If one assumes that war is inevitable, in any particular situation due to the severe viewpoints of the opposing factions, or in general as a destructive result of our very humanity, then one must prepare for it. Weapons of war must be built, and soldiers must be trained..
During this process of training brings with it a choice. Each soldier is told about the risk involved with becoming a member of the armed forces, and has the option to not take part in the militarised activity. Some nations do advocate conscription, but this should only be perpetrated by elected governments, so it can be said in some regard that the population does still have that choice.
It stands to reason that those who do not choose to be part of an armed force should have their choice upheld.
Article 57 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Convention states that in international conflict “constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians, and civilian object…”
In some cases, it is quite difficult for any officials, or the soldiers on the ground, to determine who is and who isn’t a civilian. Laws already exist for the protection of civilians and their property, but in the midst of a battlefield it is very difficult, for obvious reasons, to make sure that these laws are followed, and it is equally difficult for offending parties to be discovered and prosecuted for any small scale crimes committed during conflict.
There are a number of reasons why civilians may come to harm during armed conflict, some technically more legitimate than others.
- An attacking force can suspect that the civilians are aiding/actively supporting/hiding members of the opposing force, which could make them a target.
- Genuine military targets can be attacked with too much force which can have an adverse effect on nearby populations.
- Destruction of infrastructure and abandoned munitions could cause long term damage to civilian health and standard of life long after the war has finished
- The defending faction could actively hide and build installations amongst civilian populations in the hope that the opposing force will not attack.
- Either side could use civilians as hostages in an effort to influence the other.
- Malicious soldiers could personally cause harm to civilians for any other purpose.
No state or person would claim that every human that they came across during any conflict was evil, or destined to be a soldier. The majority of the inhabitants of a conflict zone may have nothing to do with the war and no desire to become involved.
There is one very obvious and undesirable eventuality if a state makes no provision for the protection of civilians during warfare. If overwhelming force is used (for example, nuclear weaponry) the aggressor has a very good chance of completely destroying the population that they may claim to be liberating, conquering or defending. This is an outcome that no military, government or population will find acceptable.
Realizing the effects of modern warfare on civilian populations, the Secretary-General of the UN called for the establishment of a “culture of protection” in a report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in March 2001. Since conflict has become more advanced and complex, the civilian population has come under increasing and persistent threats. Civilians are regularly caught in cross fires or deliberately targeted as means of furthering a cause. Implementing a framework for the Protection of Civilians is an on-going priority for the United Nations.
The Secretary-General now reports regularly on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Since 1999, five reports have been presented to the Security Council, which are prepared by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in consultation with all UN Departments and other relevant humanitarian organisations.
Progress Made So FarEdit
Gradually progress has been made with the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC have prosecuted many war criminals from notable cases including the United Kingdom’s arrest, requested by Spanish Authorities, of former Chilean President Pinochet on charges of torture, and the arrest of Chad’s former President Hissein Habre, by Senegal on similar charges. The successful prosecution of individual criminals can go a long way towards helping to heal the wounds of war by allowing victims to feel that justice has been met, as well as ending impunity which could act as a deterrent to those who may violate the rights of civilians later. Also seen are many resolutions made by the Security Council, links to which can be found at the end. Geneva conventions have also gone a long way to helping the issue. The fourth Geneva Convention dealt with protection of civilians during times of war, to which there is a link to at the end. However, all Geneva conventions may be relevant to the topic.
However, there are still many issues with all the progress made. The Secretary-General stated while talking to the Council, “The task before us now is to take the necessary steps to fully realize that potential and meet the five core challenges”.
He then continues to say, “In practice, that entails consistent application of the aide-memoire on the protection of civilians; regular meetings of the expert group on the issue prior to establishing or renewing peacekeeping mandates; consistent condemnation of violations of the law by all parties to conflict, without exception; ensuring compliance, including targeted measures, mandating commissions of inquiry and referring situations to the International Criminal Court; and timely deployment of peacekeeping missions or additional temporary capacity with robust protection mandates”.
