• 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

Afghanistan’s war victims: Zalmay’s story

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

Here’s the story of Zalmay, a boy living in a very small village on the border with Pakistan.  Assadullah – the boy’s uncle – told me his story at a local radio station in Jalalabad, where we met.

Just after international forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban came to Zalmay’s house while retreating back over the border into Pakistan. They killed Zalmay’s father and wounded his mother so badly she was permanently disabled.  Zalmay was only two years old.

Assadullah doesn’t know why the Taliban targeted Zalmay’s family. He wonders if  it might be that Zalmay’s father had been a senior military commander in the communist regime that preceded the Taliban.  When the Taliban came to power, Zalmay’s father no longer had a place in the military and turned to woodcutting to provide for his family.

Without a breadwinner, Assadullah began taking care of Zalmay, his mother, and his two sisters, which he has done for more than ten years.  Now a teenager, Assadullah is training Zalmay in his shop to work as a car mechanic.  Zalmay is now the only male in his immediate family, which means that he must work to support his mother and two sisters instead of going to school like a typical teenager.  His destiny is that of manual labor.

Taking care of Zalmay’s family as well as his own is a financial burden for Assadullah, who hopes that one day Zalmay will be able to open up his own shop and be self – sufficient.  Financial assistance from the Afghan government would be extremely helpful for both Assadullah’s and Zalmay’s families, which are entirely dependent on Assadullah to survive.

Assadullah also said he wanted the international community and the Afghan government to “make good on their promises.”  For Assadullah, that means peace, economic opportunities and good governance.  According to him, only the politically connected get help from the Afghan government; it doesn’t work for everyone.

“We are so tired of war…I am 35 years old and I haven’t seen a good day in my life,” Assadullah told me with a look of despair.

Advertisements

Voices from the Field: Who are Afghanistan’s War Victims?

Trevor Keck is CIVIC’s field fellow, based in Kabul, Afghanistan.  He is assessing Afghan National Security Force preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies withdraw.

A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about my trip to Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, where I researched civilian casualties.  I spoke to numerous Afghan officials and more than a dozen civilians harmed by warring parties in Afghanistan.

The next posts are what I heard from some victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.  I’ll start today with Tahir’s story as told to me by his father.

Tahir and his family live in a very rural part of Nangarhar province, situated in eastern Afghanistan between Kabul and the Pakistani border.  Tahir is eleven years old and, until recently, loved going to school and playing cricket with his friends.

About two weeks before I spoke to him, Tahir set out to visit his father – a farmer – who was tending to his fields at the time.  He never made it there. On his way, Tahir stepped on a roadside bomb, presumably set by the Taliban or another armed group.  The blast knocked him out and even now, Tahir barely remembers what happened. After the explosion, local villagers who saw the incident rushed him to the hospital in Jalalabad, where I interviewed him.

When I met him, he was in a lot of pain and heavily medicated, suffering wounds on his right arm, his legs and his stomach.  Thankfully, the doctor at the hospital told me he was stable and the physical wounds would heal.  What kind of mental trauma Tahir will suffer remains to be seen.

Tahir was in a lot of pain so he didn’t talk much.  But his father told me that his son doesn’t like the hospital and “just wants to go home.”

Remembering Chris Hondros

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since our friend and steadfast CIVIC supporter Chris Hondros was killed while on assignment in Misrata, Libya.  Chris was a Pulitzer Prize nominated photojournalist who covered most of the worlds major conflicts beginning in the late 90s.  Chris covered conflicts, but his real passion was capturing the people affected by them.  Chris’ images of civilians struggling to survive amidst bullets and bombs gave us all an immediate understanding of the gravity of war. You’ve likely seen his images on the front page of flagship newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and numerous others.

But what you may not have known was that Chris’ work has been the visual representation of what we do here at CIVIC since 2005.  He gave us his images so we could tell the story of  war victims and why our work matters.

