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Online Game Teaches Young People Rules of Warfare

Edgar Barbaran exchanges a small, empty oxygen tank for a large one as he waits for a refill shop to open in Callao, Peru, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edgar Barbaran exchanges a small, empty oxygen tank for a large one as he waits for a refill shop to open in Callao, Peru, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Should health care workers treat patients from the enemy side of a conflict?

Can you torture a high-profile enemy target to get intelligence about a planned attack?

These are some questions asked in an online game, launched by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to teach young people the so-called law of war, which it fears is being eroded as civilians come under fire in conflicts like Syria.

"The basic foundations of our shared humanity are being challenged," ICRC President Peter Maurer said in a statement Tuesday. "We cannot allow the bombing of civilians or attacks on hospitals to become acceptable, to become the new normal."

The ICRC developed the game following a 2016 survey that found that many young people found it normal that civilians were targeted, hospitals bombed and prisoners executed in conflicts — all in violation of international humanitarian law.

The legally binding 1949 Geneva Conventions, which were ratified by the world's 196 states, seek to limit the effects of war on people who do not participate, such as civilians or wounded and captured fighters.

"The ICRC is concerned that young people growing up today will become a generation inured to the tragic effects of conflict and the dangers of allowing the rules of war to erode," it said.

It has documented hundreds of attacks against patients, health workers, medical facilities and ambulances in conflict-affected countries including Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.

Survey results

An ICRC survey in December found an alarming rise in the acceptance of torture and civilian deaths during war, especially in countries at peace.

More than a third of respondents thought a captured enemy combatant could be tortured to obtain information. The laws of war prohibit torture of detainees, without exception.

On the website "Don't be Numb," players win medals for integrity, humanity, dignity and respect if they can answer questions about behavior in war, torture and the destruction of cultural property like shrines.

One of the questions is: "You're a military commander. The enemy is hiding in a populated village across the front line. Can you attack?"

After gamers respond, they can see how people in other countries answered. On this question, Israel fared worst, with only a quarter of respondents recognizing that every possible care must be take to avoid harming civilians or their homes.

In contrast, 100 percent of respondents in war-torn Yemen answered correctly.

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