It’s unimaginable what people are capable of doing to each other during times of war, or how innocent lives are completely destroyed without remorse.
There hasn’t been a World War Three (yet) and with the second one ending 70 years ago, it might seem like something of that scale and horror is in the past, behind us, allowing many people to fall into a state of false security. Over the past 50 years though, humanity has fought countless conflicts involving even more brutality, death and utter disregard for innocent life. One thing to keep in mind is that it is not just our enemies or the enemies of our allies and ideals who commit horrific crimes, but us too. While we have rested in our homes, worked hard at our careers or spent time with our families, both individuals fighting against our country’s forces and those fighting for them have committed shameful atrocities.
From genocides to the murders of thousands of civilians, war atrocities have been frequent in recent history all around the world, bringing out the worst side of humanity. Below you will read of some of the worst to happen in recent times, so please, brace yourself.
15) August 8th, 1998
For more than 30 years, there has been war raging in Afghanistan, leading to hundreds of humanitarian crimes and abuses. One moment in particular took place in a city in northwest Afghanistan, resulting in the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians.
On the 8th of August, Taliban militia took this city from United Front forces. Within hours of seizing control, the Taliban began killing large amounts of civilians, witnesses describing it as a “killing frenzy”. While a full scale investigation was not conducted, Human Rights Watch believe that on that day, hundreds were murdered with approximately 2,000 deaths occurring in the following weeks.
14) April 6th, 1994
This genocide took place between two ethnic groups of Rwanda and lasted for approximately 100 days.
Instigated by a deeply dividing class system introduced by European colonisers in the 1950s, violence began when President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on April 6th and Hutu extremists enacted their plans to obliterate the Tutsi civilian population.
Normal citizens were encouraged by law enforcement to take part and to kill neighbors, friends and family members who were Tutsi, with payments such as food, money and land used as incentives. Roughly 200,000 people participated in the killings, with around 800,000 people being killed between April and June.
13) March 13, 1988
The Hussein government of Iraq was keen on destroying a minority group known as the Kurds, and in a city close to the Iranian border, Iraqi airstrikes began leveling buildings and homes for days. The explosions weren’t the worst part though, as eye witness accounts reported seeing yellow clouds of smoke rising almost 50 meters into the air, this being mustard gas.
Symptoms from mustard gas tend to include blisters, damage to lungs, and blindness. Most people die from an inability to breath. Up to 5,000 people died because of this attack, with between 7-10,000 injured. It is also estimated that up to 75% of victims were women and children.
12) 24th & 25th December, 2008
A group known as the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) has been prevalent in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are known around the world for their love of violence and killing.
Over a period of 48 hours on Christmas 2008, the LRA performed numerous massacres while people gathered with their families in the DRC. The majority of victims lost their lives, many women were assaulted as well as abducted along with children; all trademarks and usual practices for the LRA. During this time more than 865 civilians were killed and over 160 children abducted from their homes.
11) July, 1995
During the early to mid 90s, there were multiple ethnic factions laying claim to an area of Bosnia with interventions from NATO, the UN and Dutch forces who were attempting to mediate the conflict.
After one group advanced on a small town containing thousands of Bosnian Muslims then controlled by Dutch forces, a number of the Dutch peacekeepers were taken hostage. In exchange for the release of these men, around 5,000 Bosnian Muslims were handed over to the group and as the Dutch retreated from the town, over 7,000 men and young boys were systematically murdered in a genocidal sweep, either on the road to Muslim-safe territory or inside large warehouses.
10) January 6th, 1999
In Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (or RUF) committed many atrocities and human rights violations. One of their worst incidents lasted for weeks when the RUF attacked and took parts of a city, purposefully targeting civilians.
During the weeks of this attack, 66 people were gunned down in a mosque. Eye-witness accounts also reported untold numbers of civilians being executed in the streets or set on fire in their homes. Many young girls were rounded up and systematically assaulted, while numerous others, children and adults, suffered from mutilations.
There were 7,335 registered burials after the attack, with majority of the bodies being found lying in streets.
Over the course of roughly 14 years, Liberia experienced two civil wars with one of the main participators being former Liberian President Charles Taylor. It’s reported that up to 10% of his forces were child soldiers, some as young as 8 years old.
