• 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

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LIBYA: “Where are our Human Rights?” [Part II]

Part 2 of 2, Part 1 is below.

By Liz Lucas

“Where are the human rights?” asked Ali Ali Mustafah. He has filled one of the few remaining rooms in his house with photos of the dead, including children.

As I count the photos, a young man draws my attention to a smaller photo I missed.  It is his brother, killed in the strike—another civilian, he says. There are 28 photos on the wall of Ali’s house, though he says not everyone who was killed has their photo up yet.  The dead included one pregnant woman and many other women and children.

Many of the dead in Zlitan—women, children—were reportedly civilians.  But verifying who and what was hit is tricky business in locations that were virtually obliterated and when the dead are quickly buried according to Muslim tradition.  So far NATO has admitted very few casualties from its strikes in Libya.

In Zlitan the families of the dead mostly want to know why. Other than the removal of bodies the scene has been left virtually untouched, a memoriam. Cars are twisted heaps of metal.  Bits and pieces of the families’ lives can be seen through the rubble.  Still, there has been no investigation of the incident.  There has been no compensation or outreach to the injured.

While there is no damage estimate, survivors say that compensation would be appreciated particularly to help the injured. Mostly, however, they want answers on why they were targeted.

At CIVIC we believe that NATO should immediately investigate these instances.  Even if these houses prove to have been legitimate military targets, NATO should provide support to the families of any civilians found to be harmed.  While no one can bring back the families lost, material support, along with an explanation and apology, can be given to help survivors start again.

“Children, families, what crime did they commit?” asked Ali.  “Imagine this was your house and your family.”

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PAKISTAN: Civilian Victims of Terrorism in Pakistan

By Chris

On New Year’s Day, residents of Shah Hassan Khel – a village outside South Waziristan – gathered to watch two local teams face off in a volleyball match.  Suddenly, a suicide bomber plowed his truck into the crowd.  The explosion was felt 11-miles away and decimated the surrounding neighborhood.  Over 100 people from the village were killed and scores injured.

Civilians in Pakistan suffer not only from military and militant operations, but also from devastating terrorist attacks.  Soon after I arrived three months ago, the military began a major operation in South Waziristan; since then, according to newspaper reports, over 800 people have been killed in terrorist attacks throughout the country.
While this figure also includes law enforcement personnel, most casualties are civilians.

The rise and frequency of terrorist attacks is staggering.  Over the course of 2009, suicide bombers struck in Pakistan every five days on average.  Hardest hit was the Northwest Frontier Province, and particularly its capital, Peshawar.

Driving down Peshawar’s main avenue, Khyber Road, evidence of terrorist attacks is all around.  Every few blocks you’ll pass a building or area that has been hit—the Pearl Continental Hotel, the intelligence agency headquarters, the court complex, the press club, the Khyber bazaar—and so on.  People in Peshawar emphasize that this violence is new and shocking to them; they are jarred just as any American would be if an attack occurred in their hometown.

That victims of terrorism need and deserve assistance is clearly acknowledged by the Pakistani government and public.  Public protests demand an end to violence and assistance for those that have suffered.  In turn, the government has announced a number of packages and programs to assist victims of terrorism.

However, compensation is often politicized and not provided in any regular, systematic manner.  Follow-through on promises of assistance is never certain.  Access and compensation amounts are uneven.  Standardized programs that really respond to the needs of victims are desperately needed. The frequency and severity of terrorist attacks in Pakistan today requires more coordinated and comprehensive policies that ensure victims are not forgotten and their losses are both acknowledged and addressed.

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. 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.”

Continue reading

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: Grieving a Son in Kandahar – Part 1

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

Ahmed Sultani is a small 70-year old man with a soft-spoken voice and lines etched deeply into his tanned face. On July 22, 2006, his 18-year old son, Zalmai, was killed by a suicide bomber who had been targeting Canadian troops in the centre of Kandahar city. In this attack, twelve civilians were killed and twenty-eight were injured. Ahmed told me how his neighbors came to his house in a village outside Kandahar to tell him that his son was dead. The women of the house started screaming and wailing in grief. Ahmed rushed down to the city and found his son “on the ground and he was torn up and burned and we took him. Half his body was missing.”

I asked him what he missed most about his son and his eyes filled with tears. “Every time I think about him, my heart goes to pieces. I cry hard. I miss everything about him. He was a good son. He was married and he had one son and then another baby was on the way when he was killed. Now he has another son but he never saw this son.

GUEST BLOGGING: Pressure to stay silent…

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

I am in Jalalabad now, a city in the Eastern part of Afghanistan a few hours from the border with Pakistan. US forces are stationed here, and recently came under heavy criticism for an air attack on a wedding party that killed 23 civilians in a village about an hour from Jalalabad city.

This afternoon I was interviewing one man, Ziaul Haq, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed in a shooting incident by US Marines in March 2007. We had already been speaking for quite a while about the shooting, the positive impact of assistance he had received from the USAID-funded ACAP program, and about his hopes for his two sons’ futures. Then, I asked him what else was on his mind. Almost as an afterthought Haq mentioned that his wife, while on the family’s roof cleaning rugs, had been shot and badly injured by international forces doing target practice in the open space near Jalalabad Air Field.

Haq had previously alerted authorities to the dangers of using that space as a shooting range to no avail. Following the shooting he re-approached district leaders. This time they requested that he not bring it to the attention of the Coalition Forces, expressing concern about how doing so might impact that relationship. Keeping silent meant Haq could not request assistance from the PRT to pay his wife’s medical bills or receive any form of apology. And it also meant that live rounds continue to be discharged in the open field.