civilian harm caused by any party.

Civilians don’t deserve to be used as political cover to push a non-interventionist agenda. During and after the NATO intervention, we talked to Libyan survivors across the country—some who were able to escape to safer areas, some who lost family members to Gaddafi and others who were harmed by rebel and NATO operations. The overwhelming majority praised the Alliance for ridding their country of Gaddafi, regardless of the losses they suffered.  But they also wanted recognition for what they’d been through. That’s what they deserve.

In denying any civilian harm and refusing to investigate credible evidence to the contrary, NATO risks tarnishing a historic mandate, one that saved a lot of lives. And they’ve given their political enemies exactly the fodder they were looking for.

For its part, NATO still has a chance to set all this right. The Alliance can start by examining the evidence of civilian harm. It should immediately send an expert team to Libya to match targeting protocols with outcomes, assess damaged property and remaining munitions, interview civilian survivors and, when appropriate, make amends to Libyans with provable losses.  A lessons-learned review must include data from Libyan soil— whether the death toll was one or one hundred. Looking to the future, which is in NATO’s best interest to do, an office for civilian harm mitigation should be created in Brussels, to ensure military and civilian leaders pay attention to and plan for civilian casualties before the first plane ever leaves the base.

Civilian harm should never be ignored, but neither should it be politicized in a way that diverts attention from real recognition for civilian survivors. They deserve fewer accusations, less lip service to accountability, and more humble, honest efforts to piece together the ways a military intervention has, good or bad, affected the people it was meant to help.

An update from HQ

It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve blogged, but we’ve been kept very busy here at CIVIC. This week is a big one—today we released a joint report with Refugees International on civilian protection and amends in Libya and on Thursday we’ll be releasing a report on civilian harm in Somalia supported by UNHCR.

What’s more, we’ve just been named to the Catalogue for Philanthropy, Washington DC’s 2011 list as “One of the best small charities in the Greater Washington region.”

So expect more updates here on civilians in conflict soon, including a blog from Sarah on Thursday.  Until then, follow us on twitter @civicworldwide and facebook.

When it hits home

By Marla Keenan, Managing Director, CIVIC

Nearly six years ago I began my career here at CIVIC as an advocate for war victims and their loved ones.  Six months ago today in Misrata, Libya while documenting the plight of Libyans in the war, my dear friend Chris Hondros became a war victim himself.

Chris spent his life photographing the human cost of conflict.  He’d been to every major conflict in the past decade and a half (Kosovo, Liberia, Afghanistan, Iraq and several others).  And now, he’s gone, just like so many he had photographed before.  What a strange and cruel irony.

For years I’d seen the stories of those harmed in war in Chris’ photos, read their stories in numerous books and reports, and even sat in living rooms and listened to them recounted first hand.  I had watched as mothers told about losing their children or wives of their husbands, as tears rolled down their cheeks and tissues whisked across their faces.  I had cried sometimes myself for these people, to see and actually feel how real and raw their emotions were. But I was completely ill prepared for what it was like when it hit home.

I equate it to a personal earthquake.  Not the tremor kind, but the building crushing kind. The rollercoaster of emotion was intense.  There was anger, first at whomever killed him … and then eventually at him for putting himself into such a risky situation. There was profound sadness, for my own loss and for the loss being endured by his family and friends. At his memorial service there was laughter and tears, but mostly a paralyzing numbness.  I felt like my ability to understand even the most simple of things had been taken away.  Nothing made sense, not even my work which had always been very important to me and a place where I felt safe and focused.

As these emotions stabilized a bit, their space has been filled by an even stronger conviction and passion for CIVIC’s work.  I understand intensely – and now personally – the need for every loss of human life in conflict to be recognized.  I understand that everyone deserves to know what happened to their loved one and more clearly why it happened.  I want someone to tell me, and to tell Chris’s fiancée and his mother and his best friends why this happened and that they are sorry and that it wasn’t their intention (assuming in fact it wasn’t). We’ll likely never get that.  But it’s why we do the work we do at CIVIC, because everyone who has lost in war deserves dignity.

For more information about Chris visit: http://www.chrishondrosfund.org/home.html

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