• 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: A View of War Victims From Gardez, Afghanistan

Posted by Erica G from Kabul

I’ve been in Gardez the last week — a small provincial capitol about
two hours south of Kabul. Security is slightly better than this time
last year, when the community was still reeling from nightly
airstrikes in districts just outside of the city. But reports of
targeting and assassination by the Taliban, raids on homes by
international forces and the Afghan army, and sporadic gunfire
exchanges between one or more of the warring parties or criminals are
still common.

Even more concerning, the limited access of many aid workers and the
change in the conflict dynamics means that now as much as ever,
victims of conflict have no way to get help. The Afghan Civilian
Assistance Program is still up and running, and with new staff and
funding authorized they are working hard to reach as many civilians as
possible. But in 2009, the vast majority of civilian deaths have been
due to insurgent attacks, in particular insurgent attacks on Afghan
security forces or government officials. Attacks due to these causes
are not eligible for either ACAP assistance or the limited solatia and
condolence funds that General McChrystal and other US military
officials have been urging troops to use.

Al Qaeda recently announced that it would offer “condolences” for
innocent victims in Afghanistan and other locales. But when you speak
to locals here in Gardez they find the idea that Al Qaeda, the Taliban
or other insurgent groups would give them assistance to be laughable.

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AFGHANISTAN: Who compensates those the Taliban hurts?

Posted by:  Erica G.

One of the most difficult challenges we faced this year in our Afghanistan work was how to get compensation to victims of Taliban or insurgent abuses. They are not only responsible for a greater proportion of civilian deaths (55% in 2009, according to the UN), but often because of insurgent tactics that have knowingly placed civilians at risk, including using them as human shields.

A UNAMA official based in a remote and heavily Taliban-controlled province called me a few days ago with a recent case he had been dealing with: insurgents had apprehended a man named Mustapha and whipped him with a cable in his genital region until all that was left was a bloody pulp. Although the circumstances of why he was targeted were not entirely clear, one factor influencing the severity of the punishment was that insurgents felt he was not entirely supporting their cause, raising issues of a war crime violation. The UNAMA official felt so stricken with the pain Mustapha was in (he could not even afford pain medication) that he gave him all the cash he had on hand. He called to ask me if there were not some government program or way to get compensation for this man?

In my next blog posting, I’ll discuss more broadly what help might be available for victims of insurgents…

Civilian Suffering in Pakistan

Posted by: Erica

KABUL – I was in Pakistan recently, looking at the situation of victims of conflict on the other side of the border. In the past few months, the number of US Predator strikes into the tribal areas of Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan have skyrocketed. (See this Washington Post article). Pakistani army engagements with insurgents further north have led to an estimated 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). The homes of many of those 300,000 IDPs have been destroyed in the fighting or aftermath.  No one could even tell me the number of civilians who might have been killed or injured in these operations.

In terms of help for these families, there’s a Pakistani government compensation fund, but it’s out of money. Those administering it can’t even get to many of the areas where there is active fighting to survey any losses or damage. There are also many international and government-supported aid programs, but with increasing numbers of IDPs, many for extended periods of time, they can’t even keep up with providing basic needs.

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: Civilians Flee to Kandahar City After ISAF Aerial Bombing

Posted By: Rebecca W., Erica in Afghanistan

It was 2am when the aerial bombardment started. Ahmed described to me, in an interview in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kandahar, how he and has family huddled together behind a wall. “We said that if we were going to die, we would die together.” The bombing by ISAF troops continued for two hours. Nine of Ahmed’s neighbors died and eleven civilians were injured, including three of Ahmed’s family members: his mother and his two brothers.

Ahmed

Ahmed

When the bombing finally ended, Ahmed grabbed his family members, found a bus and sent them to Kandahar city. He and his neighbors then tried to get the badly injured and dying to a hospital. In one of the houses, five family members were dead. The head of this household pulled his son from the rubble. His son was crying, saying “I’m cold, I’m so cold.” Ahmed found a blanket and put it over the boy, but he died not long afterwards.

The coalition troops had been told that the Taliban were hiding in Ahmed’s village. This is why the bombing had targeted near these civilian homes. But Ahmed told me that when the land troops came after the air strike, they found no Taliban and only civilians. The foreign troops therefore promised to compensate Ahmed and his neighbors. But they said that they would pay only for the dead and not for the livestock and land that had been lost. Continue reading

GUEST BLOGGER: Night Raids and Cultural Insensitivity Anger Kandahar Civilians

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

Mohddin is angry. His eyes glare at me while he speaks and he sits on the edge of his chair so that he can lean forward and emphasize his complaints. Unlike the majority of civilians who visit the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Kandahar, he has not lost a close family member or had his property damaged. But he is angry about the life that he and his neighbors are being forced to endure. It is a life of insecurity and hardship – caught as they are between the Taliban and the international forces.

Mohddin came to the AIHRC office because he feels the situation is unjust. He was particularly frustrated with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – the international forces in Afghanistan. He told me he couldn’t understand why ISAF was hitting civilian targets. “They have sophisticated technology. Surely they can distinguish between the Taliban and the people,” he said, jabbing the air with his finger to emphasize his anger. “Now the people are beginning to think that the ISAF are deliberately targeting civilians. Their perception is that the ISAF forces are committing abuses and this is driving people more towards the anti-government forces.” Continue reading

GUEST BLOGGER: Fatal Trip to the Hairdressers in Kandahar City

Posted By: Rebecca W., working with CIVIC’s Erica in Afghanistan

At 3pm on July 22, 2006, Amanullah sent his ten-year old son to get a much-needed haircut. As usual, the father and son had been working since the morning selling ice-cream from their cart. This day, however, changed that routine forever. As his son reached the hairdressers, a suicide bomber exploded a car-full of explosives that were directed at a convoy of Canadian troops. Eight civilians, including Amanullah’s son, were killed.

Amanullah immediately ran over to help his son. A second suicide bomb then exploded and shrapnel became embedded in Amanullah’s feet, legs and arms. Since that day, Amanullah has found it almost impossible to support his family of six women and small children. He no longer has an assistant to help him with the ice-cream cart and his injuries make it difficult for him to undertake the hard physical labor required to make and sell ice-cream.

Amanullah lost his son to a suicide bomber targeting Canadian troops

Amanullah lost his son to a suicide bomber targeting Canadian troops

Continue reading