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The Effects of War on Civilians

HSB 4M1 Independent Study Unit

Mr. O’Reilly

June 4th, 2010



Table of Contents

Title

Page Number

Introduction

3

Children in Armed Conflict

4

Child Soldiers

5-6

Refugee and Displaced Children

6

Children and Sexual Violence

6-7

Women in Armed Conflict

7-8

Education

8-9

The Congo Conflict

10

Health

11

Landmines

11-12

Protection

12-13

Conclusion

13

Work Cited

14-17

Bibliography

18-19


Introduction

War is “the active struggle between competing entities,i” the battle between two oppositions. In the past war was just like this; there was a good side and a bad side, it was fought on a battlefield and any casualties were by those who wore a uniform. However, in recent years this tradition has faded away and civilians have become the new targets of war. Civilians now compose of 90 percent of all casualtiesii and endure the worst effects or ramifications of modern day warfare. It used to be that civilians were the innocent who played no part in war and were to be protected at all costs. Women and children were the vulnerable and the protection of these people were the very reasons why many went to fight in wars to begin with. So where did this corruption of fundamental moral obligations begin? The Second World War saw a shift in the roles of civilians, with the bombings of Britain and Berlin; the devastating Holocaust or the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American carpet bombing in Vietnam where the “U.S. dropped 540,000 tons of bombs, killing anywhere from 150 000 to 500 000 civilians.iii” The trend continues throughout the decades to terrorism, and sexual violence and exploitation. Civilians are often displaced becoming victims of starvation or diseaseiv. Women and young girls are victims of abduction, rape, torture and other forms of sexual violence and subserviencev. Their childhoods ruined, their education sacrificed and their bodies and health victimized in the cruellest ways, the effects of war on civilians are severe and eternal affecting them psychologically, physiologically and emotionally past humane bounds and watched by an apathetic world.



Children and Armed Conflict

“Childhood refers to the state and condition of a child’s life; to the quality of those yearsvi” and what kind of childhood can a child have living in a country of war. Children are the innocent yet they can be the most severely affected by war. They often have to flee their homes, witness horrific atrocities and in some cases commit them themselves.

Children are always among the first affected by armed conflict. Even if they are not killed or injured, they can be orphaned, abducted and left with psychological and psychosocial distress from direct exposure to violence, dislocation, poverty or the loss of a loved one. Those who survive often find themselves enveloped in a battle for survival of a different kind-against disease, inadequate shelter, a lack of basic services and poor nutrition. Schools can always be caught up in the violence, often with tragic consequences.vii

The threat of war to civilians has grown dramatically within the past two decades and an estimated 90 percent of global conflict related deaths have been civilian, 80 percent of those being women and childrenviii. Women are children are not always the direct targets but can become casualties as the “indirect victims of stray bullets or explosive remnants of war.ix” Another recently new characteristic of war is the trend of civil conflicts, wars fought within a country between different ethnicity or cultural groups. “The nature of civil war dictates that fighting takes place where people live, rather than on a battleground. And of the roots of conflict lie in ethnic hatred or resentment, all members of the ‘despised’ group become vulnerable, not just the combatants representing them.x

Within the past decade an estimated 2 million children have died as the result of armed conflict, and 3 times as many have been injured or permanently disabled usually as the result of a landminexi. “

These statistics are shocking enough, but more chilling is the

conclusion to be drawn from them: more and more of the world is being sucked

into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human

values; a space in which children are slaughtered, raped, and maimed; a space

in which children are exploited as soldiers; a space in which children are

starved and exposed to extreme brutality. Such unregulated terror and

violence speak of deliberate victimization. There are few further depths to

which humanity can sink.xii

Child Soldiers

Recent combat has established the participation of children as soldiers who are “more obedient, do not question orders, and are easier to manipulate than adult soldiers”xiii.Government or rebel armies have recruited tens of thousands of child soldiersxiv and although most are adolescents, many are ten years old or youngerxv. Children targeted to become soldiers come from poorer families or those who have been separated from their families and have nowhere else to goxvi.

