• 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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    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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PAKISTAN: CIVIC Fellow Headed to Pakistan

Posted by Chris, CIVIC Fellow

Hi everyone!  I’m excited to be joining CIVIC and begin working in Pakistan.  After some last minute visa drama, I will be leaving soon for Islamabad.  I’ll be writing here about our work in Pakistan throughout the coming months, but let me begin by introducing myself and explain my interest in CIVIC’s work.  LINK TO CHRIS’ BIO

Though I am new to Pakistan, I have worked extensively on human rights and the laws of war in many different parts of the world.  I worked with the United Nations in Jordan to assist Iraqi refugees, with Human Rights Watch on the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and, in Gaza, with a Palestinian human rights NGO.

In Gaza, I witnessed the impact of armed conflict on civilians first-hand.  Israeli strikes were an almost daily occurrence and though civilians may not have been targeted, large, modern bombs and ordinance exacted a heavy toll in the dense city blocks and refugee camps.  During the Hamas takeover of the territory, the entire city became a battlefield.   Every civilian was trapped in their home and many were caught in the cross fire as gunmen fought building to building.

Throughout my work, I’ve seen how the greatest burden of conflict is often borne by innocent civilians.  Death, injury, destruction of homes and property, and the loss of livelihood and loved ones are so common in war zones and yet the suffering is difficult to communicate or convey to others a world away.  As a lawyer, I have deep respect for the potential of international law to protect civilians in conflict, however I also recognize that current law says little about those deemed ‘collateral damage’ and even less about how to help those that have been harmed.

This is why I’m so passionate about CIVIC’s work and excited about the opportunities to get help to war survivors in Pakistan.  Conflict there has increased markedly the past couple years, especially in the northwest of the country.  Caught in the middle, many civilians have been harmed or their property destroyed, while millions have fled to escape the fighting.

It will be challenging, but there is a lot of progress to be made.  I’m looking forward to getting started.  In my next posting I’ll explain a bit more about the current situation in Pakistan and what we hope to accomplish.  Until then…

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GUEST BLOGGER: Monitoring Human Rights in Gaza

GAZA – I trekked across the Sinai Peninsula after watching the fighting from the Armistice line for a few weeks in December and January.  Israel wouldn’t let human rights monitors into Gaza, so I decided to take my team of researchers in through Egypt once the fighting stopped.  I’ve been to Gaza twice before – in 2004 when there were still settlements there, and again in 2006 after they were removed, and I consider myself seasoned to working in war zones.  But the tragedy I faced in Gaza hit me hard.

Watching the rockets rain on Israel, and the bombs fall on Gaza I knew a humanitarian crisis loomed.  With the borders closed people were going without food, water, electricity, and most urgently – medical care.  I’ve been to many war zones, but one constant is always there – civilians bear the brunt.  But as I stood there watching the white phosphorus flames raining down on Gaza city and Beit Lahiya I could only imagine the Dante’s inferno I would find.

The Abu Halima house reeked like a fireplace.  The walls were black and sooty, the wooden beams long since turned to charcoal.  The fire inside had been so intense the electric sockets had melted.  I could only imagine what the family faced inside.  I met Sabah Abu Halima, 44, a housewife and mother of a large family, in the burn unit of the Shiffa Hospital.  She was thoroughly traumatized, laying there with her burned arms trying to grasp at her children no longer there.  Her son Ahmad had to tell me what had happened.  On January 4th an Israeli white phosphorus artillery shell pierced the roof of the house.  It decapitated Ahmad’s father and burned his three brothers and a sister to death.  Sabah and five of her family were burned in the fire and so their ordeal is not over.

In the days after the smoke cleared, the Palestinian Authority tried to pour millions into rebuilding Gaza but was thwarted.  Now some humanitarian aid has been let in and Hamas activists are handing out cash payments of $5,100 to Palestinians whose homes were destroyed.  Seventy-five countries and international organizations made pledges to give billions in reconstruction aid.  Thus far, this is an opportunity lost for Israel.  Moderate Palestinians have no reason to stay moderate.  Israel should be helping with the rebuilding, provide victim assistance and compensation, and open the border to humanitarian aid and monitors.

The stories I heard will live with me for a long time, and the suffering Israelis and Gazans endured will surely last far longer if the warring parties don’t take seriously their moral responsibility to make amends to war’s victims for their violence.

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.