The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tricia O'Rourke, Humanitarian Media Officer, Oxfam International
Mob: +44 (0) 7989 965359

Preventing Atrocities The Real Test of New World Order


The major shift in global
power provides an opportunity to protect all civilians from genocide
and other atrocities, said international agency Oxfam in a new report
published today.

For a Safer Tomorrow - Protecting Civilians in a Multipolar World warns
that the world will be less safe for all unless emerging and existing
global powers work together better to prevent atrocities and ensure the
safety of people caught up in armed conflict.

A new US President,
the re-emergence of Russia, the rise of China and India, and a stronger
European Union and African Union creates a different world order which
must do a better job protecting people whose lives are threatened by
conflict. During the recent crisis in Georgia, there was much debate
about the impact on world politics but less about the civilians caught
in the fighting and forced to flee their homes.

"Ensuring the
safety of civilians has got to be the overriding priority in any
conflict, including the 'war on terror'. For far too long, governments
have agreed that civilians must be protected but when it comes to the
crunch - and peoples' lives are at risk - too often narrow,
self-interest takes priority. As we have seen from Afghanistan to Iraq,
civilian casualties can ferment existing anger and feelings of
injustice, and contribute to a continuous cycle of violence and
revenge," said the report author Ed Cairns of Oxfam.

"In today's
interdependent world no country is immune to the insecurity and threats
from a conflict on the other side of the globe. It is in all our
interests to ensure that civilians are protected."

In 2006, 63
per cent of the world's refugees were from Iraq and Afghanistan while
Oxfam's own research shows that between 1990 and 2005, armed conflict
cost Africa an average of $18bn a year.

The report states that
the 'war on terror' has overshadowed crises like the Democratic
Republic of Congo which, with a death toll more than twice that of
Iraq, has lost 5.4 million or eight per cent of its people to conflict,
and the deadly hunger and disease that it has unleashed since 1998.
This year more than a thousand women a month have reported being raped,
many as part of a systematic campaign linked to the conflict.

For a Safer Tomorrow
is based on Oxfam's experience responding to the world's conflicts for
more than 60 years. It reviews the protection of civilians in current
and recent conflicts, and examines the implications of the shift in
global power. It sets out an agenda to protect civilians through local,
national and regional action with far more consistent international

"In the past, the world has failed to protect people
from murder and assault in places like Darfur and the Democratic
Republic of Congo. The emerging world order must do a much better job
if we are to ensure the changing world is not just a different world
but a safer one too," said Cairns.

It will take political will
and fortitude to prevent future genocides and atrocities. However
examples from the last year show that when the world is willing to act
to prevent bloodshed or to bring to justice those responsible for
crimes against humanity, it can get results.

In January 2008
Kenya did not collapse into bloody civil war, partly because of local
community action to prevent widespread outbreaks of violence as well as
efforts by African and international leaders to restore peace. In July,
former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, was captured after 13
years on the run and is headed for justice at the UN war crimes
tribunal in The Hague.

In order to protect civilians caught up in
armed conflict and improve global peace and stability, Oxfam is calling
on the international community to:

  • make the safety of civilians the overriding priority in the response to conflicts
  • adopt zero tolerance of war crimes - whether in counter-terrorism or elsewhere
  • act much more quickly to tackle the trends that threaten new or prolonged conflicts - including poverty and inequality, climate change and arms proliferation
  • urge all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to renounce the use of their veto when it comes to war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Read the report: For a Safer Tomorrow: Protecting Civilians in a Multipolar World

Oxfam International is a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice. We are working across regions in about 70 countries, with thousands of partners, and allies, supporting communities to build better lives for themselves, grow resilience and protect lives and livelihoods also in times of crisis.