There Are No Winners In War. Only More Casualties Than Heroes. | Legal Articles


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There Are No Winners In War. Only More Casualties Than Heroes.

The 2016 film titled Arrival, features a scene where a character called Louise recites to a Chinese army General (General Shang), his dying wife’s last words. It is portrayed that this played the most critical role in his subsequent decision not to go to war against the aliens. War is severe, chaotic and its effects are far reaching for many generations. With the Russia-Ukraine conflict in full scale, most countries in the world are speaking with one voice that a negotiated settlement be pursued.


The United Nations (UN) was formed in 1945 at the end of World War II, with its Charter coming into effect in October 1945. The UN Charter guides the operations of the United Nations and forms the premise upon which member states derive obligations from. Central to its work and purpose is, as per Article 1, to ‘maintain international peace and security.’ At times the attainment of peace and security requires military and/or policing presence in the field, which the UN is empowered to do under its Charter.

The United Nations also undertakes political and peace building missions as part of the conflict cycle and are carried out as alternatives where the situation on the ground does not justify military presence.


Article 1 – United Nations Charter

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

  1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;


The Security Council of the United Nations (UNSC) draws an obligation from Article 39 to determine any threat to peace, breach of peace or an act of aggression and in order to restore peace or breach, Article 42 empowers the UNSC to use armed force e.g 1950 Korean war and the aggression of Iraq against Kuwait in 1990.


Turning to Ukraine, its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 5 April 2022 made a plea to the UNSC to intervene and stop Russia’s aggression, or disband the UN if it is not in a position to do so. What has exacerbated the situation are reports that the number of civilian casualties is growing by the day. The Under-Secretary for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary Dicarlo, reported that the number of civilians killed has more than doubled since 17 March, a situation which is worrying.


International humanitarian law read with international conventions prohibit, inter alia, indiscriminate military attacks in an armed conflict as these increase the odds of civilian casualties. The purposes of the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, seek to uphold human rights and protect civilian lives even in armed conflicts. By its nature, armed conflict is chaotic and it is fairly difficult to police combatants who resort to employing underhand tactics to achieve a military advantage. Civilians more often than not find themselves on the receiving end as they attempt to flee and survive. At the end of the day justice and truth are the biggest casualties because the one holding the gun in the conflict is only aiming for nothing less than his wishes to win the day.


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the judicial arm of the United Nations and operates as per the Statute of the International Court of Justice, which is annexed to the UN Charter. The ICJ presides over matters referred to it by member states and provides legal opinions referred to it by organs of the United Nations. The Rome Statute on the other hand, established the International Criminal Court (ICC) which tries those who are accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.


The message remains that amidst all the political and military outcomes that stand to be achieved by either of the parties in the conflict, it will end with more casualties than heroes. In a war cities and towns are torn down, men and women in the uniformed forces lose their lives, children lose parents, proud citizens become refugees and society gets impoverished by each bullet that is fired. The UN places emphasis on mediation efforts to achieve negotiated settlements in armed conflicts, so that rebuilding the ruins can commence. A global community that is trying to recover from a viral pandemic, can do better without an armed conflict that disrupts the supply chain of vital commodities in Europe and the rest of the world.


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