His commitment to the cause of humanizing war lives on in a partnership with The Chris Hondros Fund established by his fiancee Christina Piaia.  The Fund will raise awareness and educate the public about the work of photojournalists.  Click here to learn more about Chris and the Fund: http://www.chrishondrosfund.org/index.html

Below are a few of his incredible images.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honoring Marla Ruzicka: One individual who changed war for many

Seven years ago, the world lost a passionate advocate for civilians caught in the crossfire. Today, CIVIC will have a moment of silence in remembrance of our founder Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi colleague Faiz Ali Salim.  We’ll pause our work at 2 PM EST, and we invite you to do the same.

Marla’s life is an example of the impact one committed individual can have. We honor her legacy every day by working to make warring parties more responsible to civilians in war. We train troops to prevent civilian harm. We work with warring parties to create civilian tracking and response systems, so they learn from mistakes and know who to help. And when military intervention is considered, as it may be in Syria, we remind them of the potential civilian cost.

Please take a moment today to remember her work and commitment to civilians in conflict

Reflections on a Partnership: Advancing Assistance for Civilian Victims of War

This post by Bonnie Docherty originally appeared on the blog for the  International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

The International Human Rights Clinic’s newest publication—on the legal foundations for “making amends”—has its origins in a friendship formed 10 years ago on the dusty streets of Kabul.

Marla Ruzicka, founder of CIVIC, talks to civilians in Kabul in 2002. The Clinic has worked with CIVIC on several projects over the years.

In early 2002, just out of Harvard Law School, I traveled to Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch to investigate civilian casualties from the U.S. air campaign. There I met Marla Ruzicka, an idealistic young activist who seemed to know every civilian victim in the capital city.  She served as our guide, taking us to mud house after mud house to interview the families of survivors, each of whom she treated with compassion and respect.

Marla would go on to found the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to advocating for civilian victims of war. In my capacity as a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, I continued to work with Marla at home and in Iraq, until she was killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad in 2005.

In the year that followed, I joined the Clinic at Harvard, and Sarah Holewinski took the helm at CIVIC, upholding and expanding its mission admirably. We initiated a partnership shortly thereafter. While I had previously investigated why civilians are killed during war, this work allowed me to deal with what can be done to help victims afterward.

CIVIC pioneered the concept of “making amends,” which calls on warring parties to recognize and provide assistance to civilian victims for harm caused by their lawful conduct. In the Clinic’s first project with the organization, a team of students contributed to designing and drafting the organization’s “Making Amends Guiding Principles.”

Since then, the Clinic-CIVIC collaboration has generated a series of projects and helped inspire several of our students to pursue careers in the field of international humanitarian law. To date, 10 clinical students have done work produced with CIVIC or related to its mandate.

The publication released today—“Legal Foundations for ‘Making Amends’ to Civilians Harmed by Armed Conflict”—builds on CIVIC’s idea and exemplifies the Clinic’s legal advocacy. Because making amends fills a gap in international law, there is no direct precedent for it; in this paper, however, we argue that individual elements of the concept are grounded in established practice and precepts. Clinical students Andrew Childers, J.D. ’11, and Anna Lamut, J.D. ’10, researched and co-wrote the paper.

Rebecca Agule, J.D. ’10, interviews a woman whose husband was executed by Nepalese government forces during the country’s 10-year armed conflict.

In addition to legal advocacy, the Clinic has done fieldwork in association with CIVIC. In 2010, I led a team of three students on a fact-finding mission to Nepal to investigate the needs of civilian victims of the country’s decade-long armed conflict and how those needs are—or are not—being addressed.

We interviewed dozens of individuals who had experienced or witnessed horrific events. A man described how Maoist rebels broke his legs over a log and beat him to the point his mother thought he was dead. A woman told us in tears how government forces inexplicably executed her husband, a state-employed postman, and left him on the side of the road. This trip made us better appreciate Marla’s close, on-the-ground engagement with victims of war.

This semester, as CIVIC expands its mandate to encompass more areas of civilian protection, we are drawing on the Clinic’s specialization in international humanitarian law to support it. We have launched a project in conjunction with CIVIC and the Center for American Progress related to the dangers of abandoned weapons caches in Libya.

