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People on War survey

A new Red Cross survey shows that the majority of Australians oppose torture in war but many don't know that torturing a soldier for information is wrong, while some think it is acceptable.

Between June and September 2016 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) surveyed more than 17,000 people across 16 countries on their perceptions of war and International Humanitarian Law. Australian Red Cross commissioned a shorter version of the survey with a representative sample of the Australian community.

International humanitarian law (IHL) is a set of international laws that set what can and cannot be done during an armed conflict. In short, the laws of war mean: people should not be tortured, civilians should not be targeted and detainees must be treated humanely.

The four Geneva Conventions were written after the experiences of WWII in an effort to prevent the suffering experienced in that conflict from ever being repeated. They have been officially adopted by 190 countries around the world, and apply today in all international armed conflicts.

Australian findings
While most Australians strongly uphold humanitarian values, others seem ambivalent about why humanitarian laws matter.

  • 57% of Australians think that torture of captured soldiers should not be allowed, 23% are undecided and 21% thought it was okay.
  • Australian men are more likely than women to agree that captured soldiers can be tortured to obtain information. Overall, 24% of men think Australian soldiers can be tortured as opposed to 18% of women.
  • More Australians (23%) believe that torturing a captured soldier is acceptable than people from Syria (20%), Russia (20%), China (15%) and South Sudan (18%).
  • People aged under 20 or over 65 are less likely to support torture.

Survey conducted for Australian Red Cross by Colmar Brunton.

Findings from the global 'People on War' survey

Two out of three people worldwide believe that wars should have limits.

People living in countries affected by war believe that law matters, more so than people living in peace in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

  • Half of those living in war-affected countries say that the Geneva Conventions prevent wars from getting worse. In the United Kingdom or the United States, however, only a third of respondents felt that the Geneva Conventions helped and over 40% felt they made no real difference.
  • Four out of five people believe it is wrong to attack hospitals, ambulances and healthcare workers in order to weaken an enemy.
  • There is a growing difference to the attitude towards the torture of combatants. Globally, one in three people felt that it was acceptable to torture a captured enemy.
  • Three out of four people believe it is important to increase accountability for atrocities through international courts.
  • Two-thirds of those surveyed believed that people would be less likely to flee their countries if combatants better respected the laws of war.

Read the complete People on War report


Find out why the laws of war matter to us all

You can help by learning more about international humanitarian law, speaking up when civilians are harmed or soldiers are tortured, historic and cultural monuments are destroyed, and when hospitals are attacked.

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