• 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

LIBYA: Voices from Misrata [Part 1]

Part 1 of 3

By Liz Lucas

Driving into Misrata, my colleague Kristele remarked that it reminded her of Beirut, where she spent much of her childhood.  The skeletons of shops, hotels, and apartments line Tripoli Street and old men drink tea next to bullet-ridden structures that can scarcely be called buildings.

Misrata looks like the city it is—a place torn apart by a war that is not yet over.  Many Misrati brigades are still fighting on the front line in Sirte and the community’s wounds are still raw.  But civilians were willing to talk to us about their experiences during the six-month siege on the city.

There is no tally of the dead and wounded of Misrata at this point, though estimates are in the thousands.  The hospital is located on Tripoli Street, at the heart of much of the fighting, so even accessing it proved to be a challenge for some families.  There was indiscriminate shelling of Misrata with rockets launched from far away and landing in the middle of neighborhoods.

In one area I visited, civilians told me stories about lost loved ones.  “Was this neighborhood particularly hard hit?” I asked.   No more than others they told me.  This was just an average neighborhood in Misrata.  Above are the stories of two families from there, in their own words.

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LIBYA: What happened in Zlitan? [Part I]

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Photo slideshow by Liz Lucas.  Photos taken in Zlitan, Libya on October 2, 2011, show the damage to the buildings and memorials to those killed.

Part 1 of 2

By Liz Lucas

Amidst the rubble some items nudged out: A bassinette, a teapot, cracked frames and ripped photographs.  By my foot was a piece of cracked plastic and pages of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” fluttered by.  I was standing on what once was a family’s home.

In a country that has seen substantial devastation by the war, the house in Zlitan stood out for being virtually obliterated.  This wasn’t hit with an RPG, or machine gunned.  It had been flattened by NATO bombs in August, air support reserved for strategic Gaddafi military targets.  But there were clear indications that something had gone terribly wrong in this instance. A woman’s high-heeled shoe. Shards of cracked china. A wall splattered by blood.

People in the area told us there is no military target nearby and that Zlitan is composed primarily of civilians, despite the fierce fighting there this summer.  It’s a town divided by loyalties to the rebels and to Muammer Gaddafi’s regime, but its inhabitants are mostly civilians. People we spoke to stressed that they had the right to have their own opinions without being harmed, that they were civilians in a war.

“We want to know why,” said Ali Ali Mustafah Gamez, the owner of another destroyed house, who had family come to Zlitan to escape the war.  Ali lost thirteen members of his family to the rockets and wants answers from NATO.  “We get by with patience,” he added.

In total, three houses in the neighborhood were destroyed on August 8th and emotions run high when talking about the destruction and casualties, which locals put as around 35 people dead and 85 admitted to the hospital.  The wounded are receiving medical treatment in Tunisia.

Losses are especially great due to a second rocket hitting those who came to help.  Neighbors finishing Ramadan prayers came to see what the problem was.  Many more were killed in the second strike.

LIBYA: The remnants of war

By Liz Lucas

“Happy shooting” seems to be the new normal here.  It’s been over a month since Tripoli fell and from my hotel I can still hear the bullets that soldiers shoot into the air each night.  In other towns throughout the country it is the same.

The celebratory shooting is new to Libya.  “There really isn’t much of a history of this here in Libya,” said a woman in the town of Zintan.  “But now there are so many weapons, so much excitement, and many soldiers are bored.  It is a problem.”

It’s more than an annoyance.  Media reports indicate that others have been harmed by stray bullets from the victory shootings, some in their own backyard. Civilians have told us they are worried about the situation.  “Bullets that go up also come down,” one resident told me, a sentiment that has been repeated by many.

There are so many guns in Libya, many in the hands of people who had never handled a weapon before this year.  Office workers, students, construction workers are carrying AKs in the street.  Medical workers in different areas of the country have told our team about accidents—in one place there were nine injuries reported this week from accidental shootings.  A girl playing with a gun shot her father, a boy of twelve shot his thumb off, a man shot himself in the foot.  Stories like this are becoming too common.

But it looks like the military councils are beginning to listen.  In Tripoli, I heard they’ve started to charge a fee of 300 Libyan dinars to soldiers caught “happy shooting.”  Residents are also taking it into their own hands with groups lobbying for a safer city. In other areas, guns are turned into police stations and registration has begun.  These are huge steps, especially in a country that is still in the midst of war.

