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Red Cross study shows shifting global views on war

The International Committee of the Red Cross this week released a survey of more than 17,000 people in 16 countries. The survey, which asked respondents about treatment of soldiers and civilians, showed a difference in the way people look at war based on whether or not they live in a conflict zone. Alison Stewart discusses the findings with Yves Daccord, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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    This week, the International Committee of the Red Cross released a new survey on global attitudes about war that reveals a dramatic change in attitude during the last 20 years. The Red Cross hired the Gallup organization to question more than 17,000 people in 16 countries, half of which are in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and Ukraine.

    The survey, completed between June and September, covered treatment of civilians and soldiers and topics like torture and migration.

    Joining me from Washington, D.C., to discuss their "People on War" survey is Yves Daccord, the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    Sir, what has been the biggest shift in attitudes in the past 20 years?


    What is interesting is when you compare what was said by people across the world in 1999, and what people are telling us today, you see two big shifts.

    One is very clearly related to in fact what could happen to civilians, people affected by war. When they are talking about that, they are deeply convinced that the international humanitarian law, the law of war apply and should apply, and there should be no exceptions. Civilians should be protected, health care should be protected, humanitarians should be protected.

    Whereas people in countries like the U.S., U.K., France, even China and Russia, they are maybe not as adamant as they were before. So that's one of the shifts. And the other shift is clearly related to torture in terms of maybe accepting that in some situation, torture is possible.


    Let's drill down a little bit on some of those subjects and some of those numbers.

    The report, obviously, highlighted the changing attitude towards civilians, but it was very different, defending on the country where the question was asked. Seventy-eight percent of people in conflict zones say attacking populated areas is wrong. But when that question was asked of the permanent five, the United States, the U.K., France, Russia, and China — that number drops to 50 percent.


    Is this trend across the report where the P5 have a different attitude versus country where's there's actually conflict? Yes, you can start to see a real shift between the public opinion of the people directly affected by war and people in the P5 Security Council country. And yes, there are elements where you see a bit of a difference.

    Where there is consistence, people think health care is a right that needs to be given to everybody. This is — everybody will say that. They will also say civilians need to be protected in general.


    But on specifics, it's true, you can start to see that maybe the political environment, maybe the public environment, also what happens the last 15 years, means that people are maybe more tolerant in countries like U.K., France, U.S., about casualties when it comes to civilian in war. One of the very interesting questions in the report was about the attacking religious sites and historical monuments and how strongly people felt that that was wrong, that that was not a part of war. I was surprised to learn, I have to say, that I didn't understand that certain monuments and historic sites were actually protected under the laws of war.


    Because it is about people, it is about the culture, it's so central to all of us. And it's very true to see that people around the world, despite what we've seen — or maybe because of what we've seen right now in the Middle East — feel very strongly, this monument, this culture needs to be protected whatsoever.

    And, by the way, it's interesting because they are saying the same about health care. I'm quite amazed because you see around the world, at least one of the places and things we are so worried about, is to see that hospital, health care workers continue to be attacked.


    The numbers are very clear. Eighty-two percent of respondents say attacking hospitals, ambulances, and health care workers is wrong, and that number even jumps higher, obviously, in places where there are conflicts. There is an interesting twist, though. There was a question asked about providing health care to the other, to the enemy. And then the numbers shift. They go down, correct?


    That is correct, yes. Not again in every country, but it's very clear when people ask, "Can you provide humanitarian assistance, health care assistance to people affected?", people will say yes. When they start to say, can you do that your enemy, to the enemy combatants, then you can start to see people are more worried.

    But again, it depends on the country. It's very interesting to look at Afghanistan, for example, or Syria or Yemen, where people strongly believe the wounded, whenever the side this person could be, needs to receive health care. Whereas again, in some country, people are a little bit more reluctant, and maybe again, this is part of what they see through the media, what happens in the public environment, in which they are maybe exposed to, where maybe you feel, you know, the other is — is somebody that you don't need any more to protect. And that's, I must say, the worrying trend.


    The report is very clear about torture. And it's interesting because there is a little bit of shift though when you dig down. Two-third of respondents, 66 percent, said it was wrong, but a third believed captured enemy combatants can be tortured to obtain military information. The United States' figure on this was 46 percent said that was OK. It was just a bit higher in Israel, the most in Nigeria.

    Tell us what you think about those numbers and that shift.


    I think we have always to look at two issues. One, I think it's positive to see that overall, people still feel torture is something totally wrong, and I think more than two-thirds of people, including people exposed on — you know, on the daily life at what is happening in war, still feel torture is absolutely wrong. What I found interesting is — and that's the other issue — is, of course, when you ask more specific questions, it's true. You see a growing tolerance in specific country.

    You mention Nigeria, Israel, but also the U.S., when it comes to torturing an enemy combatant to get information, you see that people are more open to that. I think maybe one of the reasons is because people feel on that case it will maybe help to save the security of the country. This is what they've seen in the media, right? If I look at the last 10 years, you have so many series (ph) where you torture the enemy to get information.

    And on the other hand, we know that torture to get information is absolutely not the right way to go, not only morally, not only legally, but also, it doesn't provide you with information you need because people will give you information they have just to not suffer. But sill, people in some countries feel that somewhat it's allowed. And I think maybe this is something which needs to be discussed and need to have a debate about, why people today think, at least in certain countries, that you can torture an enemy combatant.


    I hate to use the phrase "war fatigue", but as we were discussing this report, and reading this report, I wonder if it is fatigue about war. We've had these long, endless conflicts that seem impossible in some situations. That that has had an impact on the way people feel about war and what's acceptable and what isn't? What do you think?


    I think there is maybe a different dynamic. I think it is true, people, especially when we're here in our country, we are rather safe, right? We feel that somewhat the war contained further and not touching us, and possibly, we are tired with what is happening right now in some of the countries that we know from a long time — Afghanistan, Iraq, now Syria. And the feeling is it's lasting and will continue to last.

    So, I do understand that sometimes people feel, "why bother?" You know, it's far away. On the other hand, what I found so important to understand is that these issues will less and less be contained there. They are less and less tainting our own reality.

    Look at migration. The people are coming to us are forced to migrate because in fact there are war, because in fact the war of law is not respected. So even you don't bother, somewhat what is happening there has an influence over you. So, I think we will have to get over it this fatigue somewhat, and understand that what is happening there in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Americas, maybe in Asia, has an influence on us also.


    Yves Daccord of the International Committee of the Red Cross, thank you so much for your time.


    Thank you.

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