Beyond these joint endeavors, CIVIC has served as a professional stepping stone for former clinical students. Funded by Harvard fellowships, Erica Gaston, J.D. ’07, spent a post-graduate year working for the organization in Afghanistan, and Chris Rogers, J.D. ’09, did the same in Pakistan. Both have continued their work in that region at the Open Society Foundations. Other clinical students have pursued short-term contracts with CIVIC.

Our projects on making amends have been challenging for and beneficial to both CIVIC and clinical students. For me, they have inspired personal reflection.

I often think of the days with Marla in Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember the warmth she showed the people of Kabul and the zest for life she exhibited when salsa dancing in war-torn Baghdad. Most important, I reflect on how one woman’s vision aided countless civilians, spawned a highly effective and growing organization, and produced a partnership that motivated the next generation of humanitarian activists.

Responding to harm in Somalia

Southern Somalia is a hell for civilians living there, and that was true even before the famine that hit the country this summer.

Mogadishu, 2011

Mogadishu, 2011. Photo by Sarah Holewinski

When I was in Mogadishu a few months ago, I saw bombed out buildings in every direction, families huddled in ill-equipped hospitals, and — in one case — a group of kids startled by an Al-Shabaab mortar blast not 100 feet from where they were standing. This is the reality of war, but it doesn’t have to be.

CIVIC and its partners have worked with the African Union toward better civilian protection. And today, we released a report on civilian harm in Somalia that details pragmatic solutions for responding to civilian losses.

The author of the report, Nikolaus Grubeck, spent time in Mogadishu, its outskirts, and the displaced persons camps near the Kenyan border interviewing civilians impacted by the conflict. We hope these insights from Somali civilians and our analysis of what can be done for them will help convince the parties to the conflict to be better and do more for the people caught between them.

-Sarah

When it hits home

By Marla Keenan, Managing Director, CIVIC

Nearly six years ago I began my career here at CIVIC as an advocate for war victims and their loved ones.  Six months ago today in Misrata, Libya while documenting the plight of Libyans in the war, my dear friend Chris Hondros became a war victim himself.

Chris spent his life photographing the human cost of conflict.  He’d been to every major conflict in the past decade and a half (Kosovo, Liberia, Afghanistan, Iraq and several others).  And now, he’s gone, just like so many he had photographed before.  What a strange and cruel irony.

For years I’d seen the stories of those harmed in war in Chris’ photos, read their stories in numerous books and reports, and even sat in living rooms and listened to them recounted first hand.  I had watched as mothers told about losing their children or wives of their husbands, as tears rolled down their cheeks and tissues whisked across their faces.  I had cried sometimes myself for these people, to see and actually feel how real and raw their emotions were. But I was completely ill prepared for what it was like when it hit home.

I equate it to a personal earthquake.  Not the tremor kind, but the building crushing kind. The rollercoaster of emotion was intense.  There was anger, first at whomever killed him … and then eventually at him for putting himself into such a risky situation. There was profound sadness, for my own loss and for the loss being endured by his family and friends. At his memorial service there was laughter and tears, but mostly a paralyzing numbness.  I felt like my ability to understand even the most simple of things had been taken away.  Nothing made sense, not even my work which had always been very important to me and a place where I felt safe and focused.

As these emotions stabilized a bit, their space has been filled by an even stronger conviction and passion for CIVIC’s work.  I understand intensely – and now personally – the need for every loss of human life in conflict to be recognized.  I understand that everyone deserves to know what happened to their loved one and more clearly why it happened.  I want someone to tell me, and to tell Chris’s fiancée and his mother and his best friends why this happened and that they are sorry and that it wasn’t their intention (assuming in fact it wasn’t). We’ll likely never get that.  But it’s why we do the work we do at CIVIC, because everyone who has lost in war deserves dignity.

For more information about Chris visit: http://www.chrishondrosfund.org/home.html