There are different methods of recruitment: “some are conscripted, others are press-ganged or kidnapped and still others are forced to join armed groups to defend their families”xvii. Many countries have weak administration policies such as birth registration so conscription in many cases comes off of the streets with children being seized from “the streets or even from schools and orphanages”xviii. In Myanmar groups of kids between the ages of 15 and 17 are “surrounded in their schools and forcibly conscripted”xix. Children from wealthier families are usually not targeted or are released if their parents can buy them out; still some families send their children away to avoid conscriptionxx. Although some children “present themselves for service...it is misleading to consider this voluntary” while there are so many social, economic and political pressures that have gone into this decision. Once recruited child soldiers are treated the same as adults and experience the same “brutal induction ceremonies”xxi. They are abused and punished in the cruellest ways. Girls who are recruited become sex slaves, sometimes ‘married off’ to a combatant. They also prepare food, wash clothes and attend to the wounded, bound by their gender roles and sexual uses. Children are exposed to horrific scenes and commit grotesque acts sometimes even against their own family or communityxxii. The violence that surrounds them desensitizes them and encourages them to commit future similar actsxxiii.

Refugee and Displaced Children

“During the 1990s, around 20 million children were forced by conflict or human rights to leave their homes.xxiv” During these kinds of situations when families must abandon their homes or their livelihoods they can become separated, especially in a crisis or if the displacement was unplanned. “Children left alone are more likely to be sexually abused or recruited into combatxxv” or succumb to hunger or disease. Entire generations have never lived at homexxvi due to displacement. It is often viewed as being temporary but can extend throughout yearsxxvii. 40 million people have been forced to flee their homes but of those 40 million only about one third make it across national borders the rest remaining as internally displacedxxviii. The conditions are usually much worse for those who are internally displaced and it is difficult to get international help because the state government regards it as interferencexxix. However, in or out of the country conditions of refugee and displacement camps are poor and promote more suffering for the victims who have already had to flee their homes, their livelihoods and may or may not be with their family.



Children and Sexual Violence

Sexual violence has become a “consciously deployed weapon of warxxx” for both women and children. Young girls are usually the primary targets and victims however it does happen to boys as well. Adolescent girls are sought out because it is believed that they are less likely to be infected by HIV or other sexually transmitted diseasesxxxi.

The rise in sexual violence that often accompanies conflict is not restricted to crimes committed by combatants. The chaos and disruption produced by war undermines the rule of law, leaving children-particularly those who have become separated from their families and communities-much more vulnerable to sexual violence or exploitation.xxxii

The lack of resources such as food, shelter, water, etc and the effects of extreme poverty can also force children into prostitutionxxxiii. The widespread use of sexual violence and submission also increases HIV infection rates affecting the social order and overall health of a population.



Women in Armed Conflict

Women are severely affected in combat zones and are exposed to abuse, violence and sexual exploitation. Sexual Violence goes beyond rape and encompasses “forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced impregnation, forced termination of pregnancy, assault, trafficking, inappropriate medical examinations, strip searches”xxxiv and more. International treaties, conventional practices and moral obligations prohibit this sort of conduct yet thousands of women are exposed to it daily. Sexual violence constitutes cruel, usual and degrading treatment, torture, and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or healthxxxv. “Acts of sexual violence are self-standing crimes under the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The jurisprudence of these bodies has reinforced the status of rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity.xxxvi



Factors that Increase the risk of sexual violence for women in war time include

  • “Women are often left alone or unaccompanied when their male relatives have fled the area, are detained, missing or engaged in hostilitiesxxxvii

  • “Women are usually unarmedxxxviii

  • “The defilement of women is often seen as demoralizing or transmitting a message of intimidation to the menxxxix

  • “When the actual combatants are out of reach, sexual violence is a means of attacking the community of the ‘enemy’xl

  • “Their poverty and lack of resources renders women vulnerable to exploitation in order to meet their basic material needsxli

Reproductive Health Care for women is often overlooked in its necessity. Neglecting these health care needs can have severe consequences such as “preventable maternal and infant deaths, unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions, and the spread of sexually transmitted infections including HIV”xlii. Women and children are the vulnerable and the targeted in times of war. Gender roles force women and girls to fetch firewood or forage for food; yet by leaving the camp they expose themselves to abuse, rape and even deathxliii. More focus has to be given to women and children and their protection must not be a priority only in litigation but implementation as well.

