Guardian Op-ed: Dear Obama, you can lead the way to protect civilians in conflict

On April 2 the Guardian Development Network ran an op-ed by InterAction CEO Sam Worthington calling on President Obama to lead the way on protecting civilians in conflict and restoring global respect for international humanitarian law. An excerpt of the op-ed is enclosed below. Read the full op-ed at the Guardian.

Dear Obama, you can lead the way to protect civilians in conflict

Conflicts in Syria and Yemen reveal increasing disregard for humanitarian law, a trend the US can start to reverse

by Sam Worthington, Chief Executive Officer of InterAction

The Syrian conflict has been characterised by two things: an indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in populated areas, and a lack of precautionary measures to minimise civilian harm. Civilians are deliberately targeted and trapped under siege with even life-saving assistance refused entry.

Yet while a lack of respect for civilians in Syria is universally condemned, a mirror image of civilian harm is found in Yemen, where the US, UK and others support Saudi-led military operations against the Houthis. And much like in Syria, the scale of destruction, civilian deaths and injuries seen in Yemen illustrates a stunning disregard for the basic rules of international humanitarian law – even if Yemeni civilians are not deliberately targeted, as Saudi Arabia claims.

The unfortunate reality for civilians in Syria and Yemen is that the parties to the conflicts, and their allies, are in a race to the bottom and – as yet – no one is putting on the brakes. There appear to be no incentives for state and non-state parties to rein in even the most harmful military misconduct. Action on Armed Violence reports a 52% global increase in civilian casualties from explosive weapons use in populated areas between 2011 and 2014. In the six months of its air campaign in Syria, Russian airstrikes have reportedly resulted in the deaths of between 1,700 and 2,000 civilians.

This scale of human suffering cannot be dismissed simply as inevitable collateral damage. International humanitarian law protects civilians and requires all parties to distinguish between civilians, and where they live, and combatants. If these rules were respected, we would not see the scale and severity of human suffering we witness today.

With its own commitments to avoid civilian casualties, and in light of its extensive security partnerships, the US is uniquely placed to apply the brakes and reverse this race to the bottom. It is often innovative and adaptable in minimising civilian harm in its military operations. For example, in Afghanistan, presented with evidence that its operations were causing civilian casualties, the US command adopted tactical measures that spared many lives.

Read the full op-ed at the Guardian.

For more information see InterAction’s policy brief, Civilians Under Fire: Restore Respect for International Humanitarian Law.

Originally Posted: The Guardian, April 2, 2016


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