Category Archives: war zones

Art therapy project in Gaza massacre

– Art therapy project to ameliorate devastating psychological affects on children due to Gaza massacre

Art therapy project to ameliorate devastating psychological affects on children due to Gaza massacre

07.03.08 – 12:56

IImagemage Kristen Ess

Palestinian children are routinely subjected to scenes that no adult should have to witness and the psychological affects are devastating.

Insomnia, anemia from inability to eat, bed-wetting, stunted psychological development which continues to affect Palestinians later in life, fear of leaving the home, are just some of the issues mentioned by doctors in the southern Gaza Strip throughout years of interviews.

“Our children are facing fear, anxiety and tension after living through tragedy and violence, the scenes of death and destruction.”

Samih Abu Zackheh, the Director of the Center of Arts for the Palestinian Child, focuses on art therapy.

He describes the pictures that the children draw as having recurrent themes: tanks, warplanes, bulldozers uprooting trees, smoke rising from homes after missiles have hit, ambulances.

“These have become the dominant figures in the drawings of childhood.

He says that of utmost importance is to instill some sort of normalcy and routine into children’s lives, which is difficult under the best of circumstances under occupation. And after the recent spate of killings in Gaza, over 125 killed by Israeli forces in a week’s time, and with Israeli forces seriously impacting the rights of children, this is difficult, but crucial. Israeli forces also killed 20 school children in Gaza and two in the West Bank during the week.

To be happy, to play in the sun, to hold soccer matches without fear of being shot, as has been the case in Khan Younis Refugee Camp, are among the rights of children. Imprisoning chidren at 11 years old, opening fire on elementary schools, shooting children in the legs who throw stones at the Old City gate in Hebron, are all violations of the right to childhood.

In addition to the art therapy project, there is other work underway to find ways to provide direct psychological counseling to both child and parent, in order to help parents who are struggling with their own losses, guide their children through the ongoing tragedies.


Art and the children of Darfur

Drawn in Darfur: Pictures Don’t Lie

Could prosecutors use images by Darfur’s children showing civilians under attack as evidence in a future war crimes trial?

By Rebekah Heil in London and Katy Glassborow in The Hague (AR No. 126, 14-Aug-07)

Anna Schmitt was in eastern Chad interviewing Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region when the women at a displacement camp gave her some advice.

“If you want information, you should ask the children.” So she did just that. During her research for the non-government organisation Waging Peace, Schmitt sat in a classroom with the camp’s children, many of whom had been forced from their homes three or four years ago. Through interpreters who spoke Arabic and the languages of Darfur, she asked the children about their hopes and dreams. Many answered that they wanted to be doctors or teachers or join the civil service.

One 16-year-old boy said, “I don’t want to become a rebel. I want to be educated and continue school, so I can help my people.” When he was 14, his father had been killed in front of him in Darfur.

Schmitt asked the children to write down their memories when one of them asked, ‘Would we be allowed to draw instead?’ The children, between the ages of five and 18, drew pictures showing their villages full of tanks and armed men on horseback, houses ablaze and helicopters circling the skies. As Waging Peace gathered in the drawings, the translators got the children to tell them what was in their pictures, and wrote these explanations down on the back of each one.

In the pictures, the helicopters bear the markings of military aircraft, and men in camouflage are labeled by the children as Janjaweed militia. Villagers are shown under attack, women are led off in chains, and civilians are shot at and try to defend themselves with spears and arrows. These visual accounts contradict Khartoum’s insistence that most of the casualties involve combatants from Darfur’s rebel movements.

Waging Peace director Louise Roland-Gosselin says the pictures suggest that the Sudanese government is directly involved in the violence, working alongside the Janjaweed. “Civilians are being targeted, not rebels. Women and children are being shot at, not rebels. It’s not a civil war, and not rebels against government troops,” she said. Roland-Gosselin pointed out that the military are shown as having a lighter skin colour than those being attacked, and explained that the children are identifying themselves as black Africans and the attackers as Arabs.

Khartoum has long denied claims that it is supporting the militia. But this claim was recently contested by the International Criminal Court, ICC, which was tasked by the United Nations Security Council to look into events in Darfur.

Prosecutors began investigations in 2005, and announced this February that they believe Ahmad Harun, currently Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs, and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, are responsible for coordinated violence against innocent civilians in Darfur.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the men are suspected of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes during attacks on the villages of Kodoom, Bindisi, Mukjar and Arwala in western Darfur between 2003 and 2004. These include rape, murder, torture, destruction of property and forcible transfer. In April, ICC judges issued arrest warrants against the two men.

Waging Peace plans to submit the 500 drawings to the ICC as evidence of attacks carried out by Sudanese government forces. “We think that these pictures are evidence of genocide and show what has been happening for the past four years, and that they constitute evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Roland-Gosselin. She believes the fact that the drawings were produced by children make them even more valuable as evidence.

