• 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

What We Should All Want to Know about a Military Intervention for Syria

On the blog for Article 3 Advisors, CIVIC’s Sarah Holewinski looks at military intervention in Syria and the questions all strategists should be asking: “If military intervention becomes the only way to protect civilians from this regime, there are a few things I want Turkey, the US, NATO, or any other military volunteer to be asking and answering before they utter the word Tomahawk.”

Read the full blog here.

Responding to harm in Somalia

Southern Somalia is a hell for civilians living there, and that was true even before the famine that hit the country this summer.

Mogadishu, 2011

Mogadishu, 2011. Photo by Sarah Holewinski

When I was in Mogadishu a few months ago, I saw bombed out buildings in every direction, families huddled in ill-equipped hospitals, and — in one case — a group of kids startled by an Al-Shabaab mortar blast not 100 feet from where they were standing. This is the reality of war, but it doesn’t have to be.

CIVIC and its partners have worked with the African Union toward better civilian protection. And today, we released a report on civilian harm in Somalia that details pragmatic solutions for responding to civilian losses.

The author of the report, Nikolaus Grubeck, spent time in Mogadishu, its outskirts, and the displaced persons camps near the Kenyan border interviewing civilians impacted by the conflict. We hope these insights from Somali civilians and our analysis of what can be done for them will help convince the parties to the conflict to be better and do more for the people caught between them.

-Sarah

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

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: Life in and outside of Sirte [Part 1]

Part 1 of 2, Part 2 is here

By Liz Lucas

From inside the school in Al-Wachka comes the sound of children’s voices. At first it seems like a regular school, albeit one where the rules are relaxed. I can hear footsteps running down the hall and squeals as they play games. But for these kids, these are the hallways of their temporary home.

There are over fifty people living in the classrooms, ten families that traveled together in a convoy to escape the war that has engulfed their hometown of Sirte.

They’ve escaped bombings and shootings and found shelter 100 km away from their homes.  The children are distracted, but the adults are worried.  CIVIC spoke with Mohammed*, a 39 year-old petroleum engineer about what life is like for him and his family.

“We didn’t have a plan when we left.  We just drove,” he said.  “We had to go.  There were explosions everywhere, smoke everywhere, death everywhere.”

There is no water at the school where he, his wife, and their four children are staying and minimal support for the families here displaced by the fighting.  The families left in a hurry, taking almost nothing, waiting for the fighting to be over.

“We have brought so little.  We came in one city car that had my family.  We didn’t have time to choose what to bring.  Medicine.  Clothes.  Some photographs,” said Mohammed.

Mohammed saw the fighting firsthand; witnessing cars full of bodies driven out and civilians dying around him.  His uncle was killed after his house was hit.  Mohammed’s mother died of medical complications as the war raged on. The hospital had no supplies to treat her: “There’s no oxygen, no doctors, no medicine. There’s nothing in the hospital.”

There was firing throughout the city and he says a NATO bomb killed his neighbors, a family of 7, while they were driving out.  The bombing also destroyed three schools, which may or may not have been legitimate military targets.  The fighting in general has ruined the infrastructure of the city.  Houses are damaged and he saw four children and woman killed by a rocket and their house destroyed. The situation overall is “horrible.”

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Read Part 2 here

LIBYA: Voices from Misrata [Part 3]

Part 3 of 3, Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here

Soad, wife and mother

I was in the bedroom with my husband.  It was night and we were asleep when a rocket hit.  I was unconscious and when I awoke I was widowed.

I was hurt in my back and I don’t know what happened next.  People came to the house and they put me in an ambulance.  I have seven children living here and two of my children were also injured by pieces of the rocket, though not badly.  My house was damaged

The bedroom is fixed now, but my back is still badly hurt and I have scars.  Thanks to God I am still alive, but there is nothing that can bring back my husband. My husband has died.  I don’t know how we will survive.

My neighbors have helped us get by but we do not have any income.  I wish to receive some compensation, some means to live.

Mostly, I want to tell the NTC, tell NATO to please protect us.  Protect the people.  We have children.  All of us here are civilians.

LIBYA: Voices from Misrata, [Part 2]

Part 2 of 3, Part 1 is below

Khani, 41, truckdriver

Three families in this neighborhood lost family the day the rocket killed my son.  It was April 13.

I was walking past the checkpoint and they told me there had been a rocket by my house, that my son was dead.  I started running and I could see that something had happened near my home.

MISRATA, LIBYA, October 3, 2011

My son was only seventeen and he is dead.  He was with seven of his cousins, my nephews and they are dead.  The only one who survived is Khaled [his 15 year old son] and you can see he is injured still.

My son tried to run from the rocket.  They all did.  They were just kids standing in the street.  The rocket was launched from Tawarga from Gaddafi and they were just trying to destroy neighborhoods.   They didn’t care who they hit.

Khaled took cover by a car and he survived, thanks be to God.  At first we took him to Misrata hospital where there was little to treat him.  After Misrata was liberated during Ramadan I took him to Tunisia for medical care.  Friends and neighbors helped pay for his transport.  I was a truck driver before the siege but I have not been working since the war in Misrata.

I have two sons and three daughters and my wife is okay, thanks be to God.  We didn’t receive any assistance but at that time it is the war.  Casualties happen.  But my sons were not fighters.  I am not a fighter.  My family is civilian.

[go to part 3]