No good or bad victims
The basic principle of the law of armed conflict is that all individuals who
are not or no longer taking part in hostilities have the right to the protection
of their physical integrity and dignity. This applies regardless of whether they
are prisoners of war, wounded soldiers or civilians caught in the crossfire.
By the same token, all victims of armed conflict, without distinction, are
entitled to receive neutral and impartial humanitarian assistance. Aid agencies
are therefore reluctant to generalize or single out individual categories of
people as having greater needs than others, as these may differ according to the
context and circumstances. The only criterion is that aid should be given first
where it is needed most. That being said, certain categories of people do have
specific vulnerabilities and needs in times of conflict.
Alone and without support
Of all people, the elderly are the most oft-neglected and forgotten
victims of armed conflict, and yet they suffer the consequences in a very dramatic
way. When populations flee their homes, the elderly may be unable or unwilling
to follow - too weak to undertake such an arduous journey or preferring to stay
behind to protect their homes from looters. If they do leave, they may die on
the way from exhaustion or hypothermia. Those that stay survive as best they can
in the midst of hostile communities, with no family and no social protection.
Although they present no threat to anyone, they become the victims of
intimidation and gratuitous violence.
More attention is now being paid to the special needs of women during armed
conflict. Rape and all forms of sexual violence have been roundly condemned as
war crimes and as totally unacceptable in all situations, including conflict,
during which they are often used as a means of humiliating and subjugating the
enemy. Even so, such incidents continue to occur with alarming frequency.
Women are commonly presented as victims, but less is said about the role they
assume as heads of the family when their men go off to fight or are killed. Not
only must they care alone for their children and elderly relatives, but they
also become responsible for earning enough to ensure the family's survival.
Despite their needs, they often have difficulty obtaining credit in order to
purchase tools or land. Women also play an important part in the restoration of
peace and organize many initiatives designed to deal with the lingering
consequences of a war. This multifaceted role deserves far more recognition,
with women given a greater say in the decisions that will affect them and their
Conflict can permanently damage children, both physically and mentally. They may
witness their parents being tortured or murdered, see their mothers raped or be
raped themselves. Too often they are killed or wounded, mutilated by anti-personnel
landmines or found lost or abandoned with no idea what has become of
their families sometimes they are abducted and themselves trained to
perpetrate atrocities. In the absence of any positive value system, force
becomes the only art they know to survive. They learn that guns give them power,
and they may be loath to hand in their weapons at the end of hostilities,
instead turning to crime as a means of feeding themselves.
Every day in the life of a child is vital for his or her intellectual and physical
development, and any loss of educational and recreational opportunities can
never be adequately compensated for states must do everything possible to
minimize this loss, and must not recruit children into their armed forces or
allow them to enlist voluntarily. Along with many other groups campaigning to
end the scourge of child soldiers, the Movement advocates that the minimum age
for all participation in hostilities be raised from 15 to 18 years.
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