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Most Australians against torture but some think it is ok

A major global report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on attitudes to war has found that two out of three people think that wars should have limits.

Tuesday December 6, 2016

Royal Australian Air Force veteran Keith Campbell

A survey of Australians finds that while a majority oppose torture, more than one in five people believed it was acceptable to torture an enemy soldier for information.

Keith Campbell, a World War II Royal Australian Air Force Veteran who spent time as a prisoner of war is shocked and "appalled" that any Australians think torture is ok.

"I'm very surprised that Australians could think that way," says Mr Campbell. "There is absolutely no excuse to torture anyone. To me, being subjected to torture is barbaric." 

Mr Campbell became a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down over Stuttgart in July 1944.

The sole survivor, he attempted to make his way to the Swiss border only to be picked up by a local civilian and handed over to the authorities.

He spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps before being liberated by Russian and American troops.

The Geneva Conventions offered protection while he was a prisoner of war, Mr Campbell says.

"Without a specific set of rules it could have been much worse. It is most essential that those laws apply."

The ICRC's 2016 People on War survey, shows that globally there is a surprising increase in people's acceptance of the use of torture against soldiers and civilian casualties in war.

The same survey in 1999 found that 68% of people believed that it was wrong to attack enemy combatants in populated areas, knowing that many civilians would be killed, compared to 59% of people who believed that such attacks are wrong in this year's survey.

Chief Executive Officer of Australian Red Cross, Judy Slatyer says that while most Australians care about their fellow human beings, others need to better understand the laws of war and why they matter.

"Torture is illegal and unacceptable under any circumstances. It has a devastating impact on those tortured as well as our collective humanity," says Ms Slatyer.

"The reason we wanted to draw attention to it was because now is an important time to remind Australians that having limits to war and conflict are important. It's important we talk about it and remind ourselves of the things that we used to hold dear decades ago after World War II are still important as we go forward as a society."