Armed Conflict

Where wars erupt, suffering and hardship invariably follow. Conflict is the breeding ground for mass violations of human rights including unlawful killings, torture, forced displacement and starvation.

In conflicts across the globe, governments and armed groups routinely attack civilians and commit war crimes and terrible abuses of human rights.

And yet, even in war there are rules that all sides are legally bound to obey. International humanitarian law (IHL), also known as the laws of armed conflict or the laws of war, has developed in order to mitigate the effects of such conflict. It limits the means and methods of conducting military operations. Its rules oblige combatants to spare civilians and those who no longer participate in hostilities, such as soldiers who have been wounded or have surrendered. IHL applies only during armed conflict; human rights law applies in war and peace.

But powerful nations have shown a sinister willingness to manipulate international institutions or apply double standards, often arming forces known to commit mass abuses while disclaiming responsibility for the carnage.

Although international organizations such as the United Nations have advanced in their capacity to monitor and report on human rights in conflict situations, few perpetrators of mass abuses against civilians are held accountable.

Continuing violence feeds on unresolved grievances arising from years of destructive conflict and this failure to hold perpetrators of grave abuses to account.

Amnesty International does not take sides in conflicts and has no opinion on borders. Our work in situations of armed conflict concentrates on documenting and campaigning against human rights abuses and violations of IHL, no matter who commits them.

Internal conflicts

The vast majority of armed conflicts today are internal. Many internal conflicts have persisted for decades, despite significant international efforts to find solutions.

These conflicts are often triggered by issues of identity, ethnicity, religion and competition for resources, particularly oil and mineral wealth.

In Afghanistan, the escalating conflict has resulted in death and injury to thousands of civilians. War crimes have been committed by all parties to the conflict, including international and Afghan security forces, and the Taleban.

Perpetuating violence

In Iraq, security forces are committing rather than preventing sectarian violence. The Iraqi justice system is woefully inadequate and the worst practices of Saddam Hussein's regime – torture, including rape, extra-judicial executions, unfair trials and capital punishment – continue.

There have been frequent allegations of human rights violations by US and UK soldiers but few prosecutions and convictions.

At least a dozen countries in Africa have been affected by armed conflict over the last year, despite numerous peace and international mediation processes. In all of them civilians suffered human rights abuses, and the most affected were women, children and elderly people.

What Amnesty International is doing

AI calls on all warring parties to respect IHL and human rights, and emphasises to state forces and armed groups that targeting civilians can never be justified.

Amnesty International campaigns for an end to impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We are campaigning to curb the proliferation of small arms fuelling conflict and abuses, including lobbying for the adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty.

Amnesty International campaigns for international peacekeepers to protect civilians in Darfur and eastern Chad, and has urged its supporters across the world to write to Sudanese MPs, calling on them to take a stand against the atrocities happening in their country.

Amnesty International is also actively campaigning to end the recruitment of child soldiers and to ensure that they are demobilized and reintegrated into society.

We are lobbying the UN for strengthened protection of civilians, including strict adherence to human rights and humanitarian law in peacekeeping efforts.

Progress on accountability

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 to prosecute people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It offers the hope that some of the perpetrators of the worst crimes committed in armed conflicts will be brought to justice. It has been hailed by governments, legal experts and civil society as the most significant development in international law since the adoption of the United Nations Charter. Amnesty International has been actively involved in all stages of the establishment of the Court.

The ICC has issued arrest warrants for people accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in armed conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan (Darfur), and Uganda.

International tribunals established to try serious crimes committed in Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone have brought to justice leaders who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

In December 2006, an overwhelming majority of states voted at the UN General Assembly to consider the question of a universal and legally binding Arms Trade Treaty, a landmark step towards greater accountability of the arms trade..

 

News and Updates

Human rights must be top priority in Colombia election campaign

29 April 2010

All presidential candidates urged to send out a clear message that, if elected, they will put an end to many decades of abuses and impunity.

Killings of anti-Taleban politicians in Pakistan signal further abuses

26 April 2010

A fresh spate of killings of anti-Taleban local leaders in the Swat Valley of Pakistan could signal an escalation in the Pakistani Taleban’s campaign of attacks on tribal leaders.

Increasing attacks on Pakistan civilians are possible war crimes

19 April 2010

Insurgent groups have been condemned for killing 65 people in the recent bombings of a displaced people's camp, a school and a bazaar.

US helicopter killings in Iraq must be independently investigated

7 April 2010

A leaked classified US military video appears to show the 2007 attacks in which up to a dozen people, including a journalist and his driver, were killed.

ASEAN leaders should act over Myanmar's appalling rights record

7 April 2010

Myanmar's human rights record should be at the top of the agenda for Southeast Asian states attending the organization's summit in Ha Noi.

Video and Audio

Salil Shetty on Egypt protests

Amnesty International's Secretary General disappointed by military failure to protect protesters

Tunisian government must respect rights amid protests

18 January 2011

Tunisian government must respect rights amid protests

Living without rights in northwest Pakistan

Civilians tell how they are abused by the Taleban and how they feel abandoned by the government.

Audio: The humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.

27 March 2009

Tens of thousands of people are trapped in "safe zones" in the north eastern Wanni region of Sri Lanka.

Video: Researching allegations of war crimes in Israel and Gaza

30 January 2009

Following the outbreak of the recent conflict in Gaza and southern Israel on 27 December 2008 and then Israel's ground invasion of Gaza on 3 January 2009, Amnesty In

Video: The human rights implications of the Israel/Gaza conflict

14 January 2009

Amnesty International's Philip Luther explains the human rights issues involved in the Israel/Gaza conflict.

Video: Sri Lanka's quarter of a million displaced

19 November 2008

The humanitarian crisis in the Wanni region of northern Sri Lanka is worsening as the government fails to provide shelter and protect over 300,000 displaced civilian