• 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.

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  • 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

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GUEST BLOG — Behind the Barbed Wire: Civilian Suffering in Sri Lanka’s IDP Camps

by Nimmi Gowrinathan

When the cameras came, everyone came to the edges of the IDP camp. One hand on the hot metal of a barbed wire fence, the emptiness in their eyes was captured in images flashed around the world as the military campaign of the Government of Sri Lanka came to end.

The cameras are gone now, but the people remain. Nearly 300,000 civilians who have lived through 30 years of civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE). Most recently they have fled conflict zones in the NorthEast, where they faced daily shelling, even in designated “safe zones”. In search of safety, they traveled on foot for days, a few meager belongings piled atop their heads, gingerly stepping over dead bodies strewn across the dirt roads. Some pleaded with relatives, neighbors who made the difficult choice to stay, rather than face the misery of what quickly became overcrowded “internment camps”.

Each internally displaced person is interviewed as they enter, they cover their faces to protect from dust, smoke from one collective stove, and the pervasive, overwhelming, stench. Some do not enter: young men (husbands and fathers) suspected of being “terrorist supporters” are taken to detention centers with little to no access to the outside world.

Pregnant women left behind in the overcrowded camps often have to care for young children who cannot accompany them on the journey to the closest hospital, where thousands of patients wait for the services of a handful of doctors, working in a half-shelled hospital with only 300 beds. Newborns are brought back to an inhospitable environment, where breastfeeding must be done in public under the gaze of loitering soldiers, and children become among those most vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases such as chicken pox and hepatitis. Nearly half of some camps are recent amputee victims. They sit together in the tiny pockets of available shade. Children look for a place to play, carefully avoiding the women wandering aimlessly around the camps, suffering from severe psychiatric breakdowns.

And of all this misery, a lucrative trade has emerged. Liquor, groceries, can be purchased by those able to access remittances from abroad, the entire transaction going through the military or others in a position to profit from suffering. Perhaps what has made these camps the “worst place in the world” (http://humanitarianrelief.change.org/blog/view/wednesday_award_for_the_worst_place_in_the_world_12)  is the continued silence. The silence of the international community, the silence of intimidated journalists and humanitarian workers, and the silence of the civilians. The hunger has weakened their bodies, the trauma has silenced their minds, the fear has prevented questions, and the fatigue has made it impossible to hope for help.

Nimmi Gowrinathan is the Director of South Asia Programs at Operation USA (www.opusa.org), and a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at UCLA.

Sri Lankan IDPs behind barbed wire

Sri Lankan IDPs behind barbed wire

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GUEST BLOGGER: Congo, the worst place to be a civilian

Posted by:  Catherine Philp, Journalist

In Rwanda last week, organisers put on a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the genocide that killed 800,000 people in just 100 days. But next door in eastern Congo, tens of thousands of civilians are still caught up in the ongoing conflict that has killed more than five times that number in the past ten years.

Eastern Congo is reckoned to be the world’s worst place to be a child. By extension, it must also be the worst place to be a civilian. The arrest of the infamous Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda and the agreement to end the sanctuary of his opponents, the Hutu genocidiares, have not ending the fighting.

After the end of a joint Congolese-Rwandan mission to drive them out, the Hutu rebels have hit back at civilians, massacring scores and driving 100,000 villagers to flee beyond the reach of the refugee agencies on whose support they rely.

It is a depressingly familiar scenario. But it has far less to do with the lingering ethnic tensions from the genocide as it does with simple greed for a share in Congo’s extraordinary natural resources.

The civilians massacred and driven from their homes are the innocent victims of battles for control of land thick with gold and diamonds, as well as coltan and cassiterite, the essential components of high tech goods like laptops and mobile phones.

Any idea where the little bits of metal in your mobile phone come from? Maybe you should. There’s a good chance they come from mines controlled by armed men who butcher civilians, force pre-teenage children into combat and submit women to sexual violence so brutal that this region boasts the only hospital in the world dedicated to repairing female fistulas.

Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, made history earlier this year when he became the first defendant before the permanent International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of child recruitment. This is necessary justice. But he will not be the last while the illegal control of the mineral trade continues, making the massacre of civilians a profitable business.

The campaigning group Global Witness, who have charted the role of the mineral trade in the conflict, have written to mobile phone manufacturers to ask them to account for the origins of their materials. Now they’ve been joined by the Enough Project, who have called on global electronics companies to prove to customers they are not helping to fuel the war.

Foreign governments like the United States and Britain might also want to look again at the huge budgetary support they give Rwanda, whose meddling in Congo has costs thousands of civilian lives. Without foreign money, its military adventures there and support for Tutsi rebels would have never been possible. While remembering the 800,000 people it lost in the genocide fifteen years ago, Rwanda must spare a thought for the civilians still dying in a slower, deadlier holocaust still burning across the border in Congo.

GUEST BLOGGER: Monitoring Human Rights in Gaza

GAZA – I trekked across the Sinai Peninsula after watching the fighting from the Armistice line for a few weeks in December and January.  Israel wouldn’t let human rights monitors into Gaza, so I decided to take my team of researchers in through Egypt once the fighting stopped.  I’ve been to Gaza twice before – in 2004 when there were still settlements there, and again in 2006 after they were removed, and I consider myself seasoned to working in war zones.  But the tragedy I faced in Gaza hit me hard.

Watching the rockets rain on Israel, and the bombs fall on Gaza I knew a humanitarian crisis loomed.  With the borders closed people were going without food, water, electricity, and most urgently – medical care.  I’ve been to many war zones, but one constant is always there – civilians bear the brunt.  But as I stood there watching the white phosphorus flames raining down on Gaza city and Beit Lahiya I could only imagine the Dante’s inferno I would find.

The Abu Halima house reeked like a fireplace.  The walls were black and sooty, the wooden beams long since turned to charcoal.  The fire inside had been so intense the electric sockets had melted.  I could only imagine what the family faced inside.  I met Sabah Abu Halima, 44, a housewife and mother of a large family, in the burn unit of the Shiffa Hospital.  She was thoroughly traumatized, laying there with her burned arms trying to grasp at her children no longer there.  Her son Ahmad had to tell me what had happened.  On January 4th an Israeli white phosphorus artillery shell pierced the roof of the house.  It decapitated Ahmad’s father and burned his three brothers and a sister to death.  Sabah and five of her family were burned in the fire and so their ordeal is not over.

In the days after the smoke cleared, the Palestinian Authority tried to pour millions into rebuilding Gaza but was thwarted.  Now some humanitarian aid has been let in and Hamas activists are handing out cash payments of $5,100 to Palestinians whose homes were destroyed.  Seventy-five countries and international organizations made pledges to give billions in reconstruction aid.  Thus far, this is an opportunity lost for Israel.  Moderate Palestinians have no reason to stay moderate.  Israel should be helping with the rebuilding, provide victim assistance and compensation, and open the border to humanitarian aid and monitors.

The stories I heard will live with me for a long time, and the suffering Israelis and Gazans endured will surely last far longer if the warring parties don’t take seriously their moral responsibility to make amends to war’s victims for their violence.

GUEST BLOGGER: Dangerous Security Situation Hinders Distribution of the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Many of the CIVIC blog entries discussing assistance that has been provided to civilians in Afghanistan credit the Afghan Civilian Assistance Program (ACAP) for helping individuals. While ACAP is one of the best functioning civilian-assistance programs in Afghanistan, some of the civilians and NGO workers that I have talked to have lamented the fact that the assistance takes so long to reach civilians. Other problems have also been highlighted

A civilian in need of assistance

A civilian in need of assistance

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GUEST BLOGGER: Exploding Lebanon

Posted By: Jess K., traveled to Lebanon to speak with cluster munitions victims

My driver expertly navigated his way down the main street of Al Bazouriye, a small town that happens to be the ancestral home of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and where he lived out most of his adolescence after fleeing Beirut during this country’s civil war.

