• 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

Images from the Syrian border

Photographer Nicole Tung accompanied a CIVIC team to the Lebanese border of Syria to speak with refugees in June 2012.  The following images and captions from Nicole are from that trip; CIVIC’s findings from these interviews, and others in Jordan, are here.

We’ll be posting more of Nicole’s photos and CIVIC interviews with civilians on Facebook and twitter–follow us for more!

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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…

GUEST BLOGGER: Congo, the worst place to be a civilian

Posted by:  Catherine Philp, Journalist

In Rwanda last week, organisers put on a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the genocide that killed 800,000 people in just 100 days. But next door in eastern Congo, tens of thousands of civilians are still caught up in the ongoing conflict that has killed more than five times that number in the past ten years.

Eastern Congo is reckoned to be the world’s worst place to be a child. By extension, it must also be the worst place to be a civilian. The arrest of the infamous Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda and the agreement to end the sanctuary of his opponents, the Hutu genocidiares, have not ending the fighting.

After the end of a joint Congolese-Rwandan mission to drive them out, the Hutu rebels have hit back at civilians, massacring scores and driving 100,000 villagers to flee beyond the reach of the refugee agencies on whose support they rely.

It is a depressingly familiar scenario. But it has far less to do with the lingering ethnic tensions from the genocide as it does with simple greed for a share in Congo’s extraordinary natural resources.

The civilians massacred and driven from their homes are the innocent victims of battles for control of land thick with gold and diamonds, as well as coltan and cassiterite, the essential components of high tech goods like laptops and mobile phones.

Any idea where the little bits of metal in your mobile phone come from? Maybe you should. There’s a good chance they come from mines controlled by armed men who butcher civilians, force pre-teenage children into combat and submit women to sexual violence so brutal that this region boasts the only hospital in the world dedicated to repairing female fistulas.

Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, made history earlier this year when he became the first defendant before the permanent International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of child recruitment. This is necessary justice. But he will not be the last while the illegal control of the mineral trade continues, making the massacre of civilians a profitable business.

The campaigning group Global Witness, who have charted the role of the mineral trade in the conflict, have written to mobile phone manufacturers to ask them to account for the origins of their materials. Now they’ve been joined by the Enough Project, who have called on global electronics companies to prove to customers they are not helping to fuel the war.

Foreign governments like the United States and Britain might also want to look again at the huge budgetary support they give Rwanda, whose meddling in Congo has costs thousands of civilian lives. Without foreign money, its military adventures there and support for Tutsi rebels would have never been possible. While remembering the 800,000 people it lost in the genocide fifteen years ago, Rwanda must spare a thought for the civilians still dying in a slower, deadlier holocaust still burning across the border in Congo.

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan, Najla’s story

Posted By: Marla B.

There are an estimated 750,000 Iraqi refugees now residing in Jordan and another 1 to 1.5 million in Syria. In June, I traveled to Jordan to conduct interviews with families and to talk with them about their experiences. That task proved to be one of the most challenging of my time here at CIVIC.

On June 1, 2008, I visited a woman who I’ll call Najla*. Her son Samir* was the apple of her eye. She beamed as she told us how much he loved toys and school and what a lovely young boy he was.

Samir as baby

Samir as baby

In 2003 when the war began, they knew the bombing was coming and she and her son prepared. On the first day the bombing was very strong and most of the Iraqis from Baghdad left their homes to seek safety. She and her son stayed behind. She recalled that the sky was red from the bombing and resulting fires. No one in their neighborhood was killed in the first part of the war, but soon the violence would start and many would be lost. She told me that the war had been very difficult for them. Too, life under Saddam’s regime was hard but at least there was security. Now, she says, there are militias and they have taken their sons. “It is just easy to kill in Iraq.”

