• 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

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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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

AFGHANISTAN: Can a medal really save a life?

Posted by:  Marla B

Last week NATO commanders proposed a new idea: a medal for “courageous restraint” if troops avoid using force that could harm an Afghan civilian. Steps like this make it clear their heads and hearts are in the right place, given how important such avoidance is in Afghanistan right now–-both for humanitarian and strategic reasons.

I’m pleased to see consideration of civilians playing such a prominent role in military thinking; it’s certainly long over due there.

But can a medal for a soldier really save an Afghan life?

The first question that comes to mind is “shouldn’t soldiers already be showing ‘courageous restraint?’”  The answer is yes.  The requirements for receiving the medal track with what soldiers should already be doing on the battlefield to abide by international laws and stated NATO values.

So the next logical question is: Do medals really motivate our soldiers? Capt. Edward Graham’s company is part of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment and he had a straightforward answer for the Associated Press: “Not a single one of these guys does it for the medals.”  Anyone who knows a soldier knows that to be true.

Then, medals aside, what can international forces do better to avoid and protect civilians in the battlespace?  There are two answers. Better training and improved escalation of force procedures–which, incidentally, top military brass are already talking about.

Analysis and process aren’t quite as flashy as a medal but they’ve often proved to be a lot more effective in saving lives. Better training, for example, will change the chain reaction of split second decisions every soldier has to make each time they are confronted with a perceived threat.

I believe and know from my time training U.S. troops that many of soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan already show ‘courageous restraint’. The danger and unknown variables they face each and every day make their job amongst the most difficult in the world.

The ones that don’t show such restraint don’t need an award to show them the way.  They need better tools and training to ensure their courage in serving actually translates into lives saved.

FT. LEAVENWORTH: CIVIC Participating in Military Training Exercise

Posted By:  Marla B

Sarah and I are here at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas this week at the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).  CGSC is a leading educational and intellectual center for the Army in developing leaders for full spectrum joint, interagency and multinational operations.  We were invited to participate in a training exercise with this year’s class.  Participation of NGOs in this level of military training is an excellent opportunity and one we are finding the military is becoming more and more open to.  After just one day (the whole exercise runs a full week) we are incredibly impressed with what we’ve seen.  The schedule is quite packed but we’ll post updates when we can.

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Najla’s story

Posted By: Marla B.

There are an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees now residing in Jordan and another 1 to 1.5 million in Syria. In June, I traveled to Jordan to conduct interviews with families and to talk with them about their experiences. That task proved to be one of the most challenging of my time here at CIVIC.

On June 1, 2008, I visited a woman who I’ll call Najla*. Her son Samir* was the apple of her eye. She beamed as she told us how much he loved toys and school and what a lovely young boy he was.

Samir as baby

Samir as baby

In 2003 when the war began, they knew the bombing was coming and she and her son prepared. On the first day the bombing was very strong and most of the Iraqis from Baghdad left their homes to seek safety. She and her son stayed behind. She recalled that the sky was red from the bombing and resulting fires. No one in their neighborhood was killed in the first part of the war, but soon the violence would start and many would be lost. She told me that the war had been very difficult for them. Too, life under Saddam’s regime was hard but at least there was security. Now, she says, there are militias and they have taken their sons. “It is just easy to kill in Iraq.”

One night the milita came to their house. As her family (her, her son, her brother and his son) lay asleep on the ground, ten armed men broke a window and entered. They beat her and her brother threatening them not to make a sound or they would be killed. They beat Samir and threatened to kill Najla’s brother’s son. Samir told them he would do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t harm his family. They demanded money and Samir gave all they had. As the gunmen were leaving… one of them said “kill them… we can’t leave them alive”. Another said “no, we’ve gotten what we want, just cut his ear”.

At first they lived in fear that the masked men would return. But after time passed they began to believe they had indeed escaped this threat. They had not. On the 6th of March 2006, as her son headed home from work, he turned onto the very street where he lived. Militia men came and murdered him in cold blood. Her neighbors told her that they were from the Medhi army, the same group suspected of the earlier break in on their house, she is sure of it. Najlaa wept now as she told me how much she missed her son and how he had been so brutally taken from her.

Samir as an adult

Samir as an adult


In the coming months we will be posting short videos with snippets of some of my conversations.

*In all cases the names will be changed and the faces obscured at the request of the subject.

VIDEO: The Grocer

Posted By: Marla B.

During the 2006 war nearly all businesses in the north of Israel closed. Many Israelis fled their homes here, heading south staying with friends, family and even occasionally strangers willing to take them in.

In Kiryat Shmona, a town close to the Lebanese boarder, this man stayed behind and tended to one of the few grocery stores that remained open to serve its neighbors.

He tells the story here of his experience and of the war’s lasting psychological effects on him and his family.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/

VIDEO: Bint Jbeil, War’s Lasting Damage

Posted By: Marla B.

Perched on a hilltop overlooking a lush valley on the other side of which is Isreal, Bint Jbeil was considered a ‘Hizbollah stronghold’ during the 2006 war.

Two major battles took place there. The first began early in the morning on July 25, 2006 with heavy gun volleys between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hizbollah fighters. The fighting lasted four days. The second battle began on the evening of August 6th and lasted to August 14th, when finally a tentative ceasefire agreement was signed.

All through the town, there is no mistaking war had been here. Buildings, still in rubble, streets with pock holes from mortars and missiles. Nearly two years after the war, the town still bears its deep scars.

For more on the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and long-term aftermath, visit: http://www.civic-israel-lebanon.org/