Children of War: Modern War Kills Nine Civilians for Every Soldier

Article excerpt

LIKE MANY boys of 17, Marcos was interested in politics. When he was not at his studies, he worked for the Pro-Democracy Party in his native Chile.

But his hopes had a price. In 1989, he was arrested and taken to a police checkpoint. A few hours later, he was dead. The official report recorded that he had committed suicide.

An autopsy found that he had died as a result of "shock, probably from an electric current". Chile's National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation concluded that he had died from torture by government agents.

A few weeks ago, the name of Marcos Quezada Yanez was read out in Bow Street magistrates' court as one charge against Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, in the landmark human rights case of our time.

The case raises hope, albeit a faint one, that spurred by the crimes of the last century we will be able to create something better for the new one.

The commentators all notethat the 20th century was unparalleled in the scale of its human misery created by other humans. Yet such comments mask the huge change that has taken place in the pattern of violence over the last 100 years.

The systematic implementation of torture by the state as a means of subduing a population is one of the most gruesome developments, but the statistics on conflict are perhaps the most shocking. At the start of the 20th century, there were nine military casualties for every civilian death in war.

Now, those proportions have been reversed: civilians make up nine out of ten of those killed, maimed or forced to flee through war. Given that nearly half the population in the poorer developing world is under the age of 18, it is a war against children.

The most acute problem humanity faces in the new century is growing civil conflict, as the nation state starts to fragment or implode. This is the predicament experienced by children in nearly all the countries highlighted in The Independent's series over the last fortnight, from Afghanistan to Colombia to Rwanda to former Yugoslavia. It lies behind looming crises in Burundi and Indonesia.

To address problems of this magnitude calls for systematic international action. But what would such action look like? …