Gaza Violence is Destroying Childhoods

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Curt Goering is the Executive Director of CVT. In 2009 and 2010, he served as Head of the Gaza office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. While previously working at Amnesty International, he also investigated the impact of rockets fired from Gaza on communities in southern Israel. Here, Curt reflects on his experience in light of the recent ongoing violence and the heavy psychological toll the conflict is inflicting on children from both sides.

The latest round of fighting in the Gaza Strip brings back vivid reminders of the devastating impact of the war on the civilian population, especially among children, who are the majority of people there.  I headed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gaza following the 2008/2009 conflict which, like this one, resulted in massive human rights violations and evidence of possible war crimes.

In the aftermath of the war, the evidence of trauma was everywhere: large numbers of children wetting their beds; children afraid to leave the sides of their parents; children afraid to try to sleep alone; children with recurrent nightmares; and children paralyzed with fear when hearing a sudden, unexpected sound such as the slamming of a door.

The frequent explosions from bombing raids, the subsequent shaking of buildings, the daily shelling from naval boats at sea, and the drones in the air, all contributed further to the sense of insecurity and vulnerability.  Children sensed their parents were unable to provide safety which contributed to a range of behavioral problems and erosion of parental authority.

During the current violence, it is abundantly clear that the numbers of dead and injured Palestinian children are very high, and continue to rise as virtually an entire population is unprotected and vulnerable, unable to leave Gaza because the borders are sealed and unable to even flee the bombing and shelling  because there is no safe place to go.

In Israel, the lives of children and adults are at risk from rocket fire from Gaza. The attacks are indiscriminate and symptoms of trauma and psychological scars are evident among the civilian population.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “… there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated [by both sides], in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

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UN Report Shows Impact of Armed Conflict on Children

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In early July, the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict released the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. The report, which covers January to December 2013, found that children were recruited and used, killed and maimed, victims of sexual violence and other grave violations in 23 conflict situations around the world last year.

The report reveals that Syria remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child. CVT knows this to be true because of our work with Syrian refugees at our healing project in Jordan. A sizeable number of survivors we provide care to are children who have been witnesses as well as targets of various, severe human rights violations, including torture.

What is common to most of these conflict situations is that child rights are violated in total impunity. If we are serious about protecting children, we must demand accountability.

UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui

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Caring for Children after Traumatic Events

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Not long after reading the UN’s Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, we came across this interesting article recently published in the StarTribune about a newly created position of “Trauma Informed Advocate” at the St. Cloud (MN) Police Department. St. Cloud is a community located approximately one hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul and is the county seat of Stearns County.

According to the St. Cloud Police Department, “Police officers who encounter a child exposed to a traumatic event such as domestic assault, household fire, car accident, assault, or another traumatic event will refer the child to the advocate who will connect the child with specially trained service providers within 24-48 hours.” The idea for a Trauma Informed Advocate originated two years ago after the Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership was informed of a program in Greensboro, NC that provided specialized services to children who were witnesses to domestic violence.

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Rape is “Normal”

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Kalo Sokoto is a Counseling Supervisor with CVT’s healing initiative in Nairobi, Kenya.

I have an experience which, even after months, I cannot seem to shed from my memory.

Kalo Sokoto

Kalo Sokoto

As a counseling supervisor with the Center for Victims of Torture in Nairobi, part of my job is to train staff at organizations that work with refugee survivors of torture and violent conflict. During one of these trainings, an expatriate female resettlement officer asked us if we could speak more on rape. She said that most refugee women who have been survivors of rape and later get resettled did not show the need for counseling and that perhaps this was because rape had become so normal to them that they are okay moving on with life.

I’ll get straight to the point. Rape is not normal. It can never be normal. Rape is in fact abnormal in every nature of the word. Continue reading

UNHCR Seeks End to Detention of Asylum Seekers, Refugees

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently announced a new five-year global strategy, Beyond Detention, to assist countries to move away from the detention of asylum seekers, refugees, and stateless people worldwide. According to UNHCR, the practice of detaining asylum seekers and refugees has become routine in several countries.

Seeking asylum is lawful and the exercise of a fundamental human right. The detention of asylum-seekers as a routine response should be avoided – these are people who need protection.

UNHCR Director of International Protection Volker Türk

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