Education

Children who live in conflict areas are deprived of their right to access of education. The Save the Children foundation has calculated that 115 million primary aged children are not in school. Of those 115 million, 43 million-1 in 3- lives in states affected by conflictxliv. “These children are denied their right to education, a fair chance in life, access to skills and knowledge, and the route to a better life for themselves and their country”xlv. Education is not only a right, it is also a requirement to break the vicious cycle of poverty and violence. In the Democratic Republic of Congo more than 5 million primary aged children are not in school and more than 6 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 have never even been to schoolxlvi. It is understandable why some parents do not want their children to go to school and risk the possibility of abduction or conscription as described in the section referring to child soldiers. There is also a lack of qualified teachers because they are often targeted and are either killed or flee to another countryxlvii. Teachers are targeted because they are seen as “important community members and government employees”xlviii.

The education systems in countries with armed conflict are poorly structures, maintained and valued. With unqualified teachers responsible for classes with approximately 200 students, the little education that is received is poor quality and will not be of much use to its pupilsxlix. There is also no option of post-secondary studies which deters people from even beginningl. Girls are prevented from receiving an education by cultural and gender traditions. There is also a safety aspect and the risk of being assaulted either in transit to school or by a teacher or older male student while in schoolli. The exposure of being outdoors also warrants to possibility of abduction and forced into sexual servitude by rebel groups.

Education is a necessity to stopping the violence and breaking the cycle of conflict yet it is the most challenging obstacle to overcome. Conflict prevents education: it prevents access to education, it deters students and teachers and it prevents the proper funds needed to support students and schools from being fairly allocated. Furthermore, education is often not significantly considered by international groups and aid agencies who focus more on keeping people alive and do not always recognize the unique contribution that education has to offer and the possibility it pertains to ending violence altogether.



The Congo Conflict

A proxy war has raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the last six years and is named the “deadliest conflict since World War II”lii. As of 2009, five million people have lost their livesliii. The DR Congo is extremely wealthy and is abundant with valuable (and expensive) resources such as diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zincliv. The people of the Congo have no share in these resources and live in extreme poverty the “country has hardly any roads or railways, while the health and education system lies in ruins”lv. The conflict was influenced by the Rwandan genocide because of the number of Hutus who took refuge here while fleeing from prosecution in their own country. When the Hutus entered the country they allied themselves with Mobutu’s government and began killing the large Tutsis population that had lived there for generationslvi. Since then alliances have been made, power has been pursued and conflict has subsequently resulted, affecting millions of innocent civilian lives. The war was declared over in 2003 but fighting continued in the eastern part of the country until the end of 2008lvii, yet the scars of war remain as “reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities continue to pour in”lviii. Congolese soldiers have been involved in a “staggering epidemic of rape”lix. “In recent years, more than a dozen militia and rebel groups have settled into what has become almost a way of life—fighting for control of territory and mines and preying on Congolese villages”lx. People have had to flee their homes, have died from starvation or disease or been directly killed by the conflict. These militia and rebel groups use rape as a means of punishing villageslxi, “more than 4000 rapes have been reported in the east this year (2009), but fewer than a dozen soldiers have been convicted of sexual assault.lxii


Health

Health care is extremely bad within conflict zones for two reasons: 1) the conditions promote disease and disability and 2) the difficulty civilians suffer while trying to receive health care. Access to health care is very limited with more money going into the war effort than into the protection of its civilians. Hospitals or medical services can be far away and getting there can be difficult and extremely dangerous. Health encompasses the physical, emotional and mental well-being of an individual affected by war. Besides the obvious injuries caused by direct combat or weapons, wars promote malnutrition, starvation and disease especially for those who have been displacedlxiii. The right to access to health care is guaranteed in human rights acts and laws, yet many of these rights go ignored in times of warlxiv. Furthermore, the sexual violence that is committed in times of war encourages the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDs, particularly to women and young girlslxv.



