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There is a Major shift in Public Attitudes toward Torture During War and it is Growing: Survey

The survey said the same number "thinks attacking hospitals, ambulances and health care workers, in order to weaken the enemy, is wrong"

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FILE - Protesters perform a simulation of the waterboarding torture technique on a man dressed as a prisoner during a protest, marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, in front of the White House in Washington, March 19, 2008. VOA

Geneva, December 6, 2016: A global survey has found a major shift in public attitudes toward torture, with growing numbers of people approving the use of this forbidden practice to obtain “important military information.”

The survey, which was conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, questioned more than 17,000 people in 16 countries between June and September about a range of issues regarding the conduct of war.

Ten countries in conflict participated in the survey, along with respondents from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, or P5 — and Switzerland.

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FILE - A medic inspects the damage inside Anadan Hospital, sponsored by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), after it was hit by an airstrike in the rebel-held city of Anadan, northern Aleppo province, Syria, July 31, 2016. VOA
FILE – A medic inspects the damage inside Anadan Hospital, sponsored by Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), after it was hit by an airstrike in the rebel-held city of Anadan, northern Aleppo province, Syria, July 31, 2016. VOA

The survey found that an overwhelming number of respondents in both groups of countries — 80 percent — believed that wars should have limits, that combatants should not target civilians, and that combatants should avoid striking civilians as much as possible when attacking the enemy.

The survey said the same number “thinks attacking hospitals, ambulances and health care workers, in order to weaken the enemy, is wrong.”

Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he was encouraged by the responses, but was troubled that the number of people who considered torture a useful tool had increased since a similar survey in 1999.

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“The percentage of those who think it is acceptable to torture a captured enemy combatant in order to obtain important military information has risen from 28 to 36 percent today in the poll,” he said. “Even more shocking, only slightly less than half of the people — 48 percent as of this year — believe this behavior is wrong compared to 66 percent in the 1999 survey.”

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An analysis of the data shows that people in the United States and Israel were among those most willing to accept torture as a part of war. Both of these countries, with 46 percent and 50 percent of their respective populations approving of the use of torture, were behind Nigeria, which polled 70 percent, but higher than Iraq, Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and Britain.

“Torture is wrong,” Maurer said. “It achieves nothing apart from pulling everyone down in the darkest gutter. We demonize the enemy at our peril. It brutalizes societies for generations and must be made taboo.”

Talks with U.S., Russia

Torture is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, which set out the rules of war, and international human rights law.

The controversy erupted during the U.S. presidential campaign when President-elect Donald Trump promised “to bring back waterboarding.”

Last week, the ICRC president was in Washington, where he took part in many discussions with the current administration, congressional, military and security officials, as well as people likely to become members of the Trump administration.

“I have not felt any appetite whatsoever to go back on the issue of torture and to change the policy in this regard. I did not find any advocate,” he said. “Many thought that this was a debate, which was over and a place to which the United States would not return.”

Maurer, who recently also held discussions with officials in Russia, told VOA that he did not find any military personnel either in Moscow or Washington who thought “that torture works.”

FILE - President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 24, 2015. VOA
FILE – President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Peter Maurer speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 24, 2015. VOA

He said torture “is not only morally wrong, but also not effective with regard to finding out the truth. That is the basic line you get in Moscow and in Washington, which is encouraging.”

Inevitabilities of warfare

In another important finding, the survey indicated that in P5 countries, an increasing number of people were more resigned to civilian casualties and believed that suffering was an inevitable part of warfare.

This was in stark contrast to what was gleaned from people living in countries affected by war, 78 percent of whom said it was wrong to attack enemy combatants in populated areas, “knowing that many civilians would be killed.” In P5 countries, only 50 percent of people said it was wrong.

Maurer observed that the closer people were to the front lines, the more they believed in the relevance of international humanitarian law and respect for it.

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Separately, “the more you watch wars only in movies and on screen and you are far away from the battleground,” he said, “the more casual you become with regard to fundamental provisions of international humanitarian law — again like torture, attacking civilians, accepting collateral damage in a military operation.”

Maurer said the survey showed an increasing number of people living in P5 countries appeared to be resigned “to casualties and ill-treatment” as an inevitable part of warfare.

“Living far from the realities of warfare makes it easier to be disconnected” than it is when faced with “constant gruesome images from the world’s front line,” he said.

