Can states be relied upon to protect the life and dignity of individuals during times of war?
States cannot be relied upon to protect the life and dignity of individuals during times of war. States, distinctively in the estate of war, operate mostly to fulfill their national interest. As countries put their nation’s security, independence, power, and economic profit foremost, it is unrealistic to expect states to respect the life and dignity of individuals during war times. This paper will proceed by first defining the concept of an armed conflict, and its impact on the life of civilians in our modern times. Next, it will provide the logic supporting the stated argument by employing examples from recent wars. Finally, it will conclude with asserting the need of having a coherent enforcement mechanism to comply states with the International Humanitarian Law.
Under International Humanitarian law, international armed conflicts refer to those waged between states, or between a state and a national liberation movement in the state itself. The goal of International Humanitarian Law is to humanize individuals involved in those conflicts, in efforts to minimize the human suffering and negative outcomes of wars. However, notwithstanding the adoption by most countries of the Geneva Conventions and treaties related to IHL, crimes of war arise in every conflict around the world on a regular basis. Recent conflicts have confirmed that the devastations of war continue to have a destructive impact especially on the civilian population. According to the United Nation’s statistics, 80 to 90 percent of war victims are estimated to be civilians. This high percentage proves that states have usually been indifferent about protecting the life and dignity of individuals during times of war.
States wage wars mainly to assure their security, independence and power, or to pursue their political and economic interest. Therefore, states tend to prioritize these goals when initiating wars, although achieving them might come at the expense of the life of civilians. When President George W. Bush persisted that Saddam Hussein imposed a threat to the security of the U.S and Middle East, claiming that Saddam possessed WMDs and that Iraq had accepted and trained Al-Qaeda terrorists, the United State’s main aim of declaring war on Iraq was to remove Saddam from power and defend itself. After 10 years of war on Iraq, at least 133,00 civilians were killed by direct violence. In addition, the number of civilians killed indirectly, as a result of the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure and dislocation is even larger. Both the US-lead collation and Iraqi government ignored the life of Iraqi civilians when fighting to achieve their political goals and interests.
States seem to care less about respecting the life and dignity of individuals during war times, when knowing that the state they are fighting is not capable of responding to the violations they commit towards its citizens. The human rights violations committed by the United States Army against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is an example of how states willingness to abide by the humanitarian law is contingent upon other states reciprocating. Recognizing that the Iraqi army would not pose any threat to them, American soldiers did not respect Abu Ghraib prisoners’ dignity. This proves that states cannot be relied upon to protect the life and dignity of individuals during times of war. Moreover, many conflicts and wars have shown that states may use the violations of human life and dignity in the estate of war as an effective tool of achieving their goals. Historically, rape has been an effective tool of war in many sub-Saharan conflicts. Soldiers participating in these wars were sometimes encouraged to rape civilians, in order to evince their victory and dominance. Additionally, citizens are more likely to comply with the soldiers’ demands when they are under the intimidation and threat of being raped.
As in the case of the Syrian Civil War, Al-Assad’s regime had used violence against the non-violent protesters to annihilate the Syrian revolution against his regime. The violence escalated gradually after the Al-Assad’s regime realized that the only way of defeating the rising opposition is, by sparking a wave of violence to force Syrians to bind to his regime. This resulted in death of thousands of innocent Syrians, who were not taking part in the Syrian revolution. This indicates how states are not reliable in protecting their citizens’ lives when it comes to maintaining the power of their governments.
In conclusion, states prove themselves to not be relied upon protecting the life and dignity of individuals during times of war. Most of the casualties of our modern conflicts are mainly civilians and not soldiers. Many states have committed genocide, systematic rape, direct violence, and the use of child soldiers as war tools to achieve their political goals during times of war. It is unrealistic to rely upon states to protect the life and dignity of individuals during wars, as their main priority in that estate is achieving specific aims. The development and sophistication of weapons in our modern times has made it easier for states to justify their violations of humanitarian law, as they claim the difficulty of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. At the end, there is a crucial need for having a coherent enforcement mechanism to comply states with the International Humanitarian Law, as states can not be trusted to respect the value of human life during times of war.