• 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

Images from the Syrian border

Photographer Nicole Tung accompanied a CIVIC team to the Lebanese border of Syria to speak with refugees in June 2012.  The following images and captions from Nicole are from that trip; CIVIC’s findings from these interviews, and others in Jordan, are here.

We’ll be posting more of Nicole’s photos and CIVIC interviews with civilians on Facebook and twitter–follow us for more!

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Afghanistan’s war victims: Zalmay’s story

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

Here’s the story of Zalmay, a boy living in a very small village on the border with Pakistan.  Assadullah – the boy’s uncle – told me his story at a local radio station in Jalalabad, where we met.

Just after international forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban came to Zalmay’s house while retreating back over the border into Pakistan. They killed Zalmay’s father and wounded his mother so badly she was permanently disabled.  Zalmay was only two years old.

Assadullah doesn’t know why the Taliban targeted Zalmay’s family. He wonders if  it might be that Zalmay’s father had been a senior military commander in the communist regime that preceded the Taliban.  When the Taliban came to power, Zalmay’s father no longer had a place in the military and turned to woodcutting to provide for his family.

Without a breadwinner, Assadullah began taking care of Zalmay, his mother, and his two sisters, which he has done for more than ten years.  Now a teenager, Assadullah is training Zalmay in his shop to work as a car mechanic.  Zalmay is now the only male in his immediate family, which means that he must work to support his mother and two sisters instead of going to school like a typical teenager.  His destiny is that of manual labor.

Taking care of Zalmay’s family as well as his own is a financial burden for Assadullah, who hopes that one day Zalmay will be able to open up his own shop and be self – sufficient.  Financial assistance from the Afghan government would be extremely helpful for both Assadullah’s and Zalmay’s families, which are entirely dependent on Assadullah to survive.

Assadullah also said he wanted the international community and the Afghan government to “make good on their promises.”  For Assadullah, that means peace, economic opportunities and good governance.  According to him, only the politically connected get help from the Afghan government; it doesn’t work for everyone.

“We are so tired of war…I am 35 years old and I haven’t seen a good day in my life,” Assadullah told me with a look of despair.

Voices from the Field: Who are Afghanistan’s War Victims?

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about my trip to Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, where I researched civilian casualties.  I spoke to numerous Afghan officials and more than a dozen civilians harmed by warring parties in Afghanistan.

The next posts are what I heard from some victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.  I’ll start today with Tahir’s story as told to me by his father.

Tahir and his family live in a very rural part of Nangarhar province, situated in eastern Afghanistan between Kabul and the Pakistani border.  Tahir is eleven years old and, until recently, loved going to school and playing cricket with his friends.

About two weeks before I spoke to him, Tahir set out to visit his father – a farmer – who was tending to his fields at the time.  He never made it there. On his way, Tahir stepped on a roadside bomb, presumably set by the Taliban or another armed group.  The blast knocked him out and even now, Tahir barely remembers what happened. After the explosion, local villagers who saw the incident rushed him to the hospital in Jalalabad, where I interviewed him.

When I met him, he was in a lot of pain and heavily medicated, suffering wounds on his right arm, his legs and his stomach.  Thankfully, the doctor at the hospital told me he was stable and the physical wounds would heal.  What kind of mental trauma Tahir will suffer remains to be seen.

Tahir was in a lot of pain so he didn’t talk much.  But his father told me that his son doesn’t like the hospital and “just wants to go home.”

LIBYA: “Everyone would like to stay in his city.”

We met Mustafa at the 50 km checkpoint outside of Sirte. He left the city 10 days before and was taking his sister to receive medical care and the IMC clinic at the checkpoint. He told CIVIC staff about what Sirte was like for his family:

We left Sirte ten days ago and have been staying at the 30km checkpoint area, Talatin. We left because of the war, bullets, rockets. A rocket hit our house and my sister was unconscious for three hours. My grandmother died of fear.

Our house was hit on both sides and we don’t know who did it.

There are nine people in my family. My dad is sick with hypertension. My mom has a bad back and lost her back brace when we left. She’d had it for many years. My sister is seven and she is scared, she vomits. When she is very frightened she becomes unconscious. She wets herself when she hears airplanes. I’ve brought her here because she is still sick and we want to take her to Misrata.

We feel safe at Talatin but we want to go back to Sirte. We can’t go now. If you leave your house [in Sirte] you will get bullets day and night. Many people were killed by bombs and guns and NATO. Families with children. There was a family killed by NATO about 20 days ago. They weren’t fighters.

Now we don’t get much aid at Talatin. A little food has been brought in from Misrata. The people who live around Talatin are accepting us because they are just farmers. They are providing us food and diapers for babies. We are cooking over fires and staying in tents. Each tent has 10-12 families. There is no water and many people are sick. It’s better than Sirte, but we want to go back when we can.

We lost our money, lost our cars. Even if I had money in my house I couldn’t go back to get it.

When the war is over, we will be safe, I am not worried about being attacked. The people of Sirte are simple people. Just Bedouin people.

Everyone would like to stay in his city.

LIBYA: Life in and outside of Sirte [Part 2]

Part 2 of 2.  Part 1 is here.

By Liz Lucas

Eventually Mohammed and his family had to leave.  The school they currently call home is a welcome relief from living in fear in Sirte.  They sleep in peace, without the sounds of bullets whizzing past or planes flying overhead.

“My children get crazy when they hear the airplanes,” he explained, referring to NATO.  “It’s horrible when you hear the explosions.”

