how to protect them in times of war?

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 devastate fields, oceans, waterways and forests. The environment is therefore yet another victim of these conflicts and animals pay the price, recalls the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in its latest report entitled “Animals and Men in War and Conflict”. To preserve the lives of these wild, domestic or farm animals, the organization outlines a series of paths to explore.

A moral duty to protect

“In times of conflict, the question is not whether to rescue animals or people. Our responsibility is to rescue both.”, explains Azzedine Downes, director general of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The organization, made up of experts and citizens, ensures the prosperity of the animal world around the world. Among its emblematic actions: support for species threatened by wars.

As the IFAW report reminds us, people trapped in conflict zones face various forms of suffering: physical injury, loss of shelter, hunger, thirst and, of course, terror. “All these sufferings, the animals also go through them, emphasizes IFAW. We consider it essential to do everything we can to end this: alleviate mental, emotional and physical pain, provide shelter, provide food and water, quench thirst, alleviate terror, but also bring comfort.”specifies Azzedine Downes in the organization report.

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

A commitment that is often misunderstood because it is considered not a priority given the urgency of saving endangered populations. The organization’s chief executive, however, explains that when IFAW responds to emergencies (whether 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 humanity and compassion, in situations where compassion and hope are lacking. This empathy and compassion are free of any political interest.”

Azzedine DownesManaging Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Concrete solutions to put into practice

What happens to cattle when peasants are forced to leave the country or join the ranks of the army? Who feeds the caulked animals in their cages at the zoo when the keepers disappear? Where are those housed in shelters or the pets of residents who have left their country in a hurry? How do wild species whose habitats are threatened by the advance of the struggle survive? But above all, who cares about their fate?

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

1 – Strengthen international conventions

The objective of this first measure is simple: to develop current international conventions to adapt them to the fate of animals. This would make it possible to require the occupying forces to provide adequate care and shelter for the animals present in the occupied areas. “These requirements would include access to adequate medical care for injured animals, as well as access to food, water, shelter and/or freedom, depending on the needs of each species.says the report.

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

Picture of Serhii Ivashchuk via Shutterstock

Second measure mentioned in the report: “Include domestic animals in all planning efforts relating to the resettlement of refugees driven into exile by the conflict”.

But that’s not all, IFAW also suggests creating expedited procedures to facilitate the cross-border evacuation of pets in the event of conflict. For this, it will be necessary to assign “appropriate resources at border posts exiting conflict zones to allow the evacuation of domestic animals to a safe place”.

We were recently reminded of these demands… A month after the conflict in Ukraine began, three million people had already fled the country. Among them, many people brought their pets with them. Bordering countries like Poland or Romania have 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 an international level to facilitate refugee procedures in the event of conflict, the report explains.

3 – Extending the notion of war crimes to animals

Humans are not the only ones to suffer the cruelty of their fellow human beings in times of war. During the 2003-2011 Iraq war, insurgents strapped bombs to dogs to attack convoys and used donkeys to pull explosive carts, according to the report.

To avoid this suffering inflicted on animals in times of conflict, IFAW suggests “classify intentional and malicious harm against animals as war crimes, recognizing that the use of threats against animals is a common strategy used to influence human populations, undermine their morale and coerce them into obedience, especially in times of conflict.”

4 – Protect sensitive wildlife habitats

Photo by Everett Collection via Shutterstock

Between 1955 and 1975, the war that ravaged Vietnam had considerable consequences on the country’s fauna and flora. The use of Agent Orange to eliminate forest cover and prevent Vietnamese soldiers from taking refuge in the wild has destroyed the habitats of many species such as tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, civets or leopards. Subsequently, unexploded landmines decimated more than 40,000 animals in the twenty years following the war.

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

5 – Protect the environment through international law

“80% of contemporary conflicts occur in biodiversity hotspots”, says the IFAW report. In addition to protecting this habitat essential to the survival of the species, it is the entire environment that must be protected through legal recognition. “the human right to a healthy environment”. In this sense, the recognition of the crime of “ecocide” in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) would offer new levers “hold accountable those who damage the environment in conflict situations”, highlights 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 legal proceedings under international law.

6 – Fighting wildlife crime

Periods of conflict are conducive to the development of poaching and animal trafficking. The authorities no longer prioritized the safeguarding of wild species, giving way to traffickers of illicit wildlife products. “However, the large profits generated by the trade in these products are often used by combatants to buy weapons, which keeps conflicts and wars going”reminiscent of the IFAW.

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

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

To go further and read the full report, visit the IFAW website or here.

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