Reports revealed that they were often kidnapped and forced to watch the murder of family members as an initiation to the army. Many were regularly given drugs like amphetamines, or a mixture of sugarcane juice and gun powder. It was also popular for generals to force young boys to commit horrendous crimes.
While the civil war in The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ended in 2002, the effects are still being felt today. Over the past decade, over 5.4 million peoples lives have been claimed mainly from disease and malnutrition instead of from direct warfare; the highest death toll resulting from a war since W.W.II.
Approximately 45,000 Congolese die every month from the squalid conditions left behind by war, and nearly 50% of those deaths are children younger than 5 years old. The most affluent causes of death are preventable, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and malnutrition but with broken infrastructure and terrible health services, people continue to die.
Moving away from the people living in the towns and cities affected by war, there is yet another group who we normally don’t acknowledge can be affected by wars that aren’t even theirs.
Living in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are many groups of forest people, often referred to as “pygmies”, numbering up to 600,000. During the civil war of the DRC, many pygmy groups called for the UN to investigate human rights violations against them including high rates of sexual assault, murder, and cannibalism. Viewed as subhuman by both sides of the civil war, claims began arising that the pygmies were being hunted and eaten like animals by heavily armed fighters.
While this conflict appeared to end in 2005, war and destruction escalated again in 2013. This is the war in Darfur.
In 2003, rebel groups composed primarily of local tribesmen took up arms against their government, accusing it of neglecting and not protecting them from raiding nomads. As fighting escalated, the government responded by sending in an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, who destroyed over 400 tribal community villages, murdered civilians and sexually assaulted women.
The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for the president of Sudan for arming militia groups, genocide and for crimes against humanity, while the UN estimates around 300,000 people have died since fighting started.
5) August 21, 2013
Worse than chlorine gas, labeled as a weapon of mass destruction and banned under international law, estimates suggest around 1,000kgs of Sarin gas was dropped on rebel controlled areas of a city in Syria.
Sarin gas is one of the most toxic, fast acting chemical weapons developed, effecting the nervous system, causing convulsions, vomiting, paralysis and death within 10 minutes of exposure. Up to 1,4000 people died as a result of this attack, the majority being civilian women and children. Many blame the Assad government who has refused to dismantle its chemical weapons factories and stockpiles but these allegations have been denied. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.
4) July 1983-May 2009
Sri Lanka’s civil war was the longest raging war of South Asia, leaving almost 100,000 people dead, but what was more appalling was the amount of horrific war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan Military and their opposition, the Tamil Tigers.
A UN report has exposed that the Sri Lankan military was responsible for killing numerous Tamil politicians, civilians, journalists and humanitarian workers, as well as having policies encouraging the systematic disappearances of thousands of Sri Lankans. Sexual violence and torture was used against both men and women by the military and the government was accused of blocking the transport of supplies to desolate areas in an attempt to starve opposition supporters.
3) March 2006
A release made by Wikileaks revealed details of events involving American troops operating in Iraq. 11 civilians had been handcuffed and executed, 5 of them being 5 years old or younger, with this example representing hundreds of similar incidents.
In the 12 months following July 2006, 429 civilians were either killed or injured directly by US forces in “escalation of force” incidents, where military personal open fire on individuals deemed as possible threats. While the military isn’t purposefully targeting civilians, since many incidents revolve around a possible self defense scenario, it is important to know that more civilians have been killed in Iraq than Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks.
These next horrors arose from an army detention center in Iraq where captured Iraqis suffered immensely at the hands of their guards. A report was released in April, 2004, detailing how prisoners were forced to have sex with guards, stripped naked and photographed, forced to do humiliating sexual acts, threatened or violently attacked by guard dogs, beaten, tortured or humiliated in every imaginable way.
1) February 4th, 2000
During the Chechnyan war in a small town within the Russian safe zone, away from the front line, there was a grievous attack made by Russian forces resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.
Rebel forces had fled to this small town which was then vigorously bombed and destroyed. While the attack was happening, fleeing civilians were unable to pass through checkpoints to safety. Once the bombing paused, a white flag convoy was allowed to depart the town with civilians, but the convoy was then bombed too. Most of the town was destroyed, and at least 363 bodies were counted before Russian troops threw them into a mass grave.