Inhumanity unlimited: should citizens acquiesce or object?

Report
from ODI - Humanitarian Practice Network
Published on 23 Oct 2019 View Original

By Norah Niland

War-related inhumanity is not new. But it is now so pervasive that many of us prefer to focus on more digestible news. As a result, the relationship between how we live our lives and the policies that spell death and destruction for fellow human beings is not readily apparent. Changes in the geopolitical order have marginalised multilateralism, the rule of law and inclusive and accountable governance. At the same time, globalisation prioritises profits over the well-being of the planet and the 7.7 billion people who inhabit it.

This article argues that harm and suffering cannot be written off as haphazard ‘collateral damage’, an Orwellian euphemism that obscures the catastrophic and traumatic toll of today’s armed conflicts. Faced with the deaths of Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, Sri Lankan and other civilians trapped in war zones, we can engage productively and challenge the inhumanity conducted in our name.

Inhumanity in the 21st century: a humanitarian challenge?

Human beings have a long history of harming and killing each other, whether in direct combat or off the battlefield. Sieges and manufactured famines have been employed by colonial governments and oppressive regimes to strengthen their hold on subject peoples. History is strewn with episodes of ruthless brutality, from Pol Pot’s killing fields in the 1970s to the Rwandan genocide.

If we do not avert our gaze, we are daily witnesses to inhumanity. Starve-or-surrender policies in Syria have rightly received extensive media coverage, and it is difficult to ignore the deliberate destruction of infrastructure and other assets in Yemen, where a blockade and bombing campaign by the Saudi-led coalition has put food beyond the reach of millions. The number of people facing life-threatening dangers is increasing, and their precarious situation is, almost invariably, protracted. At the end of 2018, ICRC President Peter Maurer noted that two billion people are affected by ‘fragility, conflict or violence’, and are not adequately protected against ‘violations of basic laws and principles’. According to UNHCR, one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution, with some 71 million people uprooted in mid-2019.

Read the full report on ODI.