I went to Lebanon to gather testimonials of victims of cluster bombs that Israel used in its 2006 war with Hezbollah. Like many of the villages in south Lebanon, Al Bazouriye (5 miles east of the large southern city Tyre) greatly suffered from falling cluster bombs, largely in the last 72 hours of the conflict. As our car pulled up to a small café in the center of town, really more of a rundown booth with a few plastic chairs arranged outside and occupied by middle-aged men, I was told by my translator that there I could meet a fisherman from the coastal village of En Naqoura. Mohammed is a handsome man of about 35. He wore a black baseball cap with a matching polo shirt, and a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses. He told me that he used to be a fisherman and now drives a taxi. As we sipped our Turkish coffee and ate sweet cookies, Mohammed told me how he lost his hand and an ear from a cluster bomb. He said: “I was pulling in my haul, I grabbed something round, there was a flash, and I fell to the ground. Caught in the net was a cluster bomb. Something left over from 2006.” He pulled up his right sleeve revealing an arm so heavily peppered with the effects of shrapnel that the tattoo of a heart on his bicep is broken by the knotting of scars that reach all the way up to his neck. I can only imagine the difficulty of fishing with one hand.

With average failure rates as high as 25 percent, and much higher in some locations, cluster bomblets like the one Mohammed picked up failed to detonate when they were dropped. They now pose a hazard to civilians. The children here remind me of my young son, who is safely back in the US and needn’t worry if he strays while playing in the grass. In the US, we can go to work without concern that our spouse may not return for dinner because her life has been cut short by a cluster bomblet as she runs a routine errand. But these are the conditions that people in south Lebanon must live with because countries buy, sell and use these terrible weapons.

UPDATE: Shortages in funding for clearing unexploded duds in south Lebanon has forced a halt to operations. CIVIC is pressing international donors, like the United States and Israel, to provide the funding the de-miners need to continue their work. For video taken by CIVIC in Lebanon and Israel, click here. For more on the ban on cluster munitions agreed upon by 107 countries, and take action to help limit the effects of US cluster bombs, click here.

GUEST BLOGGER: “Next time, I will not vote for Karzai; I will vote for my donkey” – Pt. 2

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Another of Goli’s brothers was shot by the ISAF troops and was taken away to Kandahar Air Field (KAF) for questioning. His mother and father went to KAF to beg for his release and to insist that he was innocent. The military provided him with hospital treatment and released him after establishing that he was not a member of the Taliban. All the other injured family members were taken to the local hospital and the family had to sell half of their land in order to pay for the hospital bills.

Three days after the attacks, the Canadian troops came to the village and apologized for the deaths and injuries and paid money to the villagers. The injured civilians even received a visit in hospital from President Karzai and the governor. Every injured person received 20,000 Afghanis (approx. $430) to help pay for the hospital bills. No money, however, was given to compensate for the deaths or for the loss of property and livestock. Continue reading

GUEST BLOGGER: “Next time, I will not vote for Karzai; I will vote for my donkey” – Pt. 1

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

Goli’s hand is twisted and scarred. His leg and chest is also a knot of scars, threading across his skin. His uncle, Haji, still has his foot in a bandage – two years after the ISAF forces mistakenly bombed their village. And his left leg consists principally of bone and sinew, a mere shadow of the healthy leg that he once used to farm his land.

Goli's injured leg prevents him from earning a living as a farmer, as he once did.

Goli's injured leg.

Two years ago, ISAF forces bombed the village where Goli and Haji lived because the Taliban were nearby, crossing a road from one area to the next. The bombing began at 11pm. Haji described to me how he was sleeping in the courtyard of his house and “saw bright lights like lightning and a loud sound like a bomb.”

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