Terror attacks and protection of civilians during conflict

By Savi Hensman
June 5, 2017

"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities... shall in all circumstances be treated
humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith,
sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

"To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited...
violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel
treatment and torture..."

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, quoted above, remain highly relevant. Recent
events in London, Manchester and Kabul, as well as Syria and Iraq, show why such
laws are so important today.

Some people believe that having such checks in place leaves countries weak. For
instance, parts of the mass media think it praiseworthy to have no qualms about
slaughtering thousands of civilians with weapons of mass destruction. What matters
is that it is 'our side' doing the killing.

Yet that is how terrorists often think too. They may regard themselves as soldiers for
a cause who, for the greater good, may have to override the usual rules against
killing the defenceless.

There are some who believe that war is always wrong, with strong ethical and
sometimes faith-based reasons for this belief. However even for non-pacifists, there
are strict rules governing the treatment of civilians and injured or captured fighters.

Security against attacks on non-combatants, building links with communities to
thwart terror and offering peaceful ways to explore real or perceived grievances are
needed. The supply of weapons and torture equipment must be blocked to those
who will almost certainly misuse these.

Perhaps too it is time for deeper awareness and understanding of the Geneva
Conventions to be encouraged, in the UK and internationally. Governments and
voluntary organisations, religious groups and family and friendship networks can all
play a part.

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© Savitri Hensman is an Ekklesia associate and respected commentator on welfare and other issues. She is author of the book Sexuality, struggle and saintliness: same-sex love and the church (Ekklesia, 2016): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22613 and has been involved in seeking greater inclusion.

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