As Australian fighter jets drop their first bombs over Iraq, aid agency Save the Children stresses that military action by all must remain in line with humanitarian law and prioritise the protection of children and other civilians.
Aram Shakaram, Save the Children’s Program Director in Iraq said: “Children are already the innocent victims bearing the brunt of this war. Traumatised by the brutality of fighting even before the latest bombing, children are also at risk of being injured or killed as these air strikes are scaled up. It is the responsibility of all parties involved to make sure children and other civilians are kept safe.”
The children’s aid agency is particularly concerned about the on-going use of explosive weapons in populated areas, including Fallujah and Kirkuk, which have seen constant bombardment and fighting for weeks. This is the largest contributor to the killing and maiming of children in conflict.
“Air strikes, artillery fire, mortars and shelling are being used in towns and villages and risk killing innocent children. The impacts of these explosive weapons are indiscriminate: they kill and maim children and destroy hospitals and schools. The lethal nature of these deadly weapons prohibits our teams from delivering life-saving aid to children and families that need it,” Mr Shakaram added.
Save the Children has been working in Iraq for 23 years and was already supporting thousands of Syrian refugees in the country before the latest fighting erupted. The aid agency has launched a large-scale emergency response to support hundreds of thousands of the 1.8 million people who have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict. More than 200,000 people have fled in recent months, many forced to live in abandoned or unfinished buildings, churches, mosques and schools.
“On the ground we’re seeing a dire situation – every day more people are forced from their homes fleeing brutal violence and fearing for their lives. Families are crammed into already-packed classrooms in schools being used as makeshift camps or living in unfinished buildings, completely unprotected from the elements. They are running out money and harsh winter weather is just around the corner. Yet, in some ways those that have escaped are the lucky ones – those left behind face even greater dangers as the fighting escalates.”
Save the Children is calling on the Australian Government to use all of its relevant diplomatic and advisory powers to ensure that all parties to the conflict and those considering military interventions to make the following commitments:
· Not to target civilians or civilian objects, including schools and hospitals
· Not to use explosive weapons in populated areas
· Not to use children in any role in armed groups or forces, including non-combat roles
· Not to use schools or hospitals as military assets