United States must protect civilians caught in the crossfire

By mborum

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According to a new report published today by Oxfam, with the imminent election of a new US President, the re-emergence of Russia, the rise of China and India, and a stronger European and African Union, a new world order is emerging that must do a better job protecting people whose lives are threatened by conflict.

For a Safer Tomorrow: Protecting Civilians in a Multipolar World warns that the safety of civilians throughout the world will be in jeopardy unless these emerging and existing global powers work together to better protect all civilians from falling victim to conflict through genocide and other atrocities.

?The next President of the United States will take office 60 years after the Geneva Conventions of 1949 enshrined the right of civilians to be protected in times of armed conflict. Yet the fundamental principle that civilians should be protected from violence and abuse in warfare is violated in every current conflict,? said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

According to the report, there is an opportunity for change. For a Safer Tomorrow is based on Oxfam?s experience responding to the world?s conflicts for more than 60 years. It reviews the protection of civilians in current and recent conflicts, and examines the implications of the shift in global power. It sets out an agenda to protect civilians through local, national and regional action with far more consistent international support.

Examples from the last year show that violence against civilians can be prevented by organized local, regional, and international efforts. For example, in January 2008 Kenya did not collapse into bloody civil war, partly because of local community action to prevent widespread outbreaks of violence as well as efforts by African and international leaders to restore peace.

?The wars in Darfur and Afghanistan have shown us that the political will to stop violence to civilians is not enough? said Offenheiser. ?The will to act must be coupled with capable institutions, wise prioritization, and international cooperation.?

According to the report, the war on terror has overshadowed crises like the Democratic Republic of Congo which has lost 5.4 million people?eight per cent of its population?to conflict and the deadly hunger and disease that it has unleashed since 1998. This year, more than a thousand women a month have reported being raped, many as part of a systematic campaign linked to the conflict.

"Americans sympathize with those who suffer atrocities, but many feel impotent to do anything about it. This powerlessness seems justified as multiple presidents have promised ?never again? after mass civilian deaths in the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Srebrenica but failed to follow this rhetoric with concrete action,? said Offenheiser. ?The next president of the US will soon enter the Oval Office. It?s time to prove that the US can make a real impact in ending the atrocities that are still too common in conflicts around the world.?

To protect civilians caught up in armed conflict and improve global peace and stability, Oxfam is calling on the United States to:

  • make the safety of civilians the overriding priority in the response to conflicts
  • vigorously invest in diplomacy and civilian conflict response
  • adopt zero tolerance of war crimes—whether by its own forces or others
  • act much more quickly to tackle the trends that threaten new or prolonged
  • conflicts—including poverty and inequality, climate change and arms proliferation; and
  • prioritize the protection of civilians, not only counterterrorism, in security assistance programs.

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