But even tonight, despite the outrage and laws, I am still being rocked to sleep by the sounds of bullets shooting the sky.

Read more about our work in Libya here: TELL ME MORE

Donate to support our work in Libya here: DONATE NOW

GUEST BLOG: Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Perspective

By Major Dennis Sugrue

It is an unfortunate reality of war that innocent civilians are harmed.  As a US Army Soldier, I recognize the importance of protecting civilians, especially during combat operations.  Despite our care, civilian casualties and property damage do occur.  I recall the great initiative that we took in Afghanistan to make amends and offer closure to harmed civilians and their families.

From 2006-2007, I deployed to northern Kunar Province, Afghanistan. This is a mountainous and exceptionally remote area.  It is accessible by a single road closed periodically due to rain storms.  Rain was infrequent, but came in torrents when it arrived.  As part of my duties, I interacted with Afghan civilians who had been injured or lost property due to military actions.  Victims would arrive at the gate of our base and, in most cases, I would meet with them.  I would listen to their claims, often over tea, and try to determine validity.  I would walk valid claims to our pay officer and often make monetary compensation in that same meeting.  In these sessions, I also tried to learn about their lives and offer them a glimpse into American life by exchanging stories.

To help these victims, the Army offered compensation or solatia payments. Compensation usually takes the form of monetary payment and medical treatment.  Monetary compensations for damaged property, lost livelihoods, or personal injury are somewhat common in Afghanistan.  These payments are consistent with cultural norms and important to economic stability, but they can fall short of “making things better.”  It was my experience that civilians injured in a warzone often want something far simpler and more valuable – closure.  They seek a human connection offering condolence.  A sincere apology does more to offer closure than any payment possibly could.  Solatia activities should have the ultimate goal to provide a sense of closure for the civilians who suffer losses in combat zones.

LIBYA: Souheid’s story

By Kristele Younes

When I met Souheid, I was already overwhelmed by the toll this conflict is taking on civilians. But Souheid made me understand that I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Lying on his bed in a Benghazi hospital, this 8 year-old told me of how his whole life changed after a missile landed in the Misrata house he, his parents, his four siblings and their extended family of fourteen were sharing. “I don’t know what happened,” Souheid told me. “But one minute, we were all sleeping in the same room, away from all the windows to protect ourselves from bullets, and the next, I woke up in the hospital.” Souheid’s prognosis was so dire that he was immediately transferred to the Benghazi hospital I visited him in, where doctors can attend to him without fearing the hospital could be bombed at any moment.

Souheid will likely feel physical pain for the rest of his life. But it was abundantly clear to me, and to his father who sits by his bedside, that the emotional impact of what happened to his family will be much harder to overcome. That night in Misrata, Souheid lost a sister, a brother, his grandmother, his aunt, and three of his cousins.

Souheid and other victims of war need to have their suffering acknowledged. Although it is never possible to make up for these kinds of losses, warring parties should make amends by recognizing the harm and ensuring civilians have the tools they need to regain control of their lives.

Those fighting for a new Libya need to remember that it will be built by the very people who are victimized by the conflict, those who deserve to have their losses recognized and dignified. For Souheid’s and Libya’s sake, preventing, minimizing and addressing civilian harm must be at the heart of both national and international efforts in Libya.

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HUFFINGTON POST: Driving Afghanistan: The Winding Road to an Afghan Takeover

By Sarah Holewinski

I wouldn’t drive a car without working brakes. And I need a wheel to steer, and a speedometer to tell me when I’m not following the speed limit.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume responsibility for the security and stability of their own country by 2014. But as a big moving vehicle ramping up to a high speed, it’s missing some of the major controls it needs to protect its own population and not cause even more harm. Continue reading

One Minute Update: Libya

Imam, a Libyan woman whose husband was killed last month while out buying food, told CIVIC: “I don’t want my husband to be just another statistic.”

Kristele just returned from Benghazi, in Eastern Libya, where she met with civilian victims and their families to assess their losses and needs. She met many like Imam, mourning lost loved ones or watching over their injured in the overflowing hospitals. CIVIC’s job now is to advise NATO and opposition forces on minimizing civilian harm, and ensure each and every victim is recognized and helped. We believe Imam’s husband is more than a statistic.

Read more from Kristele’s trip to Libya: BLOG: Harmed civilians need protection too

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