“Children basically speak the truth, and the truth coming out of them is much more credible than what’s coming from the Sudanese government,” she said. IWPR approached ICC prosecutors to ask whether such pictures might be admissible as evidence in a criminal investigation and subsequent trial, but they refused to comment.

Chief Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo has consistently encouraged NGOs working in relevant countries to share evidence with his team of investigators. In September 2006, he called on NGOs to help raise awareness about the court across Africa, support witnesses and victims, and collect evidence from the field. “I want to increase your participation so that you help me to get gender-based evidence, as we cannot present a case without evidence,” he told NGOs at a conference. “To enlarge victim participation, we encourage your help.”

If the Darfur children’s pictures were to be brought as evidence, the possibility that the organisation that gathered the evidence exerted some influence on them would have to be dealt with. In general, the onus is on NGOs to prove that the verbal and other testimony they gather – in this case the drawings – were not affected by interviewers with an agenda.

Lawyer Jean Flamme told IWPR he was concerned about the power NGOs could exercise over victims, and questioned their legitimacy in the legal process. Flamme formerly represented Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a former militia leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo indicted for war crimes and now awaiting trial at the ICC. Flamme said that the prosecutor’s file against Lubanga contains many reports from NGOs, a fact which he finds “questionable”, since the court is required to be completely independent – from NGOs, the countries which support and fund it, and even from the UN Security Council. “This is a big problem,” he stressed.

The human rights group FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights) has recently collected its own drawings from children in refugee camps in Chad. These too seem to portray Janjaweed attacks. Karine Bonneau, director of international justice at FIDH, told IWPR that should ICC prosecutors decide to use such drawings in court, NGOs will have to describe the precise circumstances under which they were created.

Anton Nikiforov, advisor to the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which like the ICC is based in The Hague, said NGO evidence is used by prosecutors at the tribunal. He noted that prosecutors have to go back and re-interview any witnesses passed to them by human rights groups. “We would use the person who collected such evidence as the drawings as an expert witness to explain how they came about, but then we would need to bring corroborating evidence from the eyewitnesses, their relatives or other sources who could confirm the evidence.” He told IWPR that in general terms, using evidence provided by children is never easy. If an international criminal tribunal accepts evidence from NGOs and human rights groups – including drawings – it is obliged to verify its authenticity and corroborate it with other evidence and testimony.

If children are called to give evidence in court, they could be subjected to vigorous cross-examination by defence lawyers trying to disprove their testimony and attack their credibility. Nikiforov suggested that there was a possibility that “judges would be reluctant to have kids crucified in court”. In any event, the prosecution will be required to submit serious corroborating evidence for testimony of this kind.

Margriet Blaauw from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims adds a word of caution, stressing that “getting justice is hard”, and giving evidence could cause victims to be traumatised a second time.

She says witnesses need to be offered support before, during and after giving evidence. It would have to be made clear to the children why they are doing the drawings, and they would need to have proper support from the ICC or from the NGO which spoke to them.

“Their wounds cannot be reopened, and then left. It is up to the court to provide sufficient protection to the children’s rights,” said Blaauw.

Bonneau said that criminal evidence needs to relate to a specific person, so pictures showing men in uniform or military helicopters could be used as general evidence at the initial investigation stage. “It is not evidence against a particular accused, so the children would not have to appear or give their testimony before the court” said Bonneau, adding that “taken together with other documents, it could confirm the fact that the population is attacked by Janjaweed”.

Each drawing collected by Waging Peace has the name of the artist written on the back, together with their home village, and their age now and at the time of the attack. The children were certain that they what were drawing happened in 2003 and 2004. According to Roland-Gosselin, “We’re hoping to have exhibitions all over the place exhibiting these drawings and eventually having these permanently placed in a memorial or a museum.”

One picture, drawn by a boy who was 15 when his village was attacked and is now 18, left a short message on the back, written from his new home in a refugee camp. “Look at these pictures carefully and you will see what happened in Darfur. Thank you and see you later.”


Rebekah Heil is an IWPR contributor in London and Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

Source: Institute for war and peace reporting

Lancet: Healing through art therapy in disaster settings

A rare occurence an art therapy article in the Lancet!!
No fulltext available without a subscription though.

Entrez PubMed

Lancet. 2006 Dec;

Healing through art therapy in disaster settings.

Ahmed SH, Siddiqi MN.

Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan.

PMID: 17188987 [PubMed – in process]

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New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

16 Jun 2006 12:32:11 GMT
Source: UNHCR

As the young refugee “Jenny” read out the traumatic experiences she had faced in her journey from tribal massacres in Burundi to a new life in South Africa, her voice grew increasingly strained, faltered and then halted.For the audience assembled at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, there could not have been a better demonstration of the emotional power conveyed by the personal stories appearing in a new book, The Suitcase Stories: refugee children reclaim their identities.

