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Civilian War Casualties

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Please add the profiles of those known or thought to be a civilian casualty of war.

Civilian casualties: Under the law of war, it is referred to civilians who perished or suffered wounds as a result of wartime acts. They can be associated with the outcome of any form of action regardless of whether civilians were targeted directly or not.

No one sought to document civilian deaths systematically before WWI, and no one has devised a method of undertaking a retrospective count. Generating reliable assessments of casualties of war is a notoriously complex process. Civilian casualties present particular difficulties.

  • One problem is that the attribution of the label ‘civilian’ is contested in some cases. On the surface, the definition of a civilian, at least in the context of international armed conflicts, is relatively simple: a civilian is any person who is not a member of the armed forces and is not a combatant in situation of armed conflict.
  • To make effective use of such statistics as there are about civilian casualties of war, it is necessary to be explicit about the criteria for inclusion.
  • All too often, there is a lack of clarity about which of the following categories of civilian casualties are included in any given set of figures.
    • 1. Those killed as a direct effect of war;
    • 2. Those injured as a direct effect of war;
    • 3. Those dying, whether during or after a war, from indirect effects of war such as disease, malnutrition and lawlessness, and who would not have been expected to die at such rates from such causes in the absence of the war;
    • 4. Victims of one-sided violence, such as when states slaughter their own citizens in connection with a war;
    • 5. Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in connection with a war;
    • 6. Those uprooted in a war – that is, refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs);
    • 7 Those who, even after a war is over, die prematurely from injuries sustained in war.

Following the Second World War, a series of treaties governing the laws of war were adopted starting in 1949. These Geneva Conventions would come into force, in no small part, because of a general reaction against the practices of the Second World War.

In 1977, Protocol I was adopted as an amendment to the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting the deliberate or indiscriminate attack of civilians and civilian objects in the war-zone and the attacking force must take precautions and steps to spare the lives of civilians and civilian objects as possible. Although ratified by 173 countries, the only countries that are currently not signatories to Protocol I are the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkey.

In times of armed conflict, despite numerous advancements in technology, the European Union’s European Security Strategy, adopted by the European Council in Brussels in December 2003, stated that since 1990, almost 4 million people have died in wars, 90% of them civilians. However, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that civilian fatalities have climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s.

Collateral damage (terminology controversy)

  • It is defined in terms of armed conflict as unavoidable or accidental killing or injury of non-combatants or unavoidable or accidental destruction of non-combatant property caused by attacks on legitimate military targets.
  • In American military terminology, it is used for the incidental killing or wounding of non-combatants or damage to non-combatant property during an attack on a legitimate military target.
  • Critics of the term see it as a euphemism that dehumanizes non-combatants killed or injured during combat, used to reduce the perception of culpability of military leadership in failing to prevent non-combatant casualties.
  • The U.S. military states the term is used in regards to unintentional or incidental damage to non-combatant casualties and non-combatant property, however, at least one source claims that the term "collateral damage" originated as a euphemism during the Vietnam War and can refer to friendly fire, or the intentional killing of non-combatants and the destruction of their property.

From: Unicef Information - Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: Patterns in conflict: Civilians are now the target.

Civilian fatalities in wartime climbed from 5 per cent at the turn of the century, to 15 per cent during World War I, to 65 per cent by the end of World War II, to more than 90 per cent in the wars of the 1990s. Many tactics are used from systemic rape, to scorched earth, to ethnic cleansing and genocide.

New weapons and patterns of conflict that include deliberate attacks against civilians are increasingly turning children into primary targets of war.

"Armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers," notes a new United Nations report by Graça Machel, the UN Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.

Children are not spared. It is estimated that 500,000 under-five-year-olds died as a result of armed conflicts in 1992 alone. In Chechnya, between February and May 1995, children made up an appalling 40 per cent of all civilian casualties; Red Cross workers found that children's bodies bore marks of having been systematically executed with a bullet through the temple. In Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, almost one child in four has been wounded.

The technology of war has also changed in ever more deadly ways. Inexpensive new lightweight weapons have made it tragically easy to use children as the cannon-fodder of modern warfare.

Resources & Additional Reading

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