But leaving the city was not easy.  He needed to get scarce fuel for the car, which cost 400 dinars  (about $325) for 20 liters in Sirte.  There were rumors that civilians would be harmed on the way out.  And with indiscriminate fire throughout the city, there was a risk that he and his family could be killed anywhere outside their home.  But he felt there was no choice, conditions had become “miserable.”

He continued, “In Sirte we don’t have petrol, we don’t have food.  We don’t have any necessary things for life.”

The lack of supplies is a big problem for civilians remaining in the city, as is the lack of information on what’s happening.  Houses are without electricity and most information heard is propaganda.  It’s difficult to make out what is real and what is not, to have all the information available to make an informed decision.  And many of the civilians left are those that are stuck without the means or connections to get out.  In Sirte civilians are unnecessarily bearing the brunt of the conflict.

“Let me tell you something.  We don’t have anything there.  [The rebels/NATO] could wait on us to leave.  We would come out, we would need food.  So why the bombing?”  he asks us.  When we asked if he feels it’s in retaliation for being Gaddafi’s hometown (and a loyalist stronghold) he answered, “Yes, of course.”

Mohammed considers himself not to be political and feels that many in the city were like him, just ordinary civilians.  He was surprised by how well he was treated by the rebels when he left the city.  They gave his family fuel and food.  His daughter was sick and was met by a doctor at the gate and taken to a clinic.

But he doesn’t yet trust them or anyone yet.  He worries about his family’s safety.  “I just want to live in peace.  I don’t care about politics,” he said.  But he cannot return until the fighting stops, until it is safe to go home.

“I want to go back to my city.  But I don’t think I’ll find a city when I return,” he said.

LIBYA: The remnants of war

By Liz Lucas

“Happy shooting” seems to be the new normal here.  It’s been over a month since Tripoli fell and from my hotel I can still hear the bullets that soldiers shoot into the air each night.  In other towns throughout the country it is the same.

The celebratory shooting is new to Libya.  “There really isn’t much of a history of this here in Libya,” said a woman in the town of Zintan.  “But now there are so many weapons, so much excitement, and many soldiers are bored.  It is a problem.”

It’s more than an annoyance.  Media reports indicate that others have been harmed by stray bullets from the victory shootings, some in their own backyard. Civilians have told us they are worried about the situation.  “Bullets that go up also come down,” one resident told me, a sentiment that has been repeated by many.

There are so many guns in Libya, many in the hands of people who had never handled a weapon before this year.  Office workers, students, construction workers are carrying AKs in the street.  Medical workers in different areas of the country have told our team about accidents—in one place there were nine injuries reported this week from accidental shootings.  A girl playing with a gun shot her father, a boy of twelve shot his thumb off, a man shot himself in the foot.  Stories like this are becoming too common.

But it looks like the military councils are beginning to listen.  In Tripoli, I heard they’ve started to charge a fee of 300 Libyan dinars to soldiers caught “happy shooting.”  Residents are also taking it into their own hands with groups lobbying for a safer city. In other areas, guns are turned into police stations and registration has begun.  These are huge steps, especially in a country that is still in the midst of war.

But even tonight, despite the outrage and laws, I am still being rocked to sleep by the sounds of bullets shooting the sky.

Read more about our work in Libya here: TELL ME MORE

Donate to support our work in Libya here: DONATE NOW

SRI LANKA: ‘This is too much to take. Why is the world not helping?’

Originally printed in The Guardian

May 12, 2009

VIDEO BY THE ORGANIZATION WAR WITHOUT WITNESS:  Click here

Yesterday a shell was reported to have hit a temporary hospital in the so-called no-fire zone in north-east Sri Lanka, killing 47 people. Vany Kumar, 25, works at the temporary medical facility in Mullaivaikal East primary school, which is caught between government troops and the last remnants of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Here, in a telephone interview with the Guardian, she describes life on the front line.

This is really a disaster. I don’t know really how to explain it. At the moment, it is like hell.

Most of the time we live in the shelter. There is not enough medical equipment, so it is really difficult to treat people. Food is a problem as well. There is no food at all here, there are no vegetables and no rice, they just eat whatever they can find, that’s all. The hospital is located in a primary school so there is only one room. We just try our best to achieve what we can.

I was in the office working [when the shell hit]. It was definitely a shell, there is no doubt about that. I was about 20 metres away, and I was sure that it landed inside the hospital, so I went to the shelter. I got the news from the doctors that there were people injured and dead. There was constant shelling so I couldn’t leave the shelter.

For us, shell bombing is just a normal thing now. It is like an everyday routine. We have reached a point where it’s like death is not a problem at all. No one has any feeling here now, it’s like everyone says, “Whatever happens, it happens.” That’s it, that’s the mentality every single person has here.

The most terrible thing that I have seen was when a mother had a bullet go through her breast and she was dead and the baby was still on the other side of the breast and the baby was drinking her milk, and that really affected me. I was at that place where it happened.

There is just too much to take. Children have lost parents, parents have lost children, it’s just a common thing now.

[The shelling] is definitely coming from the government side, that can be sure, because it is only a small area on the LTTE side and from the sound and from the distance I can surely say it is from the government side.

I don’t care about the government, I don’t care about the LTTE, my concern is the civilians because through all these problems they are the people affected.

The government or the LTTE, they have got to do something, and if not, I can’t imagine what will happen next. Both parties have got to have a ceasefire. I think the international [community] has to either come into the country or get both parties to stop the fighting and start thinking about the civilians living here. Every single person living here asks why the international [community] is not doing anything.

I really want to come to the UK but I don’t know. I’m talking to you now, but maybe tomorrow I’ll be dead.