People's Stories Peace

Fact file
Perhaps the simplest right of all is freedom from fear. To live in peace is the most basic need. No human right can be enjoyed while bands of other humans are seeking to hunt each other down. No law, other than the constraints of civilised behaviour ('humanitarian law') rules, when you could die violently, or disappear, or be locked up, at any time, any place.
Today, more than 35 states are at war. These may be civil wars, or wars with other states. Overall more than 50 nations have engaged in war since the beginning of the 1990s. At least 47 million people have had to leave their homes, fearing for their lives and livelihoods. Nearly 23 million people, are refugees, some in their own countries. Few nations are willing to take them in. Their plight is appalling.
There are more than 30 million people bearing arms, full-time, in the world. More than 10% of all men aged 18-22 are engaged in the business of organised aggression towards one another. Overall, military spending is more than US $600 billion a year, taking a million US dollars a minute, from national budgets. Military spending accounts for nearly twice the public spending on health. (Syria spent 55 times as much on the military as on health, in 1992, followed by Pakistan (which spent 42 times as much). After the end of the Cold War, spending on the military fell by 50% in Russia.
When people are hungry, or sick, or in need, and there is no money for them, they are entitled to ask why this is so.
We have tried to modify the horrors of war by developing international humanitarian laws. This began last century. Humanitarian law was first codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 . These laws are meant to limit violence, even in armed conflict, by insisting on certain basic humanitarian principles. These protect people not directly engaged in hostilities (prisoners, civilians), the sick and the wounded. They also prohibit methods of battle that cause excessive suffering (like poison gas and biological warfare).
We have also long prohibited the use of torture, even in war. Yet reports of torture by state employees (police, military, prison officers) are still regularly made to the international monitoring body, Amnesty International. Many of them arise from the treatment of people in custody, either by police (usually investigating crimes, often allegations of terrorism or political offences), or in prisons (and often for breaches of prison discipline).
Another form of violence is capital punishment: the judicial murder of criminals in peacetime. This occurs in virtually every country in the world, sometimes for quite ordinary crimes ( fraud, theft, personal violence). In many nations this penalty is limited to crimes against the state and its agents, or for crimes committed in extraordinary times, such as war.
Freedom from fear depends on the civilised restraint of the use of violence against individuals to achieve political ends.
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