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Let’s Dive into Violations of Human Rights during Armed Conflicts

Photo by Lara Jameson via Pexels

Last updated on June 14, 2023

Editor’s Note:

This article is a part of the Holos Project, a four-way partnership (ENGin, The Los Angeles Times Insider, Published Points of View, The Outspoken) established to empower the voices of Ukrainian students across the world through one-on-one journalism mentorship. This article was written by Diana Razumova from Ukraine with the mentorship of Kendall Cuxil from the United States. “Holos” is the Ukrainian word for“Voice”. 

**This article mentions acts of sexual violence and rape. Reader discretion is advised**

Imagine waking up, having breakfast, going to work, meeting your friends, playing at the park with your dog, and sharing thoughts about a new political party leader. We Ukrainians do not currently have access to what people worldwide currently have access to, such as things like meeting our friends or sharing our thoughts on political leaders, because of the current brutal invasion from Russia. Natural rights are forbidden for Ukrainians because of Russia’s murderous war on our territory. With the ongoing genocide, citizens of Ukraine can not quickly go out, eat, talk to friends, do homework, paint drawings, go to the gym, and do their favorite things. The battlefield of war has become our home, and the darkness of power outages has become our new reality. Russians stole everything we own, including our home and our right to a happy life. 

For us Ukrainians, the invasion started in 2014, when the protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union. The pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, supported the Russian Federation, even if all wanted to go to the EU. Hence, a Revolution of Dignity happened where Ukrainians showed their desire. When the bloody protests ended, Russia’s plans still were not completed. The Annexation of Crimea and the creation of the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk regions was only a sign that the Russian Federation was not planning to stop. On the 24th of February 2022, Russia started a full-scale invasion- one that launched an all too real genocide against Ukrainians.

Another situation is happening to Israel and Palestine. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a long-standing dispute over territory and self-determination that has been ongoing for over a century. The contest had its roots in the late 1800s when Zionist Jews began immigrating to Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations proposed a plan to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, but the Arab side rejected the project. Israel declared independence in 1948, and neighboring Arab countries launched a military campaign against it, displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The conflict has continued with varying degrees of violence and diplomacy ever since.

There is also, The Syrian Civil War is a complex conflict that began in 2011 when anti-government protests happened in response to the authoritarian rule of President Bashar al-Assad. The government responded violently, and the unrest escalated into a full-scale civil war. Multiple factions emerged, including government forces, opposition groups, and extremist groups such as ISIS. The war has displaced millions of Syrians, with over 400,000 deaths and widespread destruction of infrastructure and cities. Multiple foreign powers, including Russia, Iran, and Turkey, have become involved, further complicating the conflict. Several rounds of negotiations and ceasefires have failed to resolve the contest, which continues to this day.

These conflicts have severely affected human rights. In the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, human rights abuses are shown in tortures and killings. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire, suffering from displacement and lack of access to food, water, and medical care. The Israel-Palestine conflict has resulted in attacks on civilian populations, forced displacement, and restrictions on freedom of movement. The Syrian Civil War has resulted in mass killings, chemical attacks, and deliberate targeting of civilians and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals. The conflict has caused the largest refugee crisis, with millions displaced and forced to flee their homes. 

Women, children, and refugees are particularly vulnerable in conflict, facing heightened violence, discrimination, and exploitation risks. The continuous disregard for human rights in these conflicts is an injustice that demands urgent attention and action from the international community. It is imperative that the rights and well-being of all individuals, regardless of their nationality, religion, or ethnicity, are protected and respected in times of conflict. Only by upholding human rights can we strive towards a more just and equitable world where all individuals have the opportunity to live in peace and dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds from all world regions, the United Nations General Assembly in Paris proclaimed the Declaration on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. For the first time, it sets out for fundamental human rights to be universally protected and has been translated into over 500 languages. The UDHR is widely recognized as having inspired and paved the way for adopting more than seventy human rights treaties, applied today permanently at global and regional levels. Going deeper into the rights highlighted in the UDHR, one can see many examples of its violation in the above wars. When human rights are violated, it leads to injustice: Russian soldiers cut off the head of a Ukrainian prisoner of war. 

One of the rights proclaimed in the UDHR is the right to life, liberty, and security of a person. It is one of the fundamental human rights, which means that everyone has the right to life, freedom of movement, and the protection of their physical and psychological integrity from violations by the state or private individuals. This violation is widely spread among Palestinians. While the Israel-Palestine conflict is ongoing, the Israeli authorities arbitrarily restricted Palestinians’ freedom of movement. In “Israel and Occupied  Palestinian Territories,” an article from Amnesty International, “According to COGAT, a defense ministry unit, Israel revoked the permits to work in Israel 2,500 Palestinians as a collective punishment. A new procedure issued by the Israeli military authorities restricts the ability of foreign passport holders to live with their Palestinian spouses in the West Bank by limiting their visas to a maximum of six months, requiring couples to request permanent residency status in the West Bank, which is subject to Israeli approval.”

The right to be free from slavery or servitude is the right of a person to be free from forced labor or other forms of exploitation, including slavery, the slave trade, forced labor, or forced prostitution. According to Global Citizen, an action platform dedicated to achieving the end of extreme poverty, Daniele Selby stated, “In Syria, for the past seven years, forces and the militias that support the regime have raped and sexually assaulted people during ground operations, like house searches, at checkpoints, and while in detention. Many men and boys were also victims of sexual violence. “Men and boys were most commonly raped with objects including batons, wooden sticks, pipes, and bottles,” and others had their genitals electrocuted and mutilated.” Mutilation is considered a violation of human rights because it infringes upon an individual’s bodily autonomy, so the Syrian Civil War has violations of fundamental rights. 

Another right is no torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or punishment. It is an individual’s right to be protected by public or private persons, and it is recognized by international human rights law and guaranteed in the constitutions of many countries. However, CNBC, a business and financial news network, stated about the conflict in Ukraine, “Prisoners said they were denied access to natural light or fresh air and were kept in a single cell with up to 30 other people. The report said they also described a lack of beds, toilets, showers, and hygiene items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.”

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a person’s right to freedom of thought, word, and dissemination of information without any restrictions from the state or other persons. Limitations on this right may only be placed where it is necessary to protect public safety, health, morals, or the rights of others. In its article “Civil, Political Rights Repressed in Russian-Occupied Areas of Ukraine,” the United Nations reported, “Ukrainian television channels and radio stations in Ukraine have been disconnected and replaced with channels from the Russian Federation or self-proclaimed republics. In Crimea, the Russian Federation has applied legislation penalizing a broad spectrum of expression deemed critical, and teachers have been pressured to endorse the armed attack.” While most of the world has access to the expression of their opinion, the ongoing war in Ukraine is doing this to Ukrainians, breaking all democratic morals.  

Another right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a person’s right to freedom of religion, choice and expression of one’s beliefs, and release from any form of forced religious or ideological influence. Radio Svoboda, one of the most popular news in Ukraine,  said, “In addition to blocking Ukrainian media sites and disabling TV channels, the Russian authorities persecute, capture, torture, and imprison Ukrainian journalists. This is another confirmation of the suppression of freedom of speech in the occupied territories.”

The right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being is the right of an individual to have access to essential material goods, such as food, clothing, housing, health care, and social services, necessary to meet his fundamental needs and ensure a decent life for himself and his family. This right also is violated in Ukraine – according to VOA, English news from the Voice of America, Margaret Besheer stated, “The top United Nations official in Ukraine says as winter approaches, millions of people are beyond the reach of humanitarians in non-government-controlled areas and are likely in need of assistance. And it is a fact that Ukrainians regularly request access across the front line from both countries, and unfortunately, the Russian Federation has not yet granted us that access.” The humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine told VOA in an interview. “It is a purely humanitarian request, based on the humanitarian imperative.”

However, the cruelty against fundamental human rights becomes even worse if we consider the brutal violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). It is the law of war, a branch of international law whose primary purpose is to humanize hostilities and alleviate the suffering of war victims. IHL is used in situations of armed conflict, both international and domestic. IHL consists, on the one hand, of the so-called Geneva Law (Geneva Law), which includes rules for protecting victims of conflict, and, on the other, of The Hague Law (Hague Law), which contains restrictions on means and methods of warfare. Main tasks: protecting civilians and those who have ceased to participate in hostilities (wounded and prisoners) and regulating means and methods of warfare.

Amnesty International reported International Humanitarian Law (IHL) violations in Ukraine, particularly in Mariupol. Russian forces likely attacked the theater, knowing that hundreds of civilians had taken refuge there, making the attack a potential war crime. Digital evidence strongly suggests that the attack was carried out by Russian fighter jets. A Russian fighter nearby dropped two 500 kg bombs and detonated them simultaneously. The International Red Cross review also highlights the Israeli government’s settlement policy as a critical issue during the occupation. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the policy violated international humanitarian law, specifically the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of residents of an occupied country (in this case, Israeli citizens) to the United States. This provision is intended to prevent the occupying power from altering the occupied territories’ social, demographic, and economic structure contrary to the interests of the local population. However, the Israeli government’s consistent and systematic support for settlement building, including land confiscation, has effectively altered the economic and social landscape of the West Bank, hindering its development as a viable state and undermining Israel’s prospects for future reconciliation. 

The United Nations has also found several examples of IHL violations. “The Commission documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape, and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces across the four regions on which it focused. People have been detained, some have been unlawfully deported to the Russian Federation, and many are still reported missing. Sexual violence has affected victims of all ages. Family members, including children, were sometimes forced to witness the crimes. ”

Human rights and International Humanitarian Law play a crucial role in times of war by protecting the rights and dignity of people affected by armed conflict. These laws set the rules for the conduct of hostilities, prohibit attacks on civilians, and protect the fundamental rights of all people. They provide legal protection for civilians, prisoners of war, and other vulnerable people; recourse and justice for violations of these rights, including prosecuting war crimes and crimes against humanity. Observance and respect for these laws can profoundly affect the lives of people affected by wars. This can mean the difference between life and death, access to medical care and humanitarian aid, and preserving human dignity. When these laws are violated, the consequences can be devastating, leading to massive human suffering and exacerbating cycles of violence and instabilityThe protection of human rights and respect for International Humanitarian Law is essential in times of war. They help ensure that the fundamental rights and dignity of all people affected by armed conflict are protected and provide a legal basis for justice and accountability for violations of these rights. The greater attention to saving human rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during wars is crucial for several reasons: protection of civilians, human dignity, justice, respect for international laws, and conflict resolution. It is vital for governments, civil society organizations, and individuals to actively promote and advocate for the care of human rights and IHL during times of armed conflicts and work towards preventing violations and protecting the rights and dignity of all individuals affected by wars.

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