• 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.

[go to next post]

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.”

LIBYA: What happened in Zlitan? [Part I]

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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.

To support this work click here.

LIBYA: Harmed civilians need protection too

By Kristele Younes

Heading into Libya was quite an experience. As the conflict rages on, and the no-fly zone is enforced by the international community, the town of Benghazi in eastern Libya was only accessible by road from Egypt. Yet the nineteen hours it took to get there from Cairo were not enough to prepare myself for the reality I witnessed when I finally reached my destination.

Since the conflict erupted between the Libyan regime headed by Mouammar Qaddafi and rebel opponents, now led by a transitional government in Benghazi, nobody knows exactly how many civilians have been killed, wounded, or have simply disappeared. In a country that is now literally separated into two distinct zones—east and west—it has proven extremely challenging for civil servants and human rights activists to track and record civilian harm. Estimates by the Libyan opposition put the number of deaths at around 10,000. As for the wounded and those who have vanished, I was told there are simply too many to keep track of.

And yet, every single one of these people is a human being who deserves to be recognized as a war victim, and to receive amends from the warring parties.

The Libyan opposition seems to understand this, and have committed to making amends to those civilians hurt by war. CIVIC ensures they have the capacity, the know-how, and resources to do so.

To support this work click here.