The Geneva Conventions, written four years after the end of World War II, were designed to limit what armed actors could do in war and ensure civilians are protected from violence. Unfortunately, the Conventions are being violated in nearly every conflict in the world today. Civilians are not only still dying from the effects of conflict, but they are being specifically targeted by warring parties.
Here are just two examples:
- Three quarters of a million civilians were killed in conflicts in Darfur, Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan in 2006 alone.
- At the end of 2008, more than 42 million people had to flee their homes due to more than 30 different conflicts around the world.
“The killing of civilians has become commonplace in modern conflict” says Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “Levels of impunity and lawlessness in conflict zones throughout the world have reached crisis levels.”
Violations of the laws of war are committed by governments and non-state actors, including terrorist and rebel groups. Many government forces are not equipped to protect civilians, or make decisions based on political considerations that endanger innocent people. And the United Nations Security Council has failed to take effective measures to protect millions of people in conflicts.
Oxfam America is working actively to promote more respect for international humanitarian law like the Geneva Conventions, and is recommending the following measures:
- The United States and the United Nations should publicly challenge violators of international humanitarian law, even if the violations are committed by allies.
- Impose timely sanctions against political and military leaders responsible for violations of humanitarian laws, and monitor them to deter future war crimes.
- Improve the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations to protect civilians.
- Work with the UN to monitor conflicts and quickly deploy mediation and diplomatic teams at the earliest stages of a crisis.
- Adopt an arms trade treaty that would reduce access to illegal weapons used to wage war and violate humanitarian laws.