One night the milita came to their house. As her family (her, her son, her brother and his son) lay asleep on the ground, ten armed men broke a window and entered. They beat her and her brother threatening them not to make a sound or they would be killed. They beat Samir and threatened to kill Najla’s brother’s son. Samir told them he would do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t harm his family. They demanded money and Samir gave all they had. As the gunmen were leaving… one of them said “kill them… we can’t leave them alive”. Another said “no, we’ve gotten what we want, just cut his ear”.

At first they lived in fear that the masked men would return. But after time passed they began to believe they had indeed escaped this threat. They had not. On the 6th of March 2006, as her son headed home from work, he turned onto the very street where he lived. Militia men came and murdered him in cold blood. Her neighbors told her that they were from the Medhi army, the same group suspected of the earlier break in on their house, she is sure of it. Najlaa wept now as she told me how much she missed her son and how he had been so brutally taken from her.

Samir as an adult

Samir as an adult


In the coming months we will be posting short videos with snippets of some of my conversations.

*In all cases the names will be changed and the faces obscured at the request of the subject.

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.”

GUEST BLOGGER: “Are you able to understand my pain?”

Posted By: Ana, working on human rights issues in Afghanistan

“Are you able to understand my pain?”

I hid my eyes for a second, and then looked up at the woman I was talking to. I think she is in her fifties; her face burned by the sun, full of wrinkles; her eyes were searching every corner of my soul. “I am not a mother, and I would never understand the pain of losing two sons.” She gave me another penetrating look: “Can a person on a horse understand what it means to walk on foot? Who really cares what happened to my life?” She came to visit a program one of my colleagues is running. But I hijacked her attention because I was curious about the life in Kabul during the wars.

She lost several people to so called “collateral damage” during the time of factional violence in Kabul. The entire city was divided. To go to work, or get supplies the people had to sneak around like thieves from house to house, from an alley to an alley. She says that sometimes it looked like a rain of bullets falling from the sky, and nothing could stop it. One morning two of her four sons went out to fetch some flour for the house. Noon came and went, the evening came, the sons never came back. On a random day her brother was passing by a checkpoint when a rocket landed there. Another night of fighting another rocket hit near by their compound. Shrapnel took her son-in-law while he was reading along with two little girls from their compound.

The family decided to flee, leaving everything behind. They stayed in Pakistan for ten years. The children had a chance to go to school while she and her husband worked. They’ve built a house. Then the Transitional Government called all the Afghans to comeback; they were promised their houses, their livelihoods, and their homeland back. She is living in Kabul now, but she says Pakistan was better. They never got what they were promised – no jobs, no place to live, and no chances to educate their children. Her husband passed away a year ago, but they are hanging on. Her two other sons are working.

I catch myself irritated, thinking, “what’s the big deal, everyone in this country lost a family member, at least she has two other sons to help her.” And then mentally slap myself: “how dare me to think this?” She looked at me as if reading my thoughts; pondered for a moment; then said: “Are you able to understand my pain?” I wished I could do something other than listen.

Marla B in Jordan: Stories from a country away…

Posted By: Marla B.

Every day we interview Iraqis now living here in Jordan, so many of whom escaped violence back in Iraq or came here looking for medical care. All were ready to just leave the violence behind them.

Yesterday I heard a story that is of particular interest to CIVIC’s work. I sat with Saad (name changed here), his wife and their four children here in their small apartment. They took turns excitedly telling us of the house they had built with their own hands just outside of Baghdad. It was a new suburb so they worked with their neighbors to pay for and build a water pipeline to their homes. One day a US military patrol drove by and severely damaged the pipe. The patrol stopped. Saad was upset and explained that the pipeline was the only way they had to get water and that the families had built it with their own money. The soldier offered an apology and handed Saad a document saying he could file a claim for compensation at a nearby military base. Saad told me he understood and appreciated the apology from the soldier, but when I asked him what happened when he filed the claim, he said he never did. To him and his neighbors… filling a claim wasn’t worth putting his family in danger by visiting the military base.

Several months later, militia members killed his neighbors in an unrelated incident and threatened Saad and his family. They were forced to flee to Jordan where they now sit and wait.