• 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

ISRAEL/GAZA: Will Israel Help Gaza’s Victims? (The Huffington Post)

By Sarah Holewinski, Executive Director of CIVIC

Ask any civilian who has lost a loved one, a limb, or a home in war and they’re likely to tell you they never received anything for their suffering. I’ve always found it shocking that international law doesn’t generally require warring parties to help the people they’ve harmed.

Take for example the family of 60-year old Fayiz Ad-Daya. He was killed along with twenty of his relatives on January 6, 2009, when an Israeli warplane roared over Gaza attempting to bomb a house nearby that allegedly contained a weapons cache. Fayiz’s family was killed instead, with victims ranging in age from four (granddaughter Kawkab) to sixty (Fayiz himself). An Israeli military official admitted it made a mistake in hitting the wrong house and said this “is bound to happen during intensive fighting.”

The Al-Daya family thus joins a long list of millions of civilians destroyed in war. Like so many before them, the surviving members will likely never receive a formal apology or compensation for their losses.

When a similar mistake was made by the US military in Afghanistan back in 2001, they didn’t pay any compensation either to a woman widowed by a missile intended for three miles east. Eight graves are lined up near her home, representing her husband and children. I’ve heard so many stories like this. And then a few years later, the US learned it had to do things differently: a compensation system now exists for “mistakes” and unintended casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system doesn’t work perfectly, but making amends to these civilians is the decent thing to do. It is befitting a nation like the US that prides itself on abiding by international laws that obligate respect for civilians (as Israel has claimed it does too).

Plenty of people have a bone to pick with Israel over this winter’s war with Hamas. And by bone I mean serious allegations linking Israeli Defense Forces to war crimes and violations of international laws governing armed conflict. All of the details have to be sorted out — the investigations, witness accounts, military records, photos and media reports. In the meantime, the UN estimates that three-quarters of the population still needs some form of aid. They’re talking about the basic stuff like food, water, shelter and healthcare.

So while the investigators press on and the applicable laws are figured out, here’s an idea: help these people.

Billions have been pledged from donor countries to help Gazans, but Israel has blocked all but a trickle from reaching across the closed borders. Hamas has played a role in the devastation too and Gazans are now being punished broadly (if not intentionally by Israel than certainly by default) for the acts of a few. Israel’s reticence comes from not wanting aid to go to people who will turn around and support Hamas; but who do they think they’re turning Gaza’s children toward by blocking life-saving aid?

If all that seems too daunting, start with the Al-Daya family.

Grave concern for civilians in Afghanistan

Posted By: Sarah

Afghans are dying from bombs, missiles, explosive devices, police fire, beheadings, domestic violence… and the list goes on.

The situation for them is becoming untenable. This, after many decades of war has ripped through their land. Over and over we’ve heard calls from President Karzai to stop the needless violence. In the streets, Afghans have protested the deaths of their loved ones. And today, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (or ACBAR) released a wake-up call for ALL the warring parties. The brief report begins:

“We, the 100 national and international NGO members of ACBAR, express our grave concern about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the serious impact on civilians.”

It’s a strong declaration on behalf of so many Afghans that cannot speak for themselves. Now it’s up to the warring parties to listen. According to ACBAR’s report, there has been a surge of civilian casualties caused by all groups (the Taliban, international and national forces, militants). Areas that were stable are now unraveling. 260 civilians were killed or injured last month — that’s more than any other month in the entire six years of this conflict. Schools and health facilities are closing, development projects are shutting down, and families are leaving their homes causing massive displacement. Humanitarians are being threatened or attacked… just this year nineteen NGO staff have been killed. We check on our own in Kabul every day, but are increasingly wary of what’s happening.

So what to do?

Continue reading

Q and A: America and the Cluster Ban Treaty

Over half the world’s governments agreed last week to a ban on cluster munitions. But not the United States. Our government not only skipped the deliberations, but continues to defend its policy of keeping and using these deadly weapons.

Why won’t America join the movement to ban cluster munitions? Our executive director Sarah Holewinski sat down with a premier expert to find out.Sarah Holewinski Marc Garlasco is senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and a board member of CIVIC. He was instrumental in getting the ban passed and was there at its signing.

Sarah: The US says it can’t support the Convention on Cluster Munitions because its military then couldn’t help countries devastated by tsunamis and earthquakes. Is this true?

Marc Garlasco of Human Rights WatchMarc: This is circular reasoning at its best. First of all, what humanitarian operation uses cluster munitions? The real issue is US ships have cluster munitions on them, and the US was worried their allies who did sign the Convention could no longer work with it because of that. But this is a non-issue. No humanitarian or peacekeeping operation has ever been barred because of weapons.

Take the landmine ban treaty, for example. The US didn’t sign that and yet has worked together with allies like the UK (who did sign it) for years. What’s more, this new Convention allows for those kinds of partnerships, whether cluster munitions are on ships or planes, so this is a non-issue.

Sarah: But the US says it needs cluster munitions to defend the country. Do we really need them?

Marc: We haven’t used them since 2003, so let’s just say they’re obviously not indispensable when fighting a war. There are plenty of other weapons that can defend the country and not indiscriminately kill and maim civilians, who represent the vast majority of victims.

Sarah: The US says it won’t “unilaterally get rid of” clusters.

Marc: The Cluster Munitions Conventions is nowhere near a unilateral effort. There are 111 countries who have agreed to destroy their stockpiles and not use these horrible weapons again, including key NATO allies like the UK, Germany, France, and Canada. If they can do it, so can the United States.

Sarah: So, as a nation, we’re really behind the 8-ball here, aren’t we?

Marc: Couldn’t have said it better myself.

To learn more about the impact of cluster munitions on civilian populations, and to take action on this issue, click here.

VIDEO BLOG: Qiryot Shemona, Northern Israel

Posted By: Marla B.

CIVIC’s executive director Sarah Holewinski talks briefly from Qiryot Shemona, arguably the hardest hit city in the 2006 war.

VIDEO BLOG: Israel’s Northern Border

Posted By: Marla B.

CIVIC’S Executive Director Sarah Holewinski reports from Israel’s Northern Border with Lebanon.