how to protect them in wartime?

When war strikes, it destroys everything in its path. Human lives are sacrificed, houses are demolished, historic buildings collapse … and nature also suffers from these conflicts. Mines, bombs and toxic products used by armies also ravage fields, oceans, waterways and forests. The environment is therefore another victim of these conflicts, and the animals pay the price, reminds the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in its latest report entitled “Animals and Men in War and Conflict”. To preserve the life of these wild, domestic or farmed animals, the organization is developing a number of avenues to explore.

A moral duty to protect

“In times of conflict, the question is not whether we should save animals or humans. Our responsibility is to save both ”, explains Azzedine Downes, Director General of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The organization, which consists of experts and citizens, ensures the prosperity of the animal world throughout the world. Among its flagship actions: support for species threatened by war.

As the IFAW report reminds us, people trapped in conflict areas face various forms of suffering: physical harm, loss of shelter, hunger, thirst and, of course, terror. “All these ailments, the animals go through them too, emphasizes the IFAW. We consider it important to do everything we can to end it: to relieve mental, emotional and physical pain, to provide shelter, to provide food and water, to quench thirst, to quell terror, but also to bring comfort. ”specifies Azzedine Downes in the organization’s report.

London’s War Animals Memorial honors all the dead animals that have served the country throughout history. Photo by Chrispictures via Shutterstock.

A commitment that is often misunderstood because it is considered unprioritised in view of the urgency of rescuing populations at risk. However, the organization’s CEO explains that when IFAW responds to emergencies (whether it is the result of a natural disaster or a conflict situation), it always ensures “that human needs are already met before intervening in the field”.

“Our efforts to help animals in need affirm our compassion and compassion, in situations where compassion and hope are just sorely lacking. This empathy and compassion is free of any political interest.”

Azzedine DownesExecutive Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Concrete solutions to get in place

What happens to livestock when farmers are forced to leave the country or join the ranks of the army? Who feeds the stray animals in their cages at the zoo when the guards have disappeared? Where are those housed in shelters or pets for residents who have left their country in a hurry? How do wild species survive if habitats are threatened by the advancing struggles? But above all, who cares about their fate?

Helping these species threatened by human conflict is the IFAW’s watchword. To achieve effective action around the world, the organization prepared a number of avenues in its report published in 2022. Here they are:

1 – Strengthen international conventions

The purpose of this first measure is simple: to develop current international conventions to adapt them to the fate of animals. It would thus be possible to demand that the occupying power provide adequate care and shelter for the animals present in the occupied territories. “These requirements will include access to appropriate medical care for injured animals as well as access to food, water, shelter and / or freedom, depending on the needs of individual is stated in the report.

2 – Schedule the reception of refugee animals and facilitate their evacuation

Photo of Serhii Ivashchuk via Shutterstock

Other measure mentioned in the report: “Include livestock in all planning efforts regarding resettlement of refugees driven into exile by conflict”.

But that’s not all, IFAW also proposes to create accelerated procedures to facilitate cross-border evacuation of pets in the event of a conflict. For this it will be necessary to assign “appropriate resources at border posts at the exit of conflict zones to allow the evacuation of livestock to a safe place”.

We were reminded of these demands not so long ago … A month after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, three million people had already fled the country. Among them, many people had taken their pets with them. Border countries such as Poland or Romania then had to adapt their protocols to allow refugees to cross the border. The reality of the exile of these animals must therefore be taken into account at international level in order to facilitate the procedures for refugees in case of conflict, the report explains.

3 – Extend the concept of war crimes to animals

Humans are not the only ones who suffer from the cruelty of their fellow human beings in times of war. During the Iraq war, between 2003 and 2011, insurgents detonated bombs for dogs to target convoys and used donkeys to pull carts with explosives, the report said.

Therefore, in order to prevent such disorders inflicted on animals in times of conflict, IFAW proposes “making intentional and malicious damage to animals a war crime, recognizing that the use of threats against animals is a common strategy used to influence human populations, undermine their morale and force them into obedience, especially in times of with conflict. “

4 – Protect sensitive wildlife habitats

Photo of the Everett Collection via Shutterstock

Between 1955 and 1975, the war that ravaged Vietnam had significant consequences for the country’s fauna and flora. The use of Agent Orange to remove forest cover and prevent Vietnamese soldiers from seeking refuge in the jungle has destroyed the habitats of many species such as tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, civettes or leopards. Subsequently, unexploded landmines decimated over 40,000 animals in the twenty years after the war.

To prevent such an ecological tragedy from happening again, the IFAW proposes “strengthen international conventions to require special attention to sensitive habitats in conflict zones”.

5 – Protection of the environment through international law

“80% of contemporary conflicts take place in biodiversity hotspots”, states the IFAW report. In addition to the protection of this habitat, which is crucial for the survival of the species, it is the whole environment that must be protected by legal recognition. “human rights to a healthy environment”. In this sense, the recognition of the crime of “eco-murder” in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would provide new leverage “to hold them accountable who harm the environment in conflict situations”, points out the report.

Thanks to these mechanisms of international law, access to nature would thus become a fundamental right, and the destruction of the latter could give rise to litigation under international law.

6 – Fight wildlife crime

Periods of conflict are conducive to the development of poaching and animal trafficking. Authorities no longer prioritize the protection of wild species and make room for dealers in illegal wildlife products. “But the huge profits generated by the trade in these products are often used by combatants to buy weapons, which keeps conflicts and wars going.”remembers IFAW.

To overcome this inhuman traffic, the organization finally proposes to “strengthen law enforcement systems to better combat wildlife crime at local, national and international levels”.

“By protecting wild habitats and encouraging them to flourish, we can save animal species, including our own,” Azzedine Downes concludes in the organization’s report.

To move on and read the full report, visit the IFAW website or here.

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