The book, a by-product of an innovative programme providing art therapy to refugee children, contains both their stories and the drawings they made of their experiences.”Then my parents died. They just burned the house of my family,” reads the transcript of the story told by Jenny, who like all the participants chose the name used in the book. “All my family was living in that house – my mother, my daddy, my other aunty, my mother’s sister, my brother, my sister.

I don’t know why, still now, why they burned the house. I wish to find out.”Just three years old at the time, she survived only because she was with another aunt during the attack. In the following years she faced life in exile in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. One day when she was 11, she had the sudden realisation that she would never see her mother again.”I asked God: ‘Why did you take my mum away from me?’

And it was like, what can I do next? Let me do some action here that I will never forget in my life,” Jenny related. Taking her younger sister, she made her way south to a country about which she had only the vaguest knowledge.Eventually arriving in South Africa – where they did not speak the language – the two girls lived on the streets of Johannesburg for weeks before they were taken in and given shelter.

Now 20, she sells clothes in an informal market.Jenny was just one of a group of children who Glynis Clacherty, a South African child researcher, saw needed psychological help. The aim – when she first thought of the project in 2001 – was not a book, but to let the children come to terms with their experiences by speaking about and drawing them.Children were given old suitcases and told they could decorate the outsides with paintings about their lives. At the same time, Clacherty recorded long conversations with the children in which she let them tell of their experiences.

Both the artwork and their words are in the book, which was unveiled six days before ceremonies for World Refugee Day are held globally on June 20.”When I first met this group of young people, one of the young women said to me: ‘I want you to help us with a book so people will know why we came here,'” Clacherty said. “And that is what we did. Each one of these children has a remarkable story to tell.”Proceeds from sales of the book will go to fund the continued operation of The Suitcase Project for more refugee children. In addition, T-shirts inspired by the art of the project were unveiled at the book launch.

The profits from the clothing line, designed by Johannesburg-based Frances Andrew, will also go to the project.”They are not just victims, they are survivors. They have overcome difficulties with remarkable courage,” said Clacherty. “They are real human beings, they are not just refugees.”Clacherty started the project with art teacher Diane Welvering, subsequently gaining support from the UN refugee agency and other organisations. It also merged into UNHCR’s study into violence affecting refugee children, which in turn provided insights that will be used in the UN Global Study on Violence

Against Children due out later this year.The children from The Suitcase Project were included in UNHCR workshops using artwork to draw out children’s ideas and experiences on violence. Subsequently five were included in a regional UN meeting in which children not only discussed their experiences as a group, but proposed solutions to protect against further violence.Many who were children when Clacherty launched her project are now young adults and the plan is to draw in a fresh group with the resources from the book and T-shirts.

Many of those who took part joined Clacherty on the stage at the book-launch and their painted suitcases covered the tables.”None of the children want to be labelled as refugees in their present lives, so they have chosen to remain anonymous,” Clacherty wrote in an introduction to the book, “The names they chose to replace their own all have significance for them; they are names of lost parents or special friends from their home countries.”As

I have worked with these stories I have been struck by the sadness, the loss, the displacement that the children have experienced, but also overwhelmingly by their resilience, their ability to make a plan and often to see the funny side of what is happening to them.”

Further information on The Suitcase Project, the book and the T-shirts is available at: Jack ReddenIn Johannesburg, South Africa

Reuters AlertNet – New book captures the voices and art of African child refugees

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Blogged with Flock

Smallest Witnesses: the crisis in Darfur through children’s eyes

Committee on Conscience | Podcasts


Friday, June 3, 2005

NARRATOR: The images are grim and all too familiar to those whose lives have been destabilized in the Sudanese region of Darfur. These are scenes of villages being burned, of murder, rape, and destruction, of thousands of people turned into refugees on the Sudan and Chad border. All are captured on crayon and paper by Darfur’s smallest witnesses, the children.

See videocast here:
Article with more drawings here:

Arts therapy offers relief – Arts therapy offers relief


Published , April 10, 2006, 06:00:01 AM EDT

This drawing, entitled “Tears of Blood,” was made in a project sponsored by the Artreach Foundation, an organization that uses expressive art therapy to help children in war-torn countries like Bosnia and Kosovo. (Special – Artreach Foundation)

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a series of three stories on different creative arts therapies that students are studying at the University.

Stressed-out students who have their pricey psychiatrists on speed dial may benefit from a different type of therapy — creativity.

Creative arts therapies, including art, drama and music therapy, can offer artful relief for many disabilities and illnesses.

As these therapies become more mainstream ideas, more students are choosing to study them in hopes of someday singing, drawing and acting clients to better health.

The National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations Web site,, defines creative arts therapy as using creative processes “to foster health, communication, and expression.”

Music therapy is the only creative arts therapy major offered at the University, but that has not stopped some students from working toward degrees in other areas of therapy study.

Erika Vinson, a junior from Augusta, is one inventive student who created her own honors interdisciplinary study in art and psychology — the two foundations of art therapy.

Continued here: