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ICRC survey One in five Swiss justifies torture of combatants

Yemen is one of the sixteen countries affected by war whose residents were among those surveyed by the ICRC


Swiss people are increasingly supportive of torture, with about a fifth finding its use justified in order to extract military information, according to a global survey of attitudes towards the rules of war. 

The People on War report, published on Monday by the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), shows a similar trend worldwide, with 36% of those surveyed in 16 countries saying that captured enemy combatants can be tortured to obtain important military information. 

Just under half of respondents worldwide thought torture was wrong under any circumstance, compared with 66% in 1999, the last time the survey was conducted. 

In Switzerland, 70% of respondents thought torture was always wrong. In addition, 12% of Swiss felt torture was generally a part of war, compared with 85% who reject that notion – the second-highest proportion to reject torture, after Yemen. 

In general, the ICRC report showed that people living in areas affected by conflict respond more humanely to questions about war. For example, three-quarters of those living in war zones felt that attacking enemy fighters in populated enemies with potential for high civilian casualties was wrong. Only half of people in the so-called P5 group of countries (United States, Britain, China, Russia and France) and Switzerland felt the same way. 

Similarly, about a quarter of people in the P5 countries and Switzerland felt that depriving civilians of supplies like food, water and medicine was “part of war”, compared with 14% of people who live in war-affected countries.

Geneva Conventions 

The People on War report is also a mechanism to test the public’s view of the Geneva Conventions, international agreements reached in Switzerland that determine international rules of war. 

Overall, 38% of respondents worldwide felt that the Conventions prevent wars from getting worse, compared with 52% in 1999. Meanwhile, 41% of people feel they make no difference, compared to 36% in 1999. Another 16% didn’t know. 

Despite the changes in attitude compared with 17 years ago, ICRC President Peter Maurer said “the overwhelming message from this survey is that people truly believe in the importance of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, and the protection of civilians during times of conflict”. 

The People on War survey of over 17,000 people took place in 16 countries between June and September. Ten of those countries were experiencing armed conflict at the time including Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan. The P5 permanent member countries of the UN Security Council as well as Switzerland were also part of the survey. and agencies

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