Maurer said the main takeaway for him from this survey was that “we must not lose our empathy and become numb to human suffering.” (VOA)

Next Story

Nigeria, Cameroon Vow to Tackle Terrorism

The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria

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Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border. Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria has promised to assist Cameroon in combating the separatist crisis rocking the central African country’s English speaking region. The pledge, made during a security meeting, has been described by Cameroon authorities as reassuring, following accusations that separatist fighters in Cameroon were being trained in Nigeria, and that weapons they use are brought in through the neighboring country.

Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation to the Cameroon-Nigeria transborder security meeting that ended in Yaounde Saturday, says his country has been seriously affected by the separatist crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.

The closure of parts of the border has led to a sharp decline in food imports, like sorghum, rice and onions, to Nigeria on one hand, while basic commodities exported from Nigeria, like fuel, are hard to get into Cameroon. Ndagi says because of the security, economic and humanitarian threats caused by the separatist war, Nigeria will support Cameroon in bringing peace to its troubled regions.

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Delegates respect the Cameroon and Nigerian anthem during the Yaounde security meeting in Camerron, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The current political upheavals in that region will not be allowed to affect our cordial relations,” said Ndagi. “We will continue to support your efforts to bring lasting peace to the region. This will facilitate the return of Cameroonian refugees that have crossed the border into Nigerian territory. We must reduce vulnerabilities along our borders that are being exploited to perpetrate transnational organized crime notably terrorism, proliferation of small arms and light weapons as well as piracy.”

When Cameroon declared war on the armed separatists in November 2017, it said gunmen were attacking border localities in Cameroon’s southwest and escaping to Nigeria, where some of them were trained. Nigeria denied the assailants were crossing over from its territory into Cameroon.

In January 2018, 47 separatists, including Ayuk Tabe Julius, head of a group from Cameroon’s Angolphone regions pushing for a breakaway from the French-dominant country, were arrested in Abuja, Nigeria, extradited and jailed in Cameroon.

Paul Atanga Nji, territorial administration minister and Cameroon’s leader of the delegation to the security meeting, says in spite of the collaboration, the separatists continue to use porous borders to import weapons through Nigeria, making the security situation very uncertain.

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Weapons used by separatist fighters suspected to have been made in Nigeria and brought into Cameroon, June 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

“The security situation along our common borders has all of a sudden become a cause for concern,” Nji said. “These threats take the following forms. Secessionist tendencies, illegal exploitation of natural resources, conflicts between boarder communities, highway robbery, drug and human trafficking, illicit trafficking of fire arms, agro pastoral conflicts etc.”

The UNHCR says that by December 2018 there were more than 32,000 Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria’s Cross River state. Nigeria’s longest international border is with Cameroon. All along the 1,975 kilometer border there are violent crises. Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno and Adamawa continue to have Boko Haram terrorist attacks.

As the Yaounde security meeting was going on, Kildadi Taguieke Boukar, governor of Cameroon’s Adamaoua region that shares a boundary with Nigeria’s Taraba state, announced renewed conflicts with Nigerians escaping farmer-herder clashes to Cameroon.

“There is a conflict along some tribes in Nigeria’s Taraba state. About 100 people from Nigeria flee [have escaped] to our territory around Kontcha division [administrative unit and], there is agro-pastoral [farmer-herder] conflicts,” Boukar said.

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Paul Atanga Nji, head of Cameroon delegation (left) and Brigadier General Emmanuel Adamu Ndagi, leader of the Nigerian delegation (right) in Yaounde, Cameroon, July 6, 2019. ( Moki Kindzeka/VOA)

Nigeria has not confirmed the renewed violence, but confrontations erupted last year in Cameroon’s Adamaoua region between farmers and Nigerian cattle ranchers who had escaped tribal wars in Taraba state.

ALSO READ: US Institute of Peace Trains Kenyan Women to Help Fight Terrorist Radicalization Campaigns

The Cameroon-Nigeria Transborder Security Committee has as prime objective strengthening border security for both countries. It was created in 2012 in Nigeria. Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on Friday to take further measures to boost multifaceted cooperation in the fight against terrorism along their shared border.

They did not disclose details of how their cooperation will be carried out, but they said they would share information regularly to stop terrorist activities including Boko Haram attacks and separatists fighting for the independence of an English-speaking sate in Cameroon. They said they would make it difficult for criminals to leave Nigeria for Cameroon and vice versa. (VOA)