27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

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.

former hostage, Colombia

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.

Unsung heroines

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 families.

Lost childhood

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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A formidable challenge

Putting ideas into practice

A conference with a difference

Even wars have limits

No good or bad victims

Weapons: the humanitarian perspective

Disasters have no limits

Fine tuning the response

The worldwide health crisis

A role to develop

Shared principles