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Fantasy or reality?

You may have seen some of the recent news coverage and discussions online about how the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has raised the issue of how — or even if — the laws of armed conflict should apply in virtual settings such as war-related video games.

There are many facets to this discussion and quite a bit of commentary flying around the internet. Even though the American Red Cross is a separate organization from the ICRC, a number of questions and comments are coming our way, and we wanted to address some of them:

Why is the ICRC even getting into this issue?

In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict. Video games simulating the experience of armed forces have the potential to raise awareness of the rules that those forces must comply with. This is one of the things that interests the ICRC. The fact is that some video games already take into account how real-life military personnel are trained to behave in conflict situations.

Part of the ICRC’s mission is to promote respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – and universal humanitarian principles. That means the ICRC spends time educating people around the world and raising awareness abou the rules of war.

So the ICRC’s long history and expertise in matters relating to armed conflict gives them a place to weigh in on this issue.

Some media coverage says that certain virtual acts by video game characters could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this the stance of the Red Cross?

Of course not. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games. Nobody suggests that gamers would be the target of war crimes prosecution.

Doesn’t the ICRC have better things to do like dealing with real issues of armed conflict?
Real-life armed conflict and its humanitarian consequences are in fact the primary concern of the ICRC.

With its roughly 12,000 staff, the ICRC carries out humanitarian activities in situations of armed violence all over the world. It is often the first organization to arrive on the scene when conflict erupts and to attend to the needs of people detained, displaced or otherwise affected. It also strives to bring about improved compliance with the law of armed conflict and contribute to creating an environment conducive to respect for the dignity of people affected by armed conflicts.

How is the ICRC different from the American Red Cross?

While both are part of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network, they are two different organizations. The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization based in the US, whose mission is to help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The ICRC is an independent organization providing humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence

What is the stance of the American Red Cross on this issue?

We think that it’s healthy to promote the discussion around international humanitarian law and the rules of war. In fact, earlier this year the American Red Cross conducted a survey that revealed that 59% of youth aged 12-17 believe there are times when it is acceptable to torture the enemy. 41% even believe that it is sometimes acceptable to torture American soldiers. At the same time, the survey showed that 80% of young people believe that more education about the rules of war is important. This could be one way to start that discussion and begin that education process.

We have seen a lot of comments and opinions on the social web – and we’re open to hearing more.

Feel free to post your comments here on our blog. Over the next several days, we’ll be listening. All we ask is that you keep it clean and keep it civil. We’ll try to answer as many questions as we can and we’ll also point the ICRC to our site so they can see what you think.

If you want to know more about the ICRC, visit http://www.icrc.org/eng/ To learn more about international humanitarian law and the rules of war visit our website at www.redcross.org/ehl.