From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Jan 6 10:38:03 2000
Modern war kills nine civilians for every soldier
By Mark Lattimer, Amnesty International's Communications Director, Independent (London), 1 January 2000
Like many boys of 17, Marcos was interested in politics. When he was not at his studies, he worked for the Pro-Democracy Party in his native Chile.
But his hopes had a price. In 1989, he was arrested and taken to a police checkpoint. A few hours later, he was dead. The official report recorded that he had committed suicide.
An autopsy found that he had died as a result of "shock, probably from an electric current". Chile's National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation concluded that he had died from torture by government agents.
A few weeks ago, the name of Marcos Quezada Yanez was read out in Bow Street magistrates' court as one charge against Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in the landmark human rights case of our time.
The case raises hope, albeit a faint one, that spurred by the crimes of the last century we will be able to create something better for the new one.
The commentators all note that the 20th century was unparalleled in the scale of its human misery created by other humans. Yet such comments mask the huge change that has taken place in the pattern of violence over the last 100 years.
The systematic implementation of torture by the state as a means of subduing a population is one of the most gruesome developments, but the statistics on conflict are perhaps the most shocking. At the start of the 20th century, there were nine military casualties for every civilian death in war.
Now, those proportions have been reversed: civilians make up nine out of ten of those killed, maimed or forced to flee through war. Given that nearly half the population in the poorer developing world is under the age of 18, it is a war against children.
The most acute problem humanity faces in the new century is growing civil conflict, as the nation state starts to fragment or implode. This is the predicament experienced by children in nearly all the countries highlighted in The Independent's series over the last fortnight, from Afghanistan to Colombia to Rwanda to former Yugoslavia. It lies behind looming crises in Burundi and Indonesia.
To address problems of this magnitude calls for systematic international action. But what would such action look like? And is the world up to it?
Victims and their families also need justice. The relatives of Chile's "disappeared", like the families of the missing men of Srebrenica, suffer continuing torture at not knowing what happened to their loved ones.
International criminal tribunals were set up by the United Nations, belatedly, to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. But in July 1998, the international community took a much greater step when 120 nations agreed to establish a permanent international criminal court to try anyone rulers included who committed mass murder, torture or crimes such as enlisting children under 15 to fight as soldiers.
The international criminal court will come into effect once 60 nations have ratified the statute. The Government has said it will publish a draft bill but it is unclear whether parliamentary time will be made available to ensure it is passed promptly.
Choking off the flow of equipment that is used to abuse human rights round the world is a particular challenge for the arms-exporting West. There have been some notable recent United Kingdom and European Union initiatives, but Amnesty International's human rights audit this year reported that the Department of Trade and Industry was conspicuously failing to license arms exports in a manner consistent with the Government's stated human rights principles.
In 10 days time, a UN group will meet in Geneva to try to agree a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, banning the military recruitment of children under the age of 18. At an international conference in October, 28 out of 29 European countries pledged that they would not deploy or recruit under-18s. Only the UK insisted on remaining able to send its children into war.
The initiatives are only part of what it would take to rid the world of the appalling conflicts and human-rights abuses.
Their implementation is far from sure, and even then they would take time to have a real effect. But perhaps, this coming century, that day will come. It would make a fine tribute to Marcos Quezada Yanez.