There are other issues also. One extremely important issue is humanitarian access being blocked from reaching the millions of people in desperate need of help. Done by either governments or warring factions. Depriving basic necessities - withholding food, and deliberately starving civilians – as a weapon of war. Access is often denied because it is viewed as contrary to the political and military objectives of a warring party. Establishing an agreement and having freedom of movement in the conflict area can contribute to normalization and building confidence among war affected populations. This is but one of many solutions available to combat this problem.
Forced displacement or forced migration may be another very important issue. Those subjected are known as internally displaced persons (IDPs) are today estimated to number over 50 million worldwide of which 25-30 million have lost their homes due to conflict. The responsibility of assisting IDPs lies with governments, and national and local authorities. The UNHCR is mandated to lead internal action for the protection and assistance of refugees. It is not the only organisation to deal with IDPs but it could be the most influential. However, consistent lack of funding remains a major constraint to international efforts on IDPs. The funding of the IDP – related aid is comparatively low.
Although already highlighted as a progressed organisation, the ICC still has many issues. In truth it is almost impossible to prosecute all suspected perpetrators of conflict related crimes. Truth commissions have become an accepted method of addressing impunity and helping people reconcile the past. One is planned for Sierra Leone for many of the same reasons. However, a Truth Commission should never be a substitute for individual prosecution. To help combat this problem, a solution should be found to allow the ICC or other such organisations to be able to prosecute most if not all war criminals.
Often during armed combat woman and girls are vulnerable to sexual violence, mutilation and trafficking, all of which are used as weapons of war. The Council called for prosecution of crimes against women, an increased protection of women and girls and ensuring that women participate more in decision making in conflict resolution and peace process. Still however, crimes are committed against them and preventative matters may need to be taken or other possible solutions.
An overlooked yet threatening issue is that of landmines. They are often laid with the express purpose of forcing civilians from their communities. Those who survive the initial mine blast almost always suffer horrific injuries and amputations, and are often left disabled for life. Landmines impede the reconstruction process of war-affected societies, the return of refugees and IDPs to their communities. They hinder political reconciliation and block humanitarian relief efforts. As of 1 March 2001, the Ottawa Treaty has 133 signatures, 112 parties, and 6 accessions. The Treaty had yielded some progress manufacturing landmines or their components, and all traditional exporters of mines, except Iraq, have officially ceased their activities. Even with this accomplishment, the threat of landmines remains apparent.
Also an issue is the elderly population in war and after when reconstructing. Field studies say that elderly men and women wanted to full partners in reconstruction and rehabilitation measure. One major issue is isolation, many being deliberately left behind to guard land and also abandoned in the chaos as other family members escape, unable to fend for themselves because of the destruction of communities and social support systems. Few agencies provide tracing and family reunification programs for older adults, resulting in their permanent abandonment and neglect. Possible solutions should be found to re-unite families, not just for the elderly, and also allow integration back into their communities. There is a link to an OCHA report with full details and further issues below.
One other issue is the case of journalists. During warfare the misuse of information can have deadly consequences in armed conflicts, just as information correctly employed can save lives. The hate media, when used to incite genocide such as in Rwanda, is an extreme example of the way information can be manipulated to promote conflict and incite mass violence. Hate speech, misinformation and hostile propaganda continue to be used as blunt instruments against civilians, triggering ethnic violence and forcing displacement. Preventing the spread of this information and ensuring distribution of accurate information is essential. Therefore, the protection of journalists and media crew is fundamental. All journalists and media crew are classed as civilians, having the same rights as each civilian. It should therefore be the foremost objective to work for improved compliance with their rights. This requires proper training ad instructions for those who have to implement them.
Glossary of TermsEdit
Civilian: A person not actively involved in a current military operation. This definition can extend to retired military personnel, and even current serving personnel who are not taking part in the conflict.
Conscription: The practice of forcing civilians to take part in military action. Many countries exercise their constitutional requirement for all citizens to take part in some form of military service for a number of years.
Geneva Convention: First drafted in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, this collection of treaties and agreements are effectively “the rules of warfare”. The Convention lists types of weapons and practices that are not permitted. The most recent addition to the Convention, Protocol III, adds laws about the treatment of medical personnel in a war zone. Contravention of the Geneva Convention is the official definition of “War Crime”.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act: Signed after the end of World War II in 1948, the Declaration forbids practices such as torture (Article 5) regardless as to whether the person is a civilian or not.