• 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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COLOMBIA: Victims: Forgotten in the Colombian Conflict

Posted by: Angelica Zamora

“One dies when he’s forgotten.” This is a verse written by Colombian poet Manuel Mejía Vallejo, and today it seems to be a reality regarding the tragedy of victims in Colombia. This week, the Annual Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that armed conflict in this country – which has already stretched beyond four decades – continues to cause suffering to civilians, and that such victims are at risk of being forgotten.

According to the report, the conflict has moved to remote areas of the country. This does not mean, however, that the number of victims has decreased. Today there are 3.3 million displaced persons in Colombia, making it the state with the highest number of IDPs in the Western hemisphere and the second highest number of displaced persons in the world, after Sudan.

The ICRC report states that the displaced persons are almost “invisible” in rural areas. Inhabitants of the countryside, unable to move freely, remain unseen as well. Relatives of those who have been forced disappeared, victims of sexual violence, and those who remain hostages in the jungles have not received adequate attention. Also, ethnic and Afro-Colombian communities suffer in silence due to the actions of armed actors.

Christophe Beney, Head of Delegation in Colombia of the ICRC, said during the report’s presentation that the “most concerning” cases are extrajudicial executions of civilians committed by the army, so-called “false positives”; these victims are usually young peasants or members of marginalized urban communities who are reported as “enemy combatants killed in battle,” with the objective of demonstrating success of military actions and achieving personal benefits such as days off or promotions.

Recognition of victims remains a critical challenge in the Colombian conflict. The Colombian government frequently denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, minimizing the magnitude of forced internal and cross-border displacement. The government, consistent with this attitude, rejected the conclusions of the ICRC report.

Denying the existence of armed conflict, and the status of victims of such actions, has condemned victims to oblivion. This denial only confirms victims’ beliefs that they do not exist and victimizes, yet again, a highly vulnerable population. The provision of measures to compensate victims and recognize their suffering is a legal and ethical duty of the state. The acknowledgment of victims should be accompanied by public policies that address the complexity of the demands of different categories of victims and provide appropriate measures for their damages.

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PAKISTAN: Internally displaced in Islamabad

Child crouching next to bags or 'kits' of non-food items (NFIs) distributed to IDPs. NFI kits typically include kitchen items, blankets, mats, and a bucket.

By Chris

Life is difficult for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Tarnol—a slum outside of Islamabad.  It is a dusty, desolate place on the outskirts of the city.  Its streets are narrow and unpaved, lined with cramped homes, many held together by earthen bricks and animal dung.  Most of the displaced are crowded into relatives’ homes or renting small rooms.  They struggle to sustain large, extended families on less than $2.50 a day—the amount men can earn unloading trucks in nearby industrial areas.

Tens of thousands of IDPs, mostly from Swat Valley and Bajaur Agency, have settled in slums such as Taronl all around Islamabad.  Along with millions of others, they were forced to flee their homes because of fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban-aligned militants.

Children of displaced families watch the distribution of NFI kits to a growing crowd of IDPs.

I visited Tarnol with a Pakistani NGO, SHARP, which works with UNHCR to distribute non-food items to IDPs, such as buckets, blankets, and mats.  By the time we arrived at the distribution point, a crowd of around a hundred men had already gathered.  As the distribution got underway, it became clear that around half would not receive anything because they were from a different area and SHARP could not verify their registration.  Intense negotiations with community elders ensued and the crowd grew increasingly agitated.  Men with wooden clubs stood outside SHARP’s small office, attempting to keep control.

Despite the aid distributed, the desperation of the people was evident.  In an unfamiliar city, far away from their villages and farms, many families are dependent on the meager and sporadic aid provided by relief agencies.  They want to return and resume their lives but continuing insecurity and lack of money prevents them from doing so.  In the meantime, many fear what has happened to their homes, property, and businesses—and how they will rebuild once they return.

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.

BDPs and Problem of Lack of Info, Pt. 1

Posted By: Erica

Below is the first of two separate reports on the information vacuum that exists when assessing the need for humanitarian aid to battle-displaced persons.  Both my report and the future report form Rebecca, our guest blogger, highlight the difficulty of properly assessing, delivering and evaluating aid to those harmed by conflict.

KABUL – Last week I met with several staff members from the United Nations HCR who work specifically with assisting battle-displaced persons (BDPs) in Afghanistan. Particularly in the conflict-prone south of Afghanistan, near Kandahar and Helmand, assisting those who are battle-displaced can be a never-ending cycle. Recent news articles have focused on large numbers of displaced civilians in Arghandab and Garmser . like UNHCR, together with the World Food Program, the International Red Crescent or other humanitarian agencies, Agencies have the tough task of trying to develop enough emergency relief supplies – tents, blankets, food, clean water – to allow these families to survive in the immediate aftermath of conflict. Their work is often compromised by lack of access to credible information. Because of security concerns, they often cannot go to the site of the conflict, and have to depend on reports from the military, journalists, community leaders etc. “Often it means splitting the difference between what the military says and the community leaders say,” one UNHCR representative told me. “If the community says 3,000 and ISAF says 300, we prepare enough provisions for somewhere in the middle of that.”