Landmines

The danger of a landmine is that it is indiscriminate; it cannot determine between one human life and another. It does not know the difference between a man and a woman, a combatant and a civilian or the difference between an adult and a child. “Over 80% of landmine victims are civilians and one third of those victims are children. Fewer than 10% of landmine victims have access to appropriate health care and rehabilitation services.lxvi” Landmines are a legal indiscriminate weapon used by countries all over the world and produced by many of the wealthiest who sell these weapons of death to countries engaged in civil or political war. Landmines costs as little as US$3 to produce however it costs up to US$1000 to remove and dismantlelxvii, therefore when the war is over the landmines are usually left where they are and continue to threaten the lives of innocent civilians and children who live or play around the mine, not knowing that they could die with a single step. There are 200-215 million landmines in stockpiles within 78 different countrieslxviii. The death toll is huge with 15000-20000 people that are killed by landmines each yearlxix and more than 300 000 people are living with landmine related injuries around the worldlxx.

No international law specifically bans the production, use, stockpiling, sale and export of anti-personnel mines. It is now time for such a law. UNICEF joins many other organizations in concluding that this is the only way to stop the endless suffering of children and other civilians. UNICEF will not deal with companies manufacturing or selling landmines.lxxi
Protection

There are many different organizations dedicated to helping the lives caught in the crossfire of war. The United Nations was established in 1945 to protect the rights and freedoms of every living person regardless of where they live, economic status, social status, religion, race, colour or ethnicity, etc. The UN Peacekeepers help maintain peace in their efforts to protect civilian lives. The Women’s Refugee Commission ““works to ensure that displaced women and young people can live in safe surroundings without fear of exploitation or abuse, have access to health care services, and make a living to support themselves and their families.lxxii” Other organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Amnesty International and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) are all devoted to raising awareness and ending the violence that is affecting so many.

There have also been many different laws, conventions and treaties that were ratified to protect the innocent lives in war and act as a safeguard to international human rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child for example is to “advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.lxxiii” The fourth Geneva Convention entrenches the rights of civilians as non-combatants to be protected and never violatedlxxiv. International humanitarian law and human rights acts strictly prohibit violating behaviour against civilians yet many turn a blind eye to the evidence of violence and try to remain wilfully blind to the horrors that surround them.
Conclusion

Their childhoods ruined, their education sacrificed and their bodies and health victimized in the cruellest ways, the effects of war on civilians are severe and eternal affecting them psychologically, physiologically and emotionally past humane bounds and watched by an apathetic world. Children are among the first affected by war even if they are not directly targeted they can be orphaned, abducted, sexually or physically abused, and sometimes recruited as soldierslxxv. If any of these effects do not get to them then starvation and disease will. During the 1990s approximately 20 million children were forced to abandon their home and became forcibly displaced. Displaced children risk becoming separated from their families and communities and are constantly threatened by abduction and the possibility of sexual exploitation. War affects education preventing children from attending school and losing the possibility of ending the vicious cycle of war and poverty. It also implicates the health care system endangering the lives of many and keeping help far away. Guns, explosions, landmines, disease, malnutrition and the soldiers themselves all target civilians exposing them to cruel and inhumane treatments. Although international laws, conventions and treaties have been signed and ratified by nearly all countries these violations occur every day in many different places of the world. International Humanitarian Law demands attention as the rights of these innocent lives are continually violated while the world remains in ignorant bliss.



Work Cited

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lxiii Addressing the Needs of Women Affected by Armed Conflict. ICRC, Unknown. Web. 25 Mar. 2010. http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/ICRC_women_war.pdf

lxiv Addressing the Needs of Women Affected by Armed Conflict. ICRC, Unknown. Web. 25 Mar. 2010.

http://www.unicef.org/emerg/files/